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.

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California landscapes resonate in London: Interview with Etel Adnan

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Etel Adnan. Untitled (1995-2000). Courtesy of the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamburg/Beirut

Etel Adnan’s life is as colourful and compelling as her art. The artist, who was born in Beirut in 1925, is a poet, essayist and painter. Working in a range of media—from oil on canvas to watercolour and tapestry—her bright abstract style has been compared with that of Paul Klee and Nicolas de Staël. We spoke with Adnan on the occasion of her first solo exhibition in a UK public institution, which opens this month at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery.

Your paintings are mostly abstracted landscapes and you have lived in many different places: Beirut, California and now Paris. How have these places influenced your paintings?

California and Beirut are really my two homes, not only physically but mentally, and so I continue to live in relation to them even though I’m in Paris. I’m still inspired by these landscapes because I’m still haunted by these places—they are still in me. I spent most of my life in California, where I had a view of a mountain from my window and, willingly or not, it entered my psyche and also my writing and painting. You begin to live with it even when you can’t see it.

Etel Adnan. Photo: Fabrice Gibert. © Etel Adnan/Courtesy Galerie Lelong
Etel Adnan. Photo: Fabrice Gibert. Copyright: Etel Adnan. Courtesy Galerie Lelong

 

Your show at the Serpentine is called The Weight of the World, but much of your work is about weightless things, such as shadows and light. Where does this heaviness come from?

The exhibition takes its name from a series of works that all feature circles. In this case, the expression “weight of the world” is less psychological and more physical—a big circle weighing down in each work. This new series was painted a year ago. I made the first one and Hans Ulrich Obrist [the artistic director of the Serpentine] happened to see it in my studio in Paris and said I should do more.  

Many Lebanese artists—Mona Hatoum and Walid Raad, for example—refer to the Lebanese Civil War in their work. How has the war affected your work?

Tragedies indirectly foster creativity—[they] create tension. Look at Picasso’s Guernica; it’s like you have to create something at the same level of the tragedy that you are living in. In my own work, my response to such tragedies is more in my poetry and writing than in my painting. On the other hand, it’s not only war that can inspire creativity—overwhelming beauty can also create overwhelming works. For example, Monet’s Water Lilies triptych is epic. Nature is overwhelming if you really look at it. It’s a burst of fantastic energy. It’s a sort of positive apocalypse.

• Etel Adnan: the Weight of the World, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London, 2 June-11 September

Original article at The Art Newspaper.

Science fiction in the Holy Land

Can science fiction help solve the Israel-Palestine conflict? For the London-based artist Larissa Sansour and her partner and main collaborator Søren Lind the answer could be written in the stars.

Larissa Sansour, A Space Exodus (2009). Courtesy of the artist.
Larissa Sansour, A Space Exodus (2009). Courtesy of the artist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sansour, one of Palestine’s best-known artists, uses video and photography to reimagine current events in the Middle East. The political nature of Sansour’s works has courted controversy: she was removed fr om the shortlist for the 2011 Lacoste Prize, she claimed for being “too-Palestinian”. The prize was cancelled that year.

Her best-known works include A Space Exodus (2009), a video that follows a fictional Palestinian woman astronaut’s landing on the moon, and Nation Estate (2012), a short film that envisages a dystopian Palestine as a skyscraper, with each floor representing a Palestinian city.

In her latest film, In the Future They Ate From the Finest Porcelain (2015), Sansour reflects on a tendency in the region to base political legitimacy and land entitlement on archaeological evidence. Together, the films form a sci-fi trilogy on the Middle East. The films will be part of several exhibitions taking place in the UK this year, kicking off at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham this week (15 January-13 March).

Continue reading on The Art Newspaper.

Middle East looks further east as trend for Korean art continues to grow

The trend for contemporary Korean art is hitting the Middle East. Ana: Please Keep Your Eyes Closed for a Moment (until 2 January 2016) at the Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah is the first exhibition of contemporary Korean art at a public institution within the region.

Juyeon Kim's YI:SUK (2015). Courtesy of Maraya Art Centre
Juyeon Kim’s YI:SUK (2015). Courtesy of Maraya Art Centre

As well as introducing young Korean artists to the art scene in the Gulf, the exhibition looks at wider notions of identity. “I wanted to question what it means to be Korean or what Korean art is,” says JW Stella, the London- and Seoul-based curator of the show. “Contemporary art from Korea was (and still is) relatively unfamiliar to the Middle East, particularly in comparison to art from China or Japan.” The exhibition features works by 12 Korean artists and one from Saudi Arabia. Standout works include a 15m-long mural by Gayoung Jun and an installation by Juyeon Kim comprised of 7,000 Emirati newspapers covered in sprouting seeds.

Continue reading on The Art Newspaper.

ARA-B-LESS? : An Interview With Riffy Arts Collective

Meriem Bennani, the New York-based artist who was recently featured in the New York Times, is one of the artists selected by Riffy Ahmed and Sarah El Hamed for the ARA-B-LESS? project at the Saatchi Gallery, part of The Nour Festival of Arts. I spoke with Riffy to learn more about the project.

Ara-B-Less poster
ARA-B-LESS poster

How did you conceive the title ARA-B-LESS ?

The project title ‘ARA-B-LESS ?’ is a neologism born of a play on the word ‘Arabness’ (Arabism). Two designs hint at the meaning behind “ARA-B-LESS ?” –  the first emphasising ‘BLESS’ suggests that Arab identity is a blessing, while the second emphasises “LESS’, the ways in which what it means to be Arab have evolved over time, perhaps losing something along the way. ‘ARA-B-LESS?’, as a question, also focuses on whether we, the artists, consider ourselves to be more or less Arab for having been born and brought up in the West, albeit by parents from Arab countries.

Continue reading on the Nour Festival blog.

Studio Daze

From ‘Scenes and Types’ to Shehrazade and El Sham: studio photography in the Arab world

An early 20th century French Scenes and Types postcard of an Algerian girl published by Lehnert and Landrock
An early 20th century French Scenes and Types postcard of an Algerian girl published by Lehnert and Landrock

The value of a photograph – its principle charm, at least – is its infallible truthfulness. We may have long revelled in the poetry of the East; but this work enables us to look, as it were, upon its realities1.

So said the 19th century Orientalist, Sophia Poole. Poole’s perception of photography’s unique ‘claim to truth’2 was widely held by early photographers from the West, to whom the colonial realms of the Middle East provided their principal training grounds3. In her seminal book, On Photography, Susan Sontag challenged the ‘presumption of veracity’ that had long been associated with photography, arguing that photographs are ‘as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings’4. But to what extent is this appreciated today? Whilst many claim to have developed their understanding of the art from the idea of a visualised ‘truth’ to a moment of representation, people continue to search for realities within photographs, particularly withinarchives. How useful is it to mine such documents for historical and social ‘realities’? Can these momentary representations of individuals, as captured in a photograph, be extrapolated to speak of an entire society, time, or people?

Continue reading on Reorient website.