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“beyond identification” – by Rose Issa 4-9 basEl abbas & ruanne abou-rahme 10 -15 buthayna ali 16-19 chant avedissian 20-25 Ayman baalbaki 26-31 hassan hajjaj 32-37 fathi hassan 38-43 susan hefuna 44-49 raeda saadeh 50-55 biographies 56-64


contents


Beyond Identification When 22 polymorphous countries share the same language, geographical and historical sphere and a majority the same religion, is there a common cultural link? Arabicity (Ourouba) or “Arabdom” is a response to this question and explores what some “Arab” concerns may be, conceptually and artistically. Through the work of nine very different artists from the Arab world, it shows how they resist stereotyping, challenge the confines of their identity, reshape the parameters of their traditions and bring visual poetry to life. Another line of enquiry is whether there are any links between the old and new aesthetic in Arab culture. Most Arabs believe poetry to be the basis of their culture, and I tend to agree. In Arabic the word for “poetry” – “shi’r” – is derived from the verb “to know” – “sha’ara”. Today, however, this verb means “to feel”, “to learn and understand intuitively”, “to be aware of” and “to be conscious of”. Similarly, all the artists in this exhibition cannot help but feel, intuit, be aware and conscious of the political realities of their environment, and they all share a sensitivity to their past. A common thread running through their work is a multi-layering of Arab history. Fathi Hassan is a Nubian from Egypt who has settled in Italy. His celebrated self-portrait, La Divisione (left, not in the exhibition), is an excellent illustration of Arabicity: a face both black and white, yin and yang, reflecting his experience as an Arab in Italy, belonging to two different cultures – East and West, south and north. His installation, Rosario (pp. 42-43), pays homage to the places and people who have inspired and influenced him – Egypt, Lebanon, Nubia, Jerusalem, artists, poets, writers, singers and public figures. Coming from a matriarchal society, his grandmother Monira makes an appearance in this selection of 99 names. He Fathi Hassan, La Divisione, mixed media on paper, 45x30cm (1991)

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only ever depicts the first name, as in Arabic names have a meaning, too. For example, “Shams” means “sun”, but also refers to Diwan Shams, the masterpiece of the 13th-century mystic poet Jalaleddin Rumi; “Hafez” means “the custodian, the one who knows the Koran by heart”, but is also the great 14th-century poet Hafez of Shiraz. “Motanabbi” means “he who claims to be a prophet” and is the 10th-century Iraqi poet who spoke about the freedom that comes from self-knowledge. “Naguib” is “of noble breed” and also the Nobel Prizewinning Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz. “Attar” the perfume seller, but also mystic poet Farid ed-Din Attar, author of Conference of the Birds; “Darwich” means a “dervish”, “hermit”, or “Sufi”, but can also refer to Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian poet. Another series by Fathi Hassan (pp. 39-41) refers to lyrics from nationalistic pop songs by the Lebanese singer Julia Boutros, written after the Israeli invasion of 2006: “The Sun Sets on Justice (“Ghabet Shams El Haq”), “How Strange” (“Shi Gharib”), and the hit “Where are the Millions?” (“Weyn el Malayeen”). Joyful and powerful, Chant Avedissian’s stencils celebrate his Icons of the Nile (pp. 20-25) – the performers, politicians, public figures, and people on the street who represented modern Egypt’s social and political heyday in the Fifties and early Sixties, when secularism and democratisation were on a high. He started the series in response to the first Gulf War in 1991, concerned that everything he remembered and cherished would be destroyed. Famous and glamorous faces – the legendary singer Om Kolsoum, an elegant King Farouk or pensive Gamal Abdel Nasser – appear in the same frame as pharaonic, Islamic and Ottoman decorative symbols and everyday objects, from bus tickets to thermos flasks. All are captured in stencil form, a technique that demands reducing line and colour just as the ancient Egyptians did with their hieroglyphs. To Avedissian, the human figures represent the birth of a nation, while its objects convey its essence – all distilled into a colourful and vibrant aesthetic experience.

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Destination X, mixed media installation at the Bluecoat arts centre, Liverpool (2010)

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M-USA, digital Lambda print, walnut-wood frame with soda cans, 106cm x 72cm (2010)

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Wayn il Malayeen? (Where are the Millions?), mixed media on board, 126x93.5cm (2010) Opposite: Shee Gharib (Cose Strane/How Strange), mixed media on board, 126x93cm (2010)

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Dream (Helm), cast-bronze silver, 50x70x4cm (2009)

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Drawing (Rasm), cast-bronze silver, 50x70x4cm (2009)

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ARABICITY (sample pages)