New book on cultural institutions in the Middle East

Ibraaz is pleased to announce the publication of our third book in the Visual Culture in the Middle East series, Future Imperfect: Contemporary Art Practices and Cultural Institutions in the Middle East.futureimperfect_cover

Buy the book via the Sternberg Press website and on Amazon.de.

Read the introduction, “Critical Propositions and Institutional Realities in the Middle East” by Anthony Downey, by clicking here.

#FutureImperfect critically examines the role played by cultural institutions in producing present-day and future contexts for the production, dissemination and reception of contemporary art in the Middle East and North Africa.

It offers critical contexts for a discussion that has become increasingly urgent in recent years – the role of culture in a time of conflict and globalization – and an in-depth critique of the historical state of cultural institutions in an age of political upheaval, social unrest, exuberant cultural activity, ascendant neoliberal forms of privatization, social activism, and regional uncertainty.

Organised around three key areas, Future Imperfect draws attention to the specific antagonisms that have affected cultural production across the region, both in historical and more recent post-revolutionary contexts, and offers an in-depth discussion of how cultural producers have developed alternative institutional models through their practices. How cultural institutions operate within the conditions of a global cultural economy, and alongside the often conflicting demands they place on cultural production in the region, is likewise an over-arching concern throughout this volume.

While the politics of contemporary cultural production and institutional practices in the Middle East can tell us a great deal about local and regional concerns, one of the cornerstone ambitions of this volume is to enquire into what they can also impart about the politics of global cultural production, including the multiple ways in which contemporary art practices are being reduced, willingly or otherwise, to the logic of global capital. What, in sum, is needed in terms of infrastructure for cultural production today, and how, crucially, can we speculatively propose new infrastructures and institutions in the context of present-day regional realities?

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Monira Al Qadiri, Myth Busters VIII, 2014.

Future Imperfect contains essays, interviews, and projects from contributors including Monira Al Qadiri, Hoor Al-Qasimi, Anahi Alviso-Marino, AMBS Architects, Stephanie Bailey, Eray Çaylı, Rachel Dedman, Elizabeth Derderian, Anthony Downey, Karen Exell, Reema Salha Fadda, Wafa Gabsi, Hadia Gana, Adalet R. Garmiany, Baha Jubeh, Suhair Jubeh, Amal Khalaf, Kamel Lazaar, Jens Maier-Rothe, Guy Mannes-Abbott, Doreen Mende, Lea Morin, Jack Persekian, Rijin Sahakian, Gregory Sholette, Tom Snow, Ania Szremski, Christine Tohme, Toleen Touq, Williams Wells, Ala Younis and Yasmine Zidane.

The publication is accompanied by a collection of special projects from Leila Al-Shami, Wided Rihana Khadraoui, Lois Stonock, Nile Sunset Annex, Alia Rayyan and Hussam al-Saray. Click here to view the online projects commissioned for Future Imperfect.

 

Other titles in the Visual Culture in the Middle East series, edited by Anthony Downey, include Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East (2015); and Uncommon Grounds: New Media and Critical Practices in North Africa and the Middle East (2014).

 The production of this book was accomplished through the generous support of the Kamel Lazaar Foundation.

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Qatar to stage largest-ever solo exhibition of works by an Arab artist

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Dia Al-­Azzawi (Image: © Anthony Dawten)

Qatar Museums (QM) is due to stage a major retrospective of the Iraqi Modernist artist Dia Al-Azzawi in October. The exhibition is believed to be the largest-ever solo exhibition of works by an Arab artist. Spanning two venues in Doha, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art and QM Gallery Al Riwaq, the exhibition will cover 9,000 sq. m and include 400 works.

Curated by Catherine David, the deputy director of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the show includes works in a variety of media, including painting, sculpture, drawing, print and artist books, as well as original and limited editions of works on view for the first time. The two venues, across the city from one another, will highlight two different narratives in Al-Azzawi’s work. The first will focus on the artist’s use of image and text, and the other will trace the artist’s engagement with the political history of Iraq and the Arab world.

 

Dia Al-Azzawi, Mission of Destruction (2004-07)
Dia Al-Azzawi, Homage to Baghdad VI (1982)
Dia Al-Azzawi, Untitled IX (1975)
Dia Al-Azzawi, Majnun Layla no.2 (Temptation, 1995)

 

Al-Azzawi, who was born in Baghdad in 1939, has been a central figure in Iraq’s art scene. Before moving to London in 1976, where he continues to live and work today, Al-Azzawi was the director of the Iraqi Antiquities Department in Baghdad and an active member of the country’s emerging art groups at the time. “Al-Azzawi is considered one of the most important artists of the Arab world and for the first time a major retrospective will allow visitors to study the evolution of his practice and themes,” says Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, the founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation, whose collection features many works by the artist.

Alongside 90 works from the QM collection, the exhibition will feature loans from 17 private collections and four institutions, including the Barjeel Foundation, Sharjah; Centro de Arte Moderna Fundação Calouste, Lisbon; Kinda Foundation, Riyadh; and Tate Modern, London. The Tate is lending one of Al-Azzawi’s most renowned works, the vast mural Sabra and Shatila Massacre (1982-85). Often likened to Picasso’s seminal painting Guernica (1937), Al-Azzawi’s painting depicts the massacre of Palestinian refugees in 1982 during the civil war in Lebanon.

• I am the cry, who will give voice to me? Dia Al-Azzawi: a Retrospective (from 1963 until tomorrow),  Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art and QM Gallery Al Riwaq, Doha, Qatar, 16 October-16 April 2017

Originally published on The Art Newspaper.

What About the Art? The State of Art in Qatar

In this report on the ‘Art for Tomorrow’ conference in Doha in March 2016 I ask the crucial question facing the state of arts in Qatar today: if we focus on the commercial then what about the art?

 

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STARGATE by Pia MYrvoLD at Level 29 ‘Art Lab’ for the NYT Art For Tomorrow Conference 2016, Doha

The question of the future is pervasive in the Gulf, almost to the point of becoming a cliché. Nevertheless, the ‘Art for Tomorrow’ conference, a joint project between New York Times Conferences and Qatar Museums, opened up the floor for predictive debate at its second edition ‘Technology, Creativity and the City’. This year’s programme included three days of panel discussions from leading art world professionals, guided visits to local art spaces, and a number of ‘art salons’. According to Achilles Tsaltas, vice president of New York Times Conferences, the premise of the conference was to consider ‘the role of art as a catalyst for economic growth and development, the role of art as a driver for tourism, and also as a mechanism for nation, city, and even corporate branding’, for which he considers Doha ‘a living showcase’.

 

National Museum of Qatar under construction, 14 March 2016.
National Museum of Qatar under construction, 14 March 2016.

 

Therefore, and in spite of its title, art took on a tertiary role in the ‘Art for Tomorrow’ conference. The main motivation for the event seemed rather to act as a venue for high-profile artists and arts professionals to network, and as an opportunity to introduce and present Doha favourably to such individuals, all with a predominantly commercial outlook. To this end, the conference was an enormous success  Qatar Museums and the New York Times collectively attracted big stars such as internationally acclaimed artists Jeff Koons and Marina Abramovic, who gave keynote speeches, as well as participants including art collector Dakis Joannou, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Martin Roth, and global director of Art Basel, Marc Spiegler. The fact that the cost to attend the conference was around $2000USD further emphasised the purposefully exclusive and commercial nature of the event, rendering it inaccessible to much of the audience in what was openly recognized and discussed as an ’emerging art scene’ in Qatar.

Tours of the Museum of Islamic Art and Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, as well as trips to Gallery Al Riwaq, and Fire Station Artist in Residence (a residency and gallery space), presented the already well-established arts infrastructure in Doha to the high profile conference guests. A tour of the National Museum of Qatar, currently under construction, was led by French star-architect Jean Nouvel (who designed the museum), presenting an exclusive selection of delegates the ‘tomorrow’ that the conference’s title promised. Those who visited returned impressed, but confused  after five years of construction and an expected completion date of 2016, the museum is far from finished and questions about the opening or approximate costs were shrugged off entirely  clearly, ‘tomorrow’ is not quite tomorrow.

The impression that art was a circumstantial aspect of the conference was predominantly due to the scheduling of the panel discussions. In what Marc Spiegler described as ‘a rather fast and furious format’, each discussion featured two speakers and a moderator and lasted 30 minutes, each tackling an enormous, and often pertinent, subject. For example, a talk on ‘The Digital Museum’ with the general director of the Rijksmuseum, Wim Pijbes, and Giorgia Abeltino from the Google Cultural Institute barely allowed for an overview of the digitization projects taking place in the two institutions, scratching only the surface of a debate that deserved further analysis and discussion. Similarly, the panel ‘Culture Under Attack’ was predominantly discursive, leaving one feeling that the topics had been chosen for their timely, immediate appeal and irrespective of a desire to engage more deeply with the subject matters. While the art salons allowed for more audience interaction and debate, the overall feeling of the conference was mired by many unanswered questions.

 

Jeff Koons speaking at the Art for Tomorrow conference 2016.
Jeff Koons speaking at the Art for Tomorrow conference 2016.

 

The lack of art was a troubling aspect of the conference that ran deep into the fundamentals of the event itself. The conference was hosted by the five-star W Hotel and Residences in Doha  an odd decision considering the array of arts venues that Qatar Museums has at their disposal. There were attempts to assert the missing art elsewhere in the programming  The Lab, a temporary gallery space, was set up on the 29th floor of the hotel and open throughout the conference. Although the starkly un-glitzy aesthetics of the space were refreshing, the curatorial vision of the show  beyond the desire to have some form of art in the conference  was absent. While there were artists speaking during the event, their talks were, again, mere presentations that were not further engaged with.

The highlight of the conference was undoubtedly the opening of What About the Art? Contemporary Art from China (until 16 July), an exhibition at Gallery Al Riwaq curated by artist Cai Guo-Qiang, to which all of the delegates were invited. The show was an enormous production that included 15 Chinese artists and a number of exceptional monumental commissions. This show demonstrated exactly what ‘Art for Tomorrow’ was trying to articulate  that a city like Doha can, and does, use art as an important tool for development. But it also showed that the opposite is equally true  the development of a city can be used to improve art, stage important shows, and inspire local audiences and artists. Leaving the exhibition and returning to the conference, the question persisted: ‘What about the art?’

Originally posted on Ibraaz.