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.

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Palestinian Museum’s first satellite show opens in Beirut

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1970s Dress from At the Seams. Photo: Christian Moussa for The Palestinian Museum. Courtesy of Dar El-Nimer for Arts and Culture.

The Palestinian Museum’s first satellite show is opened on 25 May at Dar El-Nimer for Arts and Culture, a new art space in Beirut.

At the Seams: a Political History of Palestinian Embroidery (until 30 July) reveals the activist side of fashion in Palestine. The exhibition presents more than 50 garments from the extensive Widad Kawar and Malak al-Husseini Abdulrahim collections of Arab dress. The dresses are accompanied by a number of photographs, posters and paintings, some of which are from the El-Nimer collection, as well as video interviews documenting the craft.

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Abdulrahman al-Muzzayen, Salam, 1978. Oil on canvas. 82.5 x 62.5cm. From the collection of Rula Alami. Photo: Christian Moussa for The Palestinian Museum. Courtesy of Dar El-Nimer for Arts and Culture.

Also on display will be a number of rarely exhibited ‘intifada dresses’. These are a style of dress specifically designed to promote the First Intifada in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They include nationalist motifs including the flag and map of Palestine.

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Installation view of the Intifada dresses from At the Seams. Photo: Christian Moussa for The Palestinian Museum. Courtesy of Dar El-Nimer for Arts and Culture.

The exhibition’s curator Rachel Dedman travelled across Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan to research the show, meeting and interviewing over 50 male and female embroiderers. A new publication, launching in Beirut on 15 June, will include her original research into the history of embroidery-producing organisations from 1925 to 2015.

At the Seams is the first exhibition at Dar El-Nimer, which opened on 11 May in west Beirut. Its founder, Rami El-Nimer, says that the foundation’s collaboration with the Palestinian Museum was “a symbolic gesture” and part of its mission to recognise Palestinian heritage and community.

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Contemporary Embroidery from At the Seams. Photo: Christian Moussa for The Palestinian Museum. Courtesy of Dar El-Nimer for Arts and Culture.

Dar El-Nimer will offer its space for a variety of cultural events and exhibitions but will also draw from its own collection of Islamic art and Orientalist painting as well as Modern and contemporary art from the Middle East.

Midad: a Journey Through the Arabic Script is the first show from El-Nimer’s collection of around 2,500 items. It will open in January 2017 and is currently being researched by Alain George, an Islamic art historian and University of Edinburgh professor.

The Palestinian Museum is in the town of Birzeit, north of Jerusalem. Inaugurated on 18 May, the $30m museum has 3,500 sq. m of exhibition and educational space, and focuses on the history and culture of Palestine from 1750 to the present.

 

Originally posted on The Art Newspaper.

D-CAF – Downtown Cairo Art Festival 2016

The French Consulate in Downtown Cairo is one of the many D-CAF venues. Image courtesy of D-CAF.
The French Consulate in Downtown Cairo is one of the many D-CAF venues. Image courtesy of D-CAF.

D-CAF launched in April 2011, just months after the uprisings that saw Egypt’s then-president Mubarak step down. The festival points to the turbulent context of its inaugural edition by focusing on public space and performance, with venues this year including Horreya garden, the Egyptian stock market, local cinemas, theatres, shops and cafes. “The festival is about being in the city and bringing art to the urban environment—taking back the space not just politically but also creatively,” El Attar says. The festival’s wide range of venues can in part be attributed to D-CAF’s co-founder and main corporate sponsor, Al-Ismaelia for Retail Investment, which has been buying property in downtown Cairo since 2008.

D-CAF has an ambitious three-week programme this year that spans contemporary music, film, visual arts and, for the first time, literature. Unlike previous years, no events will be taking place in other Egyptian cities, but parallel shows will be held in Lebanon. The performances in Beirut are designed to include Syrian performance artists who are routinely denied entry into Egypt, despite the festival’s efforts to include them in their programming.

Continue reading on The Art Newspaper.

Q&A with eL Seed: Changing perceptions

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Perception by eL Seed

The Coptic community of Zaraeeb have been given the name zabaleen (or garbage people) because of their profession — collecting and sorting by hand the daily rubbish of Cairo. But the recycling work they carry out is not only highly profitable — it is a vital service in a city that produces around 14,000 tons of solid waste daily. For this reason the people of Zaraeeb don’t see themselves as the dirty ones — the real mess is Greater Cairo. It’s a matter of perception.

“We aren’t the zabaleen, they are — the rest of Cairo is.” This reported sentiment stands out in eL Seed’s discussion of his new self-funded project Perception in the Zaraeeb neighborhood in Cairo’s Manshiyet Nasser district.

Perception is monumental — an anamorphic artwork that covers more than 50 buildings, involved a team of 22 people, and took three weeks to paint. The large circular design, painted in the “calligraffiti” style eL Seed is renowned for, can only be viewed in its entirety from one specific point at the top of the neighboring Mokattam mountain.

As with many of his works, Perception uses a quote as the basis for an elaborate, interlinking Arabic design, this time from Saint Athanasius of Alexandria: “Anyone who wants to see the light clearly needs to wipe his eyes first.” Adding to the visual spectacle of the work, but also demonstrating the importance of the community in the creation of the project, the image was painted with fluorescent white paint that was illuminated for one night only when it was completed — a gift to the neighborhood that has given so much to Cairo.

Continue reading on Mada Masr

D-Sisyphe / Décisif: Constructing a Better Future For Tunisia

D-SISYPHE © Dahlia Katz
D-SISYPHE © Dahlia Katz

D-Sisyphe (pronounced as in the French ‘décisif’, meaning ‘decisive’ in English) is an important piece of performance, both as a creative expression that fuses contemporary dance with physical theatre and as an insight into the kind of socio-political situation of Tunisians that ultimately led to the 2011 uprisings that began in Tunisia and spread across the Middle East. The piece offers a humanised perspective of one man, Khmais, with his own feelings of loss and desperation at what he sees as the wreckage of his life – loathed by his wife and son, rejected by society and having lost faith in God, he is alone and afraid.

The play follows Khmais for one night at the construction site where he works, overthinking his life. Award-winning actor Meher Awachri developed D-Sisyphe as his final project at university, starting with a text he had written based upon The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. In an interview with al.arte magazine, Awachri described how the book raised questions for him “about my life in Tunisia before the revolution during the time of dictatorship, about the problems within Tunisian society and about my problems with society. Camus compares the absurdity of man’s life with the situation of Sisyphus. In D-Sisyphe I created a Tunisian version of Sisyphus”.

Continue reading on the Shubbak Festival blog.

‘Shahba’: An Interview with Hello Psychaleppo

In this interview, Samer Saem Eldahr (aka Hello Psychaleppo) talks about his video Shahba commissioned for Shubbak Festival 2015; his upcoming album; and his hope that electronic music can bridge both a musical and non-musical divide between the Middle East and the West.

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Still from Shahba, Hello Psychaleppo

Aimee Dawson: In the Middle East you often hear traditional, classic Arabic music such as Umm Kulthoum and Abdel Halim Hafez but your music takes these classics and remixes them – re-invents them almost – in a way that attracts both new and old audiences.

Hello Psychaleppo: Arab people are becoming increasingly nostalgic for our heritage and culture and I’m trying to use it in a new way that you can really dance to. I think that just clicked at some point and people seem to really like it.

AD: I read in an interview that you did that you felt like electronic music could help to bridge a gap between audiences in the Middle East and the West. You’ve recently moved to the USA – have you found a positive reaction to your music there?

HP: I’ve actually only been here for about four months so I haven’t had an opportunity to play here yet. But last week I was at Fusion Festival in northern Germany and I got some really nice feedback. The people didn’t understand Arabic, which most of my samples use, but mainly they related to the music phrases, the electronic sound and the dance – it’s this whole experience that they like to be in.

AD: Despite the fact that some Western audiences aren’t able to understand the Arabic, because they are drawn in by this familiar sound but with a new dimension it encourages them to find out more about the music and get to learn about the musical culture from Syria and the Middle East that they wouldn’t normally know.

HP: Yes, the music is fresh and it’s very new in the Middle East to have this kind of fusion of modern and heritage. At every gig there are a lot of people that don’t know this type music and it is always fun to watch how they are slowly engaging with it – enjoying certain lines or rhythms. At the end of the set people often feel like it’s been a journey and that’s very nice for me. Observing these kinds of small details is why I love playing live. After the set you get great feedback and lots of questions and that is why I do what I do.

Continue reading on the Shubbak Festival blog.

Interview with eL Seed

As part of Shubbak Festival 2015, I interviewed calligraffiti artist eL Seed during his first street art commission in London. For the piece, which he created just after the terrorist attack in Sousse in eL Seed’s home country of Tunisia, he chose a quote by John Locke reads that reads “It is one thing to show a man that he is in an error and another to put him in possession of truth”. Accompanying music: ‘Sand Song’ by Syrian musician Hello Psychaleppo (check out his music here).