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Sama Alshaibi, MÄ Lam TabkÄŤ (Unless Weeping) from Silsila series- (detail), 2014, Archival print, 70 x 100 cm. Edition of 5

Photo London Booth E7 21-23 May 2015 Somerset House

Samia Halaby, Floating Turning, 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 153 x 203 cm


Booth C16 21-23 May 2015 Olympia London


CURIOUS ISSUE It’s so lovely to hear the birds singing in early spring. When I was living in Finland many years ago, this was the best time of the year when you could actually hear the trees blossom so intensely and watch them take shape as if by magic. In our Curious Issue, made possible by the efforts of contributors around the world, it is the blossoming of emerging artists and galleries gaining recognition that takes our focus, and I am privileged to present, among our Curious Talents section, my daughter, artist Yasmina Nysten. I’d also like to thank all of our ‘curators’ who put so much effort into making this issue such an outstanding one. Thanks to New York’s The Armory show, the Sharjah Biennial, the International New York Times’ “Art for Tomorrow” conference in Doha, Art Dubai and Design Days Dubai, the art and design calendar has been particularly busy of late. If you were unable to attend any of these events in person, you can catch all the highlights in the following pages. The Art for Tomorrow conference in particular drew some impressive names, including Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel and Jeff Koons, and they were equally impressed themselves by Wael Shawky’s restaging of a violent and tragic history via


a special marionette show in Doha. Find out how he elicited awe and emotions by reading on. Another major name from the art and design world takes his place in Selections this spring. You can discover the diverse inspirations of Gaetano Pesce as he chats with Maria Christina Didero, and reveals his penchant for the emotional and creative side of the kitchen, calling it “The theatre of passions”. This issue also brings together Jean-Luc Monterosso, Director of La Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, and Tarek Nahas a prominent Lebanese lawyer and collector, to discuss their passion for photography. Plus, don’t miss our special section from art historian Maymanah Farhat, who provides a fascinating overview of Iraqi artists in exile, as well as profiles of a number of them. I hope our cover piques your curiosity somewhat with its allusion to Alice in Wonderland. And just like Alice, may you find plenty in this issue to found a journey of the mind.


India Stoughton graduated from the University of Edinburgh with an MA in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies. During her course she spent a semester studying in Damascus, where she developed a deep interest in Syrian, Lebanese and Iraqi art and culture. Having travelled extensively in the Middle East, spending time in Morocco, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Qatar, as well as Syria, she is currently based in Lebanon, where she works as an art and culture reporter.

Dr Nadia Radwan is a Swiss-Egyptian historian of art and architecture. She holds a PhD from the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and is currently Assistant Professor of Art History at the American University in Dubai. Her research focuses on Middle Eastern modern and contemporary art and architecture and addresses the dynamics of nonWestern artistic modernities and cultural transnational interactions.

Maria Cristina Didero is an independent design curator and journalist contributing to Domus, Vogue Casa, Flair, Loft, and Apartamento. She has been in charge of the Vitra Design Museum for Italy for more than 10 years and sits on the board of Veritas auction house in Lisbon, is a patron of Design Days Dubai, and curates Design Talks for Miart Milan. She has been Director of Fondazione Bisazza since 2011.

Dr Zoltán Somhegyi is a UAE-based Hungarian art historian, holding a PhD in aesthetics. Besides being an Assistant professor at the University of Sharjah, he is a curator of international exhibitions, a consultant of Art Market Budapest – International contemporary art fair, and author of books, artist catalogues, and more than two hundred articles, critiques, essays and art fair reviews.

Danna Lorch is a Dubai-based writer focusing on art and pop culture from the Middle East. She blogs at ‘Danna Writes’ and serves as Contributor to ArtSlant. Recent publications include The National, Jadaliyya, Contemporary Practices, Canvas, and Vogue (India). Danna holds a graduate degree in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University.

Yasmina Nysten is a painter, writer and photographer. From New York to Qatar she has shown her photography, illustration and painting. Born and raised in Helsinki, she has lived in Cannes, Beirut and Brooklyn. After a Bachelor’s degree from ALBA University, Beirut, she is currently earning her Master’s from the acclaimed Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. In her spare time, Yasmina has been known to trip the lights fantastic and ride her hot pink motorcycle around the hood.



Arie Amaya-Akkermans is a writer and art critic based in Beirut. His writing has appeared in Canvas, Artsy, Hyperallergic and RES Art World. Formerly assistant curator at Albareh Art Gallery in Bahrain, his current research concerns visual culture in Turkey and Lebanon, aesthetics of technology, and representations of political violence.

Marina Iordan is a contemporary art consultant and writer based in the UAE. She regularly contributes to a number of publications, which all have Middle Eastern culture as common thread. Her most recent articles were published in Harper’s Bazaar Art Arabia, Aesthetica Magazine, Contemporary Practices, and The Mantle. In her blog, My Velvet Instant, she explores the art scene in and out of Dubai, focusing on contemporary art from the Middle East and Arab world.

Maymanah Farhat is a New Yorkbased art historian and the Artistic Director of Ayyam Gallery. Her writings have appeared in anthologies, artist monographs, and exhibition catalogues in addition to Art Journal, Callaloo Journal, and Apollo magazine, among other publications. Farhat is also a curator whose exhibitions include Samia Halaby’s first retrospective, Five Decades of Painting and Innovation, and the recent group show, Syria’s Apex Generation.

Nadine Khalil. When she is not managing, editing or writing for luxury, food and art magazines based in the Middle East, Nadine loves to go on short trips in order to work on that book of short stories she keeps promising herself. Trained as an anthropologist at the American University of Beirut and in cultural studies at New York University, she tries to bridge journalism with the social sciences and cultural theory whenever she can.

Kasia Maciejowska is a London-based writer and editor who spent a year with us in Beirut editing Selections and the Art Paper. She has an MA in Design History & Material Culture from the Royal College of Art/V&A Museum, and a BA in English Literature from the University of Oxford. Her regular subjects are the visual arts, interior design, and contemporary culture. She has previously written for The Times and Ibraaz among others.

Beirut-born Rania Habib is a Dubaibased writer and editor and was previously Assistant Editor at Canvas magazine. She obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Montreal’s Concordia University in 2003 and has written for various publications including Brownbook, Rolling Stone Middle East, Canvas Daily, Communicate, Gulf News, TimeOut Abu Dhabi and What’s On Abu Dhabi, among others.



STYLE 114 Sequined art rahel guiragossian looks to her artistic legacy as inspiration for her eco-friendly sequined garments







Interview sheikha hoor al qasimi

ART 46

The world on a string wael shawky talks marionettes, manipulation and history repeating itself


A Polyphonous ode to photography Open Rhapsody in Beirut


Two views from the other side of the lens jean-luc monterosso and tarek nahas


In favour of Curious Talents We’ve curated a group of artists and galleries with ties to the Middle East who pique our curiosity with their adventurous practices and fresh concepts


Architectures without land saba innab retraces a journey no longer possible but replete with meaning


To sleep, perchance to dream The new Raffles Istanbul property showcases Turkish and international art with a collection of more than 200 specially commissioned works inviting guests to ‘Dream of Istanbul’


116 Not just for princesses The House of Tabbah is bringing the bespoke experience to a wider audience 84

Diverse, but resolutely arab Exploring Sharjah Art Museum’s new collection of contemporary Arab art ahead of its unveiling


In the eye of the thunderstorm Nine Arab artists and one from the sub-continent participate in the second “Official Collateral Event” from the region to ever show at The Venice Biennale


Ladies of the camellias Chanel’s Camélia Brodé and Camélia Maki-e timepieces, both from the Mademoiselle Privé collection of watches, tell the hours with artistic flair

IRAQ 123

Iraqi Artists in Exile A nation’s creative force flourishes beyond its own borders


One thousand and one nights revisited Bryony Devitt finds inspiration in Hanan al-Shaykh’s take on a classic


In the library with golnaz fathi



Innovation above all gaetano pesce’s body of work spans decades of diverse inspiration


Letting inspiration take shape aljoud lootah debuts a new furniture collection at Design Days Dubai


Through a design lens New York’s Cooper Hewitt is open once again, showcasing one of the most captivating collections of design objects in the world


Between fantasy and freedom We explore the dream world of photographer lara zankoul


EDITORIAL MASTHEAD Editor-in-Chief Rima Nasser Copy Editor Helen Assaf Designer Genia Kodash Illustrator Yasmina Nysten Pictures Editor Rowina Bou Harb Contributing Writers Maria Cristina Didero, Arie Amaya-Akkermans, Kasia Maciejowska, India Stoughton, Anya Stafford, Nadine Khalil, Iain Akerman, Marina Iordan, Rania Habib, Danna Lorch, Marwan Naaman, Yasmina Nysten, Dr Nadia Radwan, Dr Zoltán Somhegyi

ADVERTISING & DISTRIBUTION Commercial & Marketing Rawad J. Bou Malhab Advertising & Editorial Inquiries

The Curious Issue #30 Wael Shawky, Cabaret Crusades, The secrets of Karbala, marionette, SHAWAR Minister of Egypt, CC III-M81 2014, glass, fabric, enamel, thread

Distribution lebanon Messagerie du Moyen Orient de la Presse et du Livre s.a.l. qatar City News Publishing united arab emirates Jashanmal National Co. L.L.C. Printing Chamas for Printing & Publishing s.a.l. Responsible Editor Fatma Koteich BPA Worldwide Consumer Magazine


Membership Applied for December 2014

Selections magazine digital edition is also available for iPads and Android tablets


Art news from New York — yasmina nysten Art news from Sharjah — dr zoltan somhegyi Curious Talents — danna lorch Design — anastasia nysten Iraqi Artists in Exile — maymanah farhat Style — marwan naaman


Fire Station lights up Qatar’s art scene



Privacy in public



Jabal explores the artist as visionary


Pier review


Political Resonance


The possible instead of the unpredictable


Sharjah Biennial favourites

20 21

Beastly wonder


Memory through art

An anniversary with a difference

The power of transformation


Art Dubai


In conversation with Sheikha Hoor al Qasimi


Journey of the mind


Reflections on femininity


Dreaming big

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, The Freedom of Speech, Installation at the Armory show 2015, Galeri NON booth


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Fire Station lights up Qatar’s art scene A restored building is all set to welcome artists in residence by India Stoughton

Hala Al Khalifa, head of the Fire Station’s residency programme

Qatar Museums has built up a diverse stable of art spaces, museums and galleries over the past decade, from high profile venues like Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Islamic Art, to more experimental spaces like the MIA Park, the QM Gallery at Katara and the ALRIWAQ DOHA Exhibition Space. This March saw QM add a new string to its bow with the Fire Station — Artist in Residence, a production-focused venue set to offer a significant career boost to emerging local artists. Located in the former Civil Defence Building, one of Doha’s oldest structures, the new space is designed to host up to 20 artists at a time for a prolonged residency programme of nine months. The artists will receive weekly mentoring sessions, attend the full programme of QM exhibitions and talks, enjoy regular interaction with highprofile curators and have access to a series of lectures, as well as their own studio spaces. “Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa Al Thani envisioned the concept of a residency programme for artists and


saw the potential of restoring an old iconic monument in Doha to house a new initiative,” explains Doha-based Bahraini artist and head of the residency programme Hala Al Khalifa. “And so, instead of demolishing a key venue in Qatar’s architectural landscape, it was renovated and restored, retaining its external recognisable facade with a whole new look and feel inside.” The repurposed space will eventually feature a number of public facilities, including a café, restaurant, bookshop, stationery outlet and a cinema. The 700 square-metre garage has been turned into an exhibition space, dedicated to displaying work by emerging local artists, while the tower is now a striking visual feature, covered with programmable LED lights woven into stainless steel mesh. The Fire Station officially opened on March 14, but the first batch of artists will begin their residency in September. Artists based in Qatar can apply online for acceptance to the programme, with successful applicants selected by an independent jury. More established artists from oversees will facilitate crosscultural exchange. “Currently we are not accepting applications from artists residing outside of Qatar, but that may very well change in the future,” Al Khalifa explains. “At present, we have a provision of four studios for invited established artists who will be granted a space to produce works locally, as well as potentially engage in mentorships with resident artists.” The Fire Station’s aim is not only to help support emerging, locally-based artists, but to have a wider positive impact on Qatar’s cultural scene. “A large part of fabricating an art and culture landscape is to also produce locally, and cultivate the spark from within,” notes Al Khalifa. “It is not enough to bring artists and works from overseas. Our residency hopes to become a breeding ground. It will also help to educate and expose our local community to the artist scene being fostered from within our geographical peripheries. We of course hope this will have a resounding, positive impact on the Qatari community.”


Privacy in public A new platform for upcoming UAE artists commences with a group show by Anya Stafford

The inaugural UAE Unlimited Arab Exploration begins with a piece that speaks of potential. When you arrive to this first group exhibition, subtitled A Public Privacy, neat piles of odd tiles are carefully laid out on the floor. Vikram Divecha’s Negative Heaps (of designated waste) (2015) look content to rest there, or perhaps be turned into something new. Under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, UAE Unlimited Arab Exploration is an open platform for emerging Emirati, locallybased, and GCC artists. A Public Privacy takes place in the Gallery of Light in Dubai Community and Arts Center (DUCTAC) until April 8, and is curated by Cristiana de Marchi and Mohammed Kazem. These two artists have long worked together in Dubai, and so are well inclined to spot local talent. Six artists are featured, four of whom are Emirati. “The only prerequisites were that [the pieces] were completely new or not shown before,” says de Marchi. “We wanted

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Jabal explores the artist as visionary by India Stoughton

to open a little bit to other nationalities, as the UAE is definitely home to many, and relations with the Gulf are very strong.” A Public Privacy “addresses issues of the artists’ self-positioning in the public arena,” according to the accompanying text. Shaikha Al Mazrou is one to watch, now being represented by Dubai’s Lawrie Shabibi gallery. Here she continues on her auspicious journey with Tension II and Relax (2014). Large globes the colour of sand are perpetually kept in check by, or have fallen from, yellow rubber bands which are actually crafted from metal. These wonderful illusions crystallise the show’s premise. Shamma Al-Amri’s charcoal and indian ink Drawing 1 & 2 (2014) are a sort of monochromatic, horizontal lifeline, just about holding it together as the ink splays out beyond the carefully controlled edges. The exhibition continues with Monira Al Qadiri’s The Falls (2014), a lightbox that illuminates layers of religious imagery over waterfalls, contemplating popular representations of spirituality in the region. Then there’s Hamad Al Falasi’s series of photographs, Local Reciprocal (2010), showing an anonymous Arab in an unglamorous industrial scene, with its blue sky and ochre desert beyond. Tucked away in a very private corner is Jumairy’s line of torches, I loved them: My sorrow (2015), miniscule bilingual secrets that are revealed when the flashlights are switched on. A publication featuring essays and artists’ interviews rounds off a show which is a promising new venture for the area’s promising new lights.

Paradoxically, Beirut is a city full of art galleries, yet one where it can be hard for emerging artists to break through into the public eye. Commercial galleries depend on more established artists to make their money, and a dearth of non-profit art institutions and showcases leaves many young artists struggling to promote their own work via social media. Notable exceptions to this rule include the Beirut Art Center’s annual group show Exposure, which showcases ambitious conceptual projects by promising emerging artists, and JABAL, the platform for promoting and exhibiting young Lebanese artists founded by Fransabank in 1998. Each year, young Lebanese painters, sculptors, photographers, installation artists and designers who have not yet had the opportunity to showcase their work in a solo exhibition are invited to submit a portfolio of work relating to a specific theme. Winning entries are selected by a jury for inclusion in an exhibition that attracts artists, collectors and enthusiasts of all ages.

Unlike most of Lebanon’s cultural initiatives, which are centred on Beirut, JABAL has been held as far afield as Tripoli and Zouk Mikhael. The 11th edition of the exhibition, running from May 14 to 16, takes place for the first time at Beirut’s SaintGeorges Hotel. Artistic directors Laure D’Hauteville and Pascal Odille selected the theme Visionary Artists, where myths and dreams are all about Lebanon. The theme was intended to highlight the role of artists in shaping and recording history. “The visionary artist is opposed to a simple representation of reality tied to the unique mastery of techniques,” said Odille. “He uses his intuition and sensitivity to channel his daydreams. The contemporary artist can express himself through several mediums, whether paper, canvas, clay, bronze, photography or through computer programmes. He has the ability to amaze his public and take him to a constructive world.”

The Saint Georges Hotel



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Sharjah Biennial favourites Artists connect imaginings and experiences around the Emirate of Sharjah by Anya Stafford

Adrián Villar Rojas. Planetarium, 2015. Site-specific installation. Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation. Courtesy Kurimanzutto, Mexico City; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York; and the artist. Kalba Ice Factory, Sharjah Biennial 12. Photo: Jörg Baumann. © 2015 baumann fotografie frankfurt a.m.

Negotiating the Dubai to Sharjah traffic is always bit of a struggle, but once you’re at Sharjah Biennial 12 (SB12), it’s easy to stay. Sharjah Art Foundation’s main sites are a meeting of old Emirati houses (coral bricks, ornate courtyards, narrow alleyways) with modern architectures (floor to ceiling windows, cool steel doors). This juxtaposition coexists commendably. The Past, Present, The Possible is this Biennial’s title, and it’s curated for the first time in its 22-year history by Eungie Joo.


The majority of the 55 artists are presenting newly commissioned pieces, and while some works are harmonious with their environs, like the garden of Taro Shinoda or Cinthia Marcelle’s sifted sand piece AT THE RISK OF THE REAL (2015), others insinuate a more jarring interaction. Danh Vo has managed to cram his nine-metre-high replica of the Statue of Liberty’s armpit into one of the Art Spaces in the Heritage area. Surrounded by scaffolding and tea and tobacco boxes, Come to where the flavours are (2015) brings to mind commercial transport, the exchange of goods and all that flows with it. As does Plate It With Silver (2015), Babak Afrassiabi and Nasrin Tabatabai’s video. It’s a fascinating insight into the enigmatic Strait of Hormuz, interviewing Iranian smugglers and exorcists for those possessed by the ‘winds’ of this body of water. SB12 has fewer artists but more space than previously, and Fahrelnissa El Zeid’s room is in itself worth coming back for. The legendary Turkish artist’s resin pieces, Paleocristalos, with their chicken bones and newspaper shreds, are experimental time capsules. They share a similar stained glass aesthetic to her large-scale abstract paintings, with Break of the Atom and Vegetal Life (1962) dominating the room. Properly glamourous yet melancholic selfportraits complete this mini-show. Some artists have works in different locations, like Rayyane Tabet. Cyprus (2015) is a hefty piece with an uncanny backstory. A wooden boat hangs from the ceiling, accompanied on the ground by its rusty anchor and slouched rope. In nearby Sharjah Art Museum, his Steel Rings (2013) connects rooms much as the defunct TransArabian Pipeline it references connected territories. Adrián Villar Rojas appears in a cranny in the Art Spaces, where it feels like a teaser to his takeover of Kalba Ice Factory over an hour’s drive away, on the Gulf of Oman. Layered structures and colourful columns of earth and animal, including human, detritus make Planetarium (2015) a grandly designed ecosystem that is forever decomposing as you watch, and as you smell.

Other works at SB12 that are sensually striking, albeit in different ways are Beom Kim’s labyrinthine painting Untitled (Intimate Suffering #13) (2014), and the rose-tinted windows in Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Eau de Rose of Damascus (2015). Joo sums up the range on show at SB 12 thus: “Together their works offer both material experience and meditative pause to reassert the need for wonder, mindfulness and query at this particularly disharmonious and decadent moment in human history.” Sharjah Biennial 12 continues until June 5, 2015. To view more check

Prince Dara Shikoh Riding on a Royal Elephant, from a Royal Album of Shah Jahan, Mughal, India, 1628–30 CE, artist: Balchand, ink, opaque watercolour, and gold on paper

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Beastly wonder Mythical creatures take over the MIA by India Stoughton

The simurgh, a mythical creature often depicted in Iranian art, is a gigantic, benevolent winged beast, big enough to lift an elephant or a whale and carry it away in its talons. Symbolising the union between earth and sky with the beauty of a peacock’s body and tail, the head of a dog and the fearsome claws of a lion, she is sometimes depicted with a human face. Iranian legends state that the creature is so old she has witnessed the destruction of the world three times over and is said to possess the knowledge of all the ages.

This wondrous beast is one of the many animals, both mythical and real, explored in Marvellous Creatures: Animal Fables in Islamic Art, the exhibition running at Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art until July 11. Curated by Dr Leslee Michelsen, MIA’s head of curatorial and research, the exhibition focuses on animals from the legends and fables of the ancient Islamic world and their representation in art. Divided according to the four elements, earth, fire, water and air, these creatures serve as introductions to the ancient stories of the Islamic world, beloved classics such as Shahnameh, Sinbad the Sailor, Kalila wa Dimna and the One Thousand and One Nights. The majority of the pieces included in the exhibition have never been publicly displayed, granting visitors a unique insight into this rich area of Islamic artistic and literary heritage. The diverse selection of pieces on display includes manuscripts, textiles, ceramics, jewellery, glass and metalwork dating from the 10th to the 19th centuries and exemplifies the broad appeal and cultural significance of these myths and stories across multiple countries, dynasties and generations. MIA ensures the exhibition retains a contemporary, interactive feel by augmenting the visual displays with animations and audio recordings in Arabic, English, Mandarin, Malayalam, Persian, Russian, Tagalog, Turkish and Urdu, which are accessible through the museum’s website. Objects on display include The Franchetti Tapestry, a 16th century woven silk tapestry from Iran’s Safavid dynasty, featuring peacocks, stags and lions, as well as a number of mythical creatures. These include three that originated in Chinese art: the dragon, the phoenix and the qilin, a mythical deer-like animal said to appear at auspicious times. An animal-headed mask, believed to ward off evil spirits, can also be seen in this unique textile work. Other important pieces include a gilded watercolour illustration from one of the royal albums of Shah Jahan, a Mughal emperor who ruled in northern India, dating from circa 1628. Entitled Prince Dara Shikoh Riding on a Royal Elephant, it captures the emperor’s eldest son astride one of these gentle creatures, arrayed in

princely regalia. A 17th century planispheric astrolabe from Safavid Iran is also on display. Used to project what the sky looked like at a given time, day or night, astrolabes were used in navigation and to help determine the direction of prayer. This particular piece boasts images of humans and animals on its 46 star pointers, as well as fish and mythical seas monsters. A programme of talks, workshops and events for families and children is running alongside the exhibition, including late night tours, puppet shows, interactive storytelling and creative art workshops.


Memory through art The second installment of Barjeel Art Foundation’s Aide – mémoire exhibition is not just a continuation of the first, but also a thought-provoking echo of it and how it is remembered by Dr Zoltán Somhegyi

“Memory is identity. I have believed this since... oh, since I can remember.” The reflection of Julian Barnes, quoted in the catalogue of the new exhibition at Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah is a precise summary of the role of memory in our existence. However, memory has a central role not only in our personal life, but in the focus of artistic practices too – as a starting point and source of inspiration in the creation, a subject matter of the artwork, or even its medium, as suggested by Isabella Ellaheh Hughes in the same catalogue. How and what do we remember? What shapes and modifies our memory? How can it inspire the creation? These and other questions are examined in the current exhibition, curated by Mandy Merzaban, with the help of the Assistant Curator



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Suheyla Takesh. The actual exhibition, Aidemémoire II, could in fact, be interpreted not as a second edition, rather as a double exhibition. The first show that took place in the same galleries of the Barjeel Art Foundation throughout the winter months showcased artworks that examined various aspects of memory – both personal and collective –, including works thematising private, socio-political or cultural issues, from, among others Khaled Jarrar, Youssef Nabil and Mona Hatum. At this first show the visitors were asked to leave some comments in small notebooks, any kind of considerations inspired by the art pieces on view there. These visitor-footnotes became part of the next edition of the exhibition. In the second show, the display was rearranged: some works were taken down and substituted by others, while some were placed in a different location of the same space. In this way, the second exhibition is partly identical to the first, and partly the memory of it. Hence the investigation of memory is put on a meta-level: not only artworks examining remembrance, but the whole exhibition has become a place for meditation on the memory through “having in mind” the previous show. What’s more, the artworks got intertwined with the personal reflexions of the observers: the notebooks of the visitors of the first edition are exhibited too and some are even reproduced in the catalogue. Thereby we find a nice circle: artworks were born by the investigation of memory that activated visitors’ personal comments and memories, that became then – even if not proper artworks, at least – part of a new exhibition.

Khaled Jarrar, Volleyball, 2013, reconstituted concrete from apartheid wall, diameter 20 cm, weight 8 kg, image courtesy of Gallery One and Barjeel Art Foundation


An anniversary with a difference by Nadine Khalil

After years of working with heavyweight artists, Andree Sfeir-Semler’s latest commemorative project questions the very process of putting on an exhibition

Marwan Rechmaoui Untitled, 2015 concrete, plastic , paint 240 × 300 × 0,5 cm

I’m being walked through Sfeir-Semler’s latest show, ‘Gallery 3010’ in Beirut, which commemorates the Hamburg gallery’s 30-year anniversary, alongside an equally significant decade in the Lebanese capital. The tour reminds me of how, when I met and interviewed owner Andree Sfeir-Semler ten years ago, the gallery was making waves as the first white cube in the Middle East. Rather than the artwork, the focus in Sfeir-Semler’s latest exhibition is the gallery space itself and, in particular, the white cube. “We are questioning our own work…. This is a concrete exhibition about what we do,” she tells me. “It’s about looking back at the history and archaeology of art.” As we continue our tour, Sfeir-Semler tells me how the idea for the show evolved. “I wanted something light, fun and questioning but I didn’t want it to be a birthday show. So I had a conversation with Walid Raad in Hamburg,” she explains. “We were talking about sculpture as photography and he kept questioning until the spark came to me.”

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We’ve just passed a piece by Lebanese artist, Rayyane Tabet, who presents traditional anniversary tokens as raw material on slabs. Employing these materials as sculpture is a unifying thread which connects to Richard Artschwager’s woodencrate sculpture, Marwan Rechmaoui’s Beirut cross-section as a concrete mural and Haig Aivazian’s marble blocks made into a monument-style installation. Some artists opted to work on a birthday theme, but only tenuously. Cairoborn artist, Anna Boghiguian was one, whose colourful illustrations on the side wall of the gallery’s entrance depict this celebratory spirit. Pointing to Swiss artist, Christine Streuli’s fabulous cushions made from intricate, vibrant textiles collected on her travels, Sfeir-Semler explains how she wanted something lively and bright for the entrance. Then there’s the irony. Robert Barry’s signature photographs of an exhibition made of wires, whose invisibility delineates the physical volume and boundaries of a white cube, alongside Khalil Rabah’s paintings made in China, lined up around and in a storage container, reflecting major Palestinian exhibitions. “This shows how you can commission a painting in China, you don’t have to do it yourself,” Sfeir-Semler says. We look at further instances of artists interrogating the nature of their work as a commodity, such as Hans Haacke tracing the ownership of Manet’s painting, ‘A Bunch of Asparagus’ by providing its photograph, along with a series of documents, to show how it changed hands. Marcel Broodthaer’s work, meanwhile, represents art in terms of market value, as gold plates on a framed illustration, marked in terms of authenticity. The last part of the exhibition is the most cerebral and politically charged. Here, we find the work of artists from the Lebanese scene, such as Rabih Mroueh, who documents what happened when he showed replicas of Israeli leaflets, left behind 30 years ago, to friends. Mounira el Solh’s work, on the other hand, is more minimalist, but no less loaded. She uses the work of René Daniels, the eminent Dutch painter, and the symbol of a bowtie as an allegory for questioning the role of art in the region.


The final section is full of artefacts or the recovery of traditional techniques, including Elger Esser’s Romantic photo engraving. Sfeir-Semler explains that the technique “is lost today”. Esser revived it, she adds. There’s also Ian Hamilton Finlay’s antique-looking plaque engraved with ‘The gods fly faster than sound’. This is followed by Ann & Patrick Poirier’s Babylonian maquettes and neoclassical Roman busts as paper sculptures on the wall. “Some of these pieces haven’t been seen anywhere since the 1970s,” Sfeir-Semler says. Khalil Rabah, Art Exhibition, 2011, installation view

It’s almost as if Sfeir-Semler wanted to make Gallery 3010 comparable to a museum show. Perhaps the best example of this is Walid Raad’s museum wall, which looks into how the Islamic department of the Louvre is sending pieces to the Abu Dhabi branch. “How do art pieces like this sculptural artefact pictured here react when you decide to put them in boxes? They contaminate each other. In a different context, they cannot exist in the same form,” Sfeir-Semler says. She may be immersed in looking back right now. However, Sfeir-Semler’s approach today is as contemporary and provocative as it was ten years ago.



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The power of transformation Heavyweight names descend on Doha for Art For Tomorrow by Yasmina Nysten

As I caught a glimpse from the airplane window of the surreal rural phenomenon which is the city of Doha, I could only ask myself these questions: How does one envision building a skyscraping city from a fisherman’s village? How did a city, with such a modern approach to urbanisation, rise so fast amongst the dunes of time? Someone must be working hard! Organised by the International New York Times in partnership with Qatar Museums and the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage and with Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa AlThani, Art for Tomorrow was a two-day conference that featured speakers such as Rem Koolhaas, Jean Nouvel, Zaha Hadid and Jeff Koons. Over 200 guests flocked from around the world, representing the arts, public and private sectors, city planners and business developers, and all inspired to play a part in expanding Doha’s cultural infrastructure. My introduction to the city was a visit to architect I. E. Pei’s modern Museum of Islamic Art. As monumentally omnipresent as it appeared through the calm coast, I was elated by the sparseness and brevity of the structure up close. Elegant Zen is how every detail of this place was conceived. And it was for the people. I had stepped into another planet. Here, big ideas seemed to be perfectly feasible. Such an ample first impression dilated my humble prospects and little did I yet know how today’s builders of Doha embodied an Atlantean Consciousness. The conference began not a minute after 8 am. Lecture after lecture, the speakers utilised comparative and creative strategies to delineate how the artistic and socio-economic sectors can be advanced within the city. Luckily, I got to approach Jean Nouvel during one of the coffee breaks. I was interested to know how he had conceived of the Doha Tower, a skyscraper with no rough edges planted right on Doha’s shore. The design harmoniously brings together modernity with all the traditional standards of an Arab country.


HIA Airport City, Partners-in-charge, Rem Koolhaas, Iyad Alsaka, Reinier de Graaf, Copyright-OMA

The all-glass construction is conceived with Mashrabiya, an ancient Islamic design ornamenting the windows allowing less heat to penetrate the rooms while tracing beautiful arabesque designs all through the inner walls. Jean Nouvel’s designs seem to stand in contrast and rebellion against contemporary architecture. He claims to be bridging the gap between what is lacking in urban designs and what is needed in community life. More than any other form of art, architecture plays a role in cultural longevity. Many future generations will experience his creations in evolving circumstances, especially in the Qatari context. Nouvel was very comfortable with the level of power he was given through this project. He seemed to believe his effect on the Qatari population, the ones that would experience his designs, is ultimately beneficiary and progressively functional. Nouvel was very comfortable in the culture he was thrown into. Despite having been raised in a mainly European context, he has taken on the Middle East like a straight arrow. However, Jean Nouvel seems to believe that we are going through a type of dark ages as opposed to Rem Koolhaas who

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insists that this world is actually experiencing some sort of a golden age. I found it fascinating how two architects experiencing the same market of demand have such a contrasted look on reality. Rem Koolhaas says: ”Cities will never be like this again. Cities will also be poor. It would be wrong to think that after this conference poverty has been eradicated. We just have to compare and think about that.” Rem Koolhaas talks about the daring idea of Dubai which hovers between a hedonistic one and a totally traditional one. It is a balancing act. He says, “The main apparatus of criticism remains the Western apparatus of criticism.” Rem Koolhaas’ latest book is called Evil Paradises. It is about: “ the tension between our judgments of the people who used to be in charge and the kind of behaviour of the rest of the world that has basically moved on.” After this amazing experience I can’t help but feel like when it comes to evil, we may have moved on but our love for aesthetic beauty present in these rising cities continues to grow and manifest through events such as Art for Tomorrow.

Detail of the Qatar Tower by Jean Nouvel



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Pier review A personal walk through The Armory Show by Yasmina Nysten

Another year, another four seasons, and a totally New New York City! How desirable it is for all of the many artists populating these streets we all call our own to be yet again part of one of the world’s biggest art events! The Armory Show was so enthusiastically anticipated this year, and so professionally organised that it harmoniously brought together 56 galleries on Pier 92 and over 140 dealers on Pier 94 – a truly ambitious feat of strength considering the essential nature of this show, which aims to bring together creations executed widely through space and time. When it all began in 1913, The Armory Show exhibited European art never before seen on American soil to counteract the American tendencies of the time. Today, in the same spirit of union, we witnessed a rather unique marriage of Western art with Middle Eastern, North African, and Mediterranean (MENAM) art in a section curated by the young and intellectual Omar Kholeifi. While walking through the left wing of Pier 92, where the East had dropped anchor, one could immediately sense the strength of Arabic identity. Through a landscape depicting hints of modernised Arabic calligraphy and beautifully reinterpreted arabesques in almost every booth, my experience at The Armory Show brought to my attention the fact that the Western world no longer holds the upper hand in novelty. Indeed, the artists from the MENAM region have leapt forth in the past decade in their use of materials such as resins, rendering highly polished surfaces and mediums such as digital imagery. It is all rooted, however, in a deeply cultural context. Worthy of notice was Iranian/American, UK-based artist Darvish Fakhr’s Flying Carpet piece, which consisted of the artist riding around the fair on a carpet hovering fifteen centimetres off the ground. One can only appreciate an artist with a sense of humour! Another corner that caught my eye featured the paintings of Huguette Caland at the Lombard Freid Gallery booth. Born in Beirut, Lebanon to the first president after independence, Bechara El Khoury, Caland has made a significant contribution to Arabic culture through her paintings, but was also a founder


of Lebanese non-governmental organisation In’aash focusing on the rights of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. I can’t help but draw a connection between the idea of losing one’s homeland and her paintings that look like intricate bird’s eye maps of abandoned rural and urban landscapes. Done with such poetic sensibility, I was overwhelmed with emotion as I spent a good amount of time travelling through the veins of these organic maps. As my desire to grasp the root of this creative force grew, Huguette’s daughter Brigitte spontaneously introduced herself to me. A vibrant lady, who has dedicated her life to promoting her mother’s work, she stood in fascination before the unhindered spirit of her mother, saying, “She is one of the happiest people I’ve ever met. She would always smile and never complain in the most challenging moments of her life. I feel like the luckiest person.” Brigitte continues by bringing to my attention Caland’s exploration of Cervantes’ horse Rocinante from Don Quixote with whom the artist strongly related at a more physically challenging period in her life; a horse, past his prime, that exhibited loyalty and a good heart. Later that day, as I searched for more meaning behind this creative parallelism, I came across Cervantes’ description of the steed’s careful naming: “Four days were spent in thinking what name to give him, because (as he said to himself ) it was not right that a horse belonging to a knight so famous, and one with such merits of his own, should be without some distinctive name, and he strove to adapt it so as to indicate what he had been before belonging to a knight-errant, and what he then was.” Yet again I was transported through space and time not only by exploring the variety of artworks at a show but by a horse’s cantor, through a painter’s landscape. As this experience set into my memory and the electric bursts of people around art simmered down, the New York quotidian blatantly rearranged time and space into a linear experience. I welcome with open arms, however, the next chance I’ll get to experience the timeless myths brought forth by these creators and enablers.

Ayman Yossri Daydban, Maharem III, 2015 45 Tissue Boxes, 138 × 128 cm, Athr Gallery

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Darvish Fakhr, The Flying Carpet

Marwan, The Bed Sheet, 1971–72, oil on canvas 195 × 130 cm, Meem Gallery

Mona Marzouk, Trayvon #3, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 90 × 110 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Gypsum Gallery



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Political Resonance Lawrence Abu Hamdan makes art about the politics of speech and the materiality of sound, as he discussed with Selections at The Armory Show, where his headline installation featured microphones, tissue boxes, and futuristic silver chip packets By Kasia Maciejowska


Lawrence Abu Hamdan is having a high-vis moment in New York. As the Commissioned Artist at The Armory Show he became the talk of opening night in March when his witty installation about the future of eavesdropping became everyone’s favourite snack. The silver packets of chips were part of his headline multimedia work A Convention of Tiny Movements, which occupied its own area and was by far the most experiential installation within the fair – meaning, obviously, that it was the most fun. The previous week the high-impact New Museum Triennial had opened; the exhibition presents a generation of rising art stars and features Abu Hamdan’s work alongside installations from Sophia Al Maria, Shadi Habib Allah, and Aslı Çavuşoğlu, among others from 25 different countries. He’ll also be exhibiting at MoMA next

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year after the museum bought three pieces from him in 2014. But rather than hopping across the Atlantic from London to make New York home, the British-Lebanese artist has recently relocated to Beirut, where he said he can’t wait to “spend a bit more time just hanging out”. Hardly the first harried Londoner to be drawn by Lebanon’s charms, Abu Hamdan mentioned the city’s spontaneous social attitude and DIY approach to artistic possibility as among its most potent attractions. Having worked with Ashkal Alwan and Beirut Art Center in the past, he’s planning more projects in the city soon. His centrality at the Armory was arranged by Omar Kholeif, who curated the fair’s MENAM Focus. At the booth of Galeri NON, from Istanbul, Abu Hamdan’s installation The Freedom of Speech Itself was on show. It directly addresses the relationship between the


sound of human speech (specifically regional and national accents) and the governmental policies that restrict human mobility. For the alreadymentioned headline installation for the fair’s Special Projects, the silver chip bags were stacked on a rack near microphones, pot plants, tissue boxes, and a listening booth. The chip bags – as well as the plants, tissues, and mic, were all staged as listening devices transmitting what people were saying by reflecting the sound waves of speech. This became more explicit in the listening booth, where you listened to sounds picked up from these objects – those sounds were originally speech, got converted to code, and become decoded back into speech, all via a leaf, tissue, or reflective silver chip bag. “In the booth you can hear what I call a near-future fiction,” he said, “like an audio dispatch from after we’ve arrived at a point where normal objects have become listening devices.”

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, The Freedom of Speech, Installation at the Armory show 2015, Galeri NON booth

The installation was based on Abu Hamdan’s ongoing research into the politics of speech. He learned from researchers at MIT that chip packets are the most effective material at picking up what people say, and was inspired to use this to engage his audience with sound as material waves that exist all around them. The artist described the sound piece played in the booth as “both sinister and beautiful” because what you hear is not only the reflected waves of conversation but also the unique sonic resonance of each thing. “Unlike with a microphone which tries to have sonic fidelity,” he said, “listening to sounds via objects you are also hearing the objects themselves, which means you’re hearing the world.” Research is central to Abu Hamdan’s practice as he methodically gathers material via established methodologies (university labs such as at MIT, or catalogued recordings) and recompiles data to reveal certain meanings. Such



actions are always political in that they manipulate information to reflect on events or technologies, but Abu Hamdan’s sound compilations assert a more specific political warning about the current escalation of surveillance. “My work always explores things that change the status of speech in society,” he said, explaining, “Surveillance is something that acts upon our speech, like a massive presence in the background that influences our notions of what it’s ok to say in everyday conversations. I want to stay attuned to that and the associated politics.” Being under perpetual surveillance has become an invisible echo chamber from which none of us can escape unless willing to renounce the digital world. Particularly since the Snowden affair, privacy concerns have shifted to being content-based as emails, calls and messaging can no longer be considered secure. As the internet-of-things grows around us, an Armory art installation has become disconcertingly close to reality. “This kind of audio surveillance isn’t a far-off projection,” concurs Abu Hamdan: “The installation applies what’s already emerging. It’s not really fiction.”


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Despite having the inside track thanks to MIT, Abu Hamdan sees the future world his installation previews as one of several possible paths that surveillance could take. “Sometimes technologies surprise us through what’s called the ‘stirrup effect’,” he explains. “Before horsemen had stirrups nobody thought about not having them, but then the French army started using them and won easily in battle – it’s these sorts of tiny technological details that can change everything and shift the human approach to certain things.” Unlike the stirrup, however, today’s pivotal technologies are covert and invisible. That’s why Abu Hamdan seeks to make them audible and understandable, as he did at the Armory by framing the looming political discourse of the Internet age in approachable, amusing forms. Anyone for a chip?


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The possible instead of the unpredictable The 12th edition of the Sharjah Biennial transcends time and space to inspire reflections on what may still be to come by Dr Zoltán Somhegyi


The future is not entirely predetermined, but rather depends on how we learn from the past and shape the opportunities of our present condition. This is one of the claims we can understand when visiting the latest edition of the Sharjah Biennial. Not only the title of the event and the works themselves, but even the ways the art pieces are arranged examine this concept. The title of the Biennale is The past, the present, the possible, and through this the “future” – that one would instinctively expect after reading the first two temporal perspectives – is referred to as “possible”, i.e. still as something uncertain, but somehow with a stronger accent on the positive and productive character of this unknown, and with less of the negative connotations of unpredictability that are often associated with the future in general.

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left: Fahrelnissa Zeid, Break the Atom and Vegetal Life, 1962, painting, oil on canvas, 210 × 540 cm, collection of Zafer Yildirim

with one another, with the observer, and, what’s more, with the location, too. Works appear not only in the central spaces of the Sharjah Art Foundation’s modern galleries, but throughout the city, including even the Bird and Animal Market, the “Flying Saucer” – an abandoned UFO-like building from the 1970s, previously used for different purposes, soon to be converted into a permanent exhibition space – as well as some decayed buildings in Port Khalid, and even an old ice factory in Kalba, a city on the eastern coast of the emirate, contains a large installation. This lets the visitor experience Sharjah as the specific context of many of the new works, since while walking through the city in search of the Biennale venues and art pieces, the art-lover discovers unmapped aspects of the place, and this experiencing of the city then certainly influences the reception of the works. The key topics investigated from the perspective of the creative and productive possibilities of the future are the ambitions of Sharjah, which has already successfully positioned itself as an important cultural centre concentrating not only on the newest artistic tendencies and often hyped ephemeral artistic trends, but also on heritage, education, culture and science. This is the reason why “the past” appears among the guidelines of a contemporary biennial: to show the uninterrupted continuity in artistic and cultural research and practices. The “historical works”, i.e.


Chung Chang-Sup, Tak 86066, 1986, best fiber on canvas, 227.5 × 163 cm. Courtesy of Kukje Gallery, Seoul and the Estate of Chung Chang-Sup

The exhibited works were selected by the curator Eungie Joo, working with the associate curator Ryan Inouye, and commissioned by H.E. Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, President and Director of Sharjah Art Foundation. From 25 countries over 50 artists contributed to the event, and more than two thirds of them created new works. In fact, the large number of new commissions also highlights the importance of the “possible” – instead of just choosing from already existing works, the commissioning of new works is a way to assure the showcasing of novel ideas and interpretations of the present conditions and issues. In this way, the curator’s complex task was not just picking works that thematically “fit” in the departing concept, but to create a stimulating context, in which the art pieces are in an open-ended conversation



above :

Taro Shinoda: Karesansui, 2015. Site-specific installation with wooden platform. 3.6 × 17 × 9 m, commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation. Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery, Tokyo, and the artist. Installation detail, Sharjah Biennial 12. Photo by Deema Shahin. Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation


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those originating from the post-war period until the 1990s thus indicate the still-influencing conditions and factors for the current approaches. Among these notable forerunners we can mention Fahrelnissa Zeid, the Istanbul-born and later Paris-based artist, member of the renowned École de Paris, and creator of large-scale, kaleidoscope-like abstract geometrical paintings, or the Korean Chung Chang-Sup, who in his artistic research combined traditional techniques and informel painting. The Japanese Taro Shinoda was among the artists who were commissioned to create a new and site-specific work for the Biennial. Last year, as he – just like many other participating artists – visited Sharjah, he was impressed by the desert, and endeavoured to create a “karesansui”, a traditional Japanese dry landscape garden, but using local materials. The poetic work that the visitor can observe from a wooden platform becomes an object

of meditation too, as in the middle of the sand field two underground holes slowly collect part of the sand, thus creating craters that grow unperceivably slowly. In her work, Brazilian Cinthia Marcelle also directly responded to the experiences of her earlier visit to the emirate, when she observed workers using sieves to filter sand on a building site. Constructing a postand-beam structure in an old house in the Biennial heritage area, workers on top were asked to randomly use the same technique, right above the head of the visitors. Thus the artist allows further reflexions on the connection between art and daily life, interaction and intersection of industrial and artistic production, as well as on the questions of responsibility of the artist toward contemporary social issues – not least as an example of how through art the unpredictable future can be turned to the milder, more propitious and certainly more promising “possible”.

Edward Shahda untitled, 2015, mixed-media on canvas,150 × 80 cm.

“Icarus” is a solo exhibition by Edward Shahda at Art on 56th. The Opening Reception will be on Friday May 8, 2015, starting 7:00 to 9:00 pm. The artist will be present.The Exhibition will run until May 30, 2015.

5 6 t h Yo u s s e f H a y e c k S t r. G e m m a y z e h B e i r u t , L e b a n o n Te l : + 9 6 1 1 5 7 0 3 3 1 + 9 6 1 7 0 5 7 0 3 3 3 i n f o @ a r t o n 5 6 t h . c o m a r t o n 5 6 t h . c o m


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Art Dubai The Middle East’s largest fair turns the page on its ninth year, as it strives to further establish itself on the international art fair circuit by Rania Habib


This year’s edition of Art Dubai, its ninth, fell right in the midst of an especially crammed Contemporary art scene. The 12th edition of the Sharjah Biennial had opened two weeks prior on March 5. A little later in the month, The Armory Show took exhibitors and collectors to New York, where they stayed on a few extra days to catch the opening of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian’s much-anticipated solo show at the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum. Then came Art Basel Hong Kong, which this year shifted its dates from June to March. After Art Dubai, a slew of Contemporary art events continue to take place, such as Shirin Neshat’s solo show in Baku, Azerbaijan, Art Paris, and the list goes on. With March Madness definitely in full swing, how did Art Dubai fare?

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Dealers from the 70 or so Contemporary galleries noted a definite slow-down at the Madinat Jumeirah premises; though sales were made, conversations were started and relationships were solidified, the mood at Art Dubai was notably subdued. A Gulfbased collector was “underwhelmed” by the general presentation of the fair, but noted that it exhibited signs of maturity. Indeed, some booths failed to make an impression, but those who did, did so with gusto. London’s Victoria Miro, arguably this year’s most show-stopping exhibitor, presented a solo exhibition of Pakistani-Welsh artist Idris Khan’s works. The artist is well-known in the region; Dubai’s Gallery Isabelle van Den Eynde exhibited his works in 2013, while his

stunning floor sculpture Seven Times was shown at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris and the British Museum. Part of the work, which originally comprises of 144 cubes arranged in a grid replicating the exact dimension of the footprint of the Kaaba, was presented at Art Dubai. “People are excited to see it,” said Gallery Director Glenn Scott Wright. “Though we usually sell to expatriates, this year we have placed all of the works in our booth in Middle Eastern collections, both private and institutional.” New York’s Leila Heller Gallery, who announced it would inaugurate a space at the Alserkal Avenue expansion headed up by art historian and curator Dr Shiva Balaghi, presented a group booth featuring the works of Loris Cecchini, Noor Ali Chagani, Hadieh Shafie and Kambiz Sharif, curated by Balaghi.

opposite page : Pascale Marthine Tayou, Plastic Tree C, 2014, variable dimensions, the artist and GALLERIA CONTINUA, S

above : Olu Amoda, Sunflower, 2014, variable, courtesy the artist and Art Twenty


Etel Adnan, le Soleil amoureux de la lune, 2014, 9 panels, 390 × 220 cm each, Courtesy the artist and GALLERIA CONTINUA, S



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But, it was another solo booth that stole the limelight – Zurich/London’s Kashya Hildebrand presented the works of Abraaj Group Art Prize 2010 winner Marwan Sahmarani. The booth, centred on the pivotal The Bomb painting, featured a number of the Lebanese artist’s large-scale impasto works, which are inspired by the turmoil gripping the Middle East. The gallery sold all of the works in the booth, many of which went to new collectors according to gallerist Kashya Hildebrand. “Painting almost feels like a lost art,” she said. “The response to the booth has been incredible.” Visitors did in fact seem to flock to more traditional art forms, with the Modern section of Art Dubai attracting the attention of many. The second edition of the section dedicated to Modern art from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia saw 15 galleries present works by artists such as Shafic Abboud through Beirut’s Agial Art Gallery, Aref El Rayess through London’s The Park Gallery, Dia Azzawi and Marwan through Meem Gallery, and the late Farid Belkahia through Sidi Bou Said’s Le Violon Bleu. The latter’s Director Essia Hamdi paid tribute to the artist, who died in November 2014, by presenting a solo exhibition of his works at the fair. The centrepiece, Aube, is the result of

A work by Shafie was sold on the VIP opening night to an international collector, later selling more of the Iranian artist’s works. The gallery also placed a work by Noor Ali Chagani in a British collection, and a work by Cecchini, The Ineffable Garden, was sold to a UAE-based collector, while works by Sharif went to European collectors. Ayyam Gallery, a fair regular – and favourite, also presented a group show at its booth, with works by Nadim Karam, Faisal Samra, Safwan Dahoul, Sama Alshaibi, Kais Salman, Mouteea Mourad, Athier Mousawi and Alireza Fani, all curated around the idea of the precarious nature of the present or bold visions for the future.


Leila Alaoui, Les Marocains, Boumia Souk, Moye, 2011, 150 × 100 cm, edition of 3, courtesy of Art Factum

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Nikhil Chopra, Untitled, from the ‘Rehearsals’, 2014, variable, courtesy the artist and Chatterjee

various experiments by the artist, who is known for his work on leather and skin. The serene booth showcased a range of Belkahia’s works on paper, canvas, leather and skin. “I wanted to show the different techniques he used,” says Hamdi, who received the Institut du Monde Arabe’s newest Director Jack Lang at her booth. “The Modern section this year is even better than last year,” she said. “There is a definite evolution and all of these booths are presenting museum-quality works. Contemporary art has origins and roots in Modern art, so you cannot cut one off from the other.” Hamdi sold works to both institutions and private collectors.

On the other end of the art spectrum, this year’s Marker section was devoted to art from Latin America and the continent’s centuries-old connections to the Arab-world. Curated by Luiza Teixeira de Freitas, it took on a multi-disciplinary approach for the first time. Books, sound installations, paintings and performance art were on display. Artist Maria Jose Arjona curated the performance art programme, a relatively foreign art form to the region. She enlisted local artists to reenact famous pieces; some performances drew quizzical reactions, others were better received. It was a jam-packed fair – which also included the ninth edition of the Global Art Forum, the Art Dubai Projects, the Abraaj Group Art Prize exhibition, and a host of satellite events – taking place during a jampacked month. Art Dubai has undoubtedly earned its stripes and demonstrated that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. All eyes look to next year’s edition – the 10th – to see where this much-loved fair will go in the future.



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In conversation with Sheikha Hoor al Qasimi by Marina Iordan

A far too common assumption among local and international audiences alike consists of situating the inception of UAE’s art practices in the 2000s. While this period certainly marked the acknowledgement of Emirati art within global art circles, emphasis must be made on the fact that local practitioners have been building a heritage, all the while shaping the Emirates’ artistic future, since the 1980s. It is this deeply rooted and constantly evolving range of practices that constitutes the focus of the Venice Biennale’s UAE National Pavilion, curated by Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi. Wearing multiple art hats, among which that of President of the Sharjah Art Foundation and Director of the Sharjah Biennial, Al Qasimi is also considered one of the most powerful women in art. Here she shares with Selections her curatorial process, vision, and objectives for the fourth edition of the UAE National Pavilion. You are the first Emirati to be nominated as curator of the UAE pavilion at the upcoming Venice Biennale. What were your first thoughts and impressions upon receiving this nomination? I was honestly surprised and honoured to be given this opportunity. When first invited to curate the UAE pavilion, I knew immediately what I wanted to do, so this was much before I learned about the theme proposed by Okwui Enwezor [curator of the 56th Venice Biennale]. In 1980 – Today: Exhibitions in the United Arab Emirates, I am looking at the emergence of contemporary art practices in the UAE over the past four decades. Okwui has explained his approach to All the World’s Futures by describing it as “a stage, where historical and counter-historical projects will be explored”. So in fact, the UAE pavilion’s exhibition should fit nicely into this context. The past three editions of the UAE pavilion count two solos and a small group show. What lies behind your curatorial choice of a retrospective presenting four decades of Emirati art throughout the works of 15 different artists? The 15 Emirati artists that I have selected to participate in the pavilion are: Ahmed Al Ansari, Moosa Al Halyan, Mohammed Al Qassab, Abdul


H.E. Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi (Venice, Italy). Photo courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation

Qader Al Rais, Abdullah Al Saadi, Mohammed Abdullah Bulhiah, Salem Jawhar, Mohammed Kazem, Dr Najat Meky, Abdulraheem Salim, Ahmed Sharif, Hassan Sharif, Obaid Suroor, Dr Mohamed Yousif, and Abdulrahman Zainal. While I have collaborated or worked with several of these artists before, in this exhibition my focus will be more on the artworks. In curating the pavilion, I have not chosen a specific theme, but an important connecting thread is the Emirates Fine Art Society, a non–profit association that was formed in 1980 in Sharjah that played a critical role in the development of arts and culture in the UAE and the region. To give you a sense of its impact, the Emirates Fine Art Society was also crucial in the development of the Sharjah Biennial, which was founded in 1993, and continues to have a profound impact on the community today.

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How did you conduct your research? In order to create a context for the Venice exhibition, I have spent the past year in intensive research – using archives of newspaper articles, artists’ writings, and catalogues, as well as interviews with artists and cultural practitioners – into the exhibitions and art practices in the UAE from the 1980s to today. Rather than taking a monolithic or one-sided approach, I wanted to create a more multifaceted narrative, exploring a range of Emirati artists from different generations, backgrounds, and approaches to work. The exhibition will draw connections between generations and collaborators, as well as the shift between modernism and contemporary work in the Middle East. I understand that your aim is to showcase the diversity of practices, rather than bringing focus on the artists. This said, what was your process to select the artists? My selection process concentrated on selecting specific artworks that I personally liked and found interesting. I do not in any way intend to say that these are the most significant artists in the UAE, however this focus on distinct artworks rather than on the artists themselves allows me to reflect a diversity of practices that is representative of different ideas and make connections to the history of the art scene in the UAE within this period in time.

What messages are you hoping to bring to international audiences attending the biennale? I am excited to bring my experience from Sharjah to Venice and to have this opportunity to share an under-recognised moment in our cultural history with an international audience. At the same time, it is important for me to make sure the exhibition is brought back to the UAE for the benefit of local and regional audiences who are unable to travel to Venice. This is a heavily researched project and I am very committed to the documentation of these histories, in order to establish a deeper understanding of the artists who were so central in shaping the UAE’s early conceptual art.

Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, Hassan Sharif, Eight Points Angular Lines – Part 2, fragment

In an earlier interview with Pat Binder and Gerhard Haupt, you spoke about “very SAF” and “not very SAF” as a work ethic and aesthetic way, referring to your role at the Sharjah Art Foundation. To what extent have you used “the SAF way” while curating the UAE Pavilion? There are certainly points of intersection between what I am presenting in Venice and the SB12 [the current edition of the Sharjah Biennial]; several of the artists I selected for the exhibition in Venice – Hassan Sharif, Mohammed Kazem and Abdullah Al Saadi – are in both National Pavilion UAE and SB12. I suppose you could see my approach as similar to the way in which Sharjah Art Foundation engages with local, regional and international artists and communities. Temporal relationships are a common thread between this year’s National Pavilion and SB12, curated by Eungie Joo and titled ‘The past, the present, the possible’. In what way do you feel they differ? For SB12, curator Eungie Joo invited artists to engage with Sharjah as a city, as an Emirate and as a member of a federation that, while rooted historically to places and people, continues to consider the future while reflecting on its past. This process requires looking back and understanding the history of trajectories (artistic and social), both for the UAE and internationally. While very different in their approach and scope, both exhibitions have crucial relationships to history and research.



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Journey of the mind In his new body of work Iraqi artist Sadik Alfraji reimagines a world of possibilities that fulfill his otherwise unattainable dreams by Marina Iordan

“All grown-ups were once children... but only few of them remember it,” wrote Antoine de Saint Exupery in the introduction to his illustrious novel, narrating a little prince’s quest for truth about our existence. From planet to planet, the character traverses a variety of landscapes and meets a number of stereotyped figures epitomising the seven capital sins. Punctuated by humorous anecdotes, the child-like narrative unravels as an existentialist exploration when read by adults, much like Driven by Storms (Ali’s Boat), Sadik Alfraji’s solo exhibition currently on view at Ayyam Gallery’s Al Quoz outpost in Dubai. Curated by Nat Muller, who also edited Alfraji’s first monograph, Driven by Storms alludes to the absence of freedom in our choices, and therefore in our existence. It also symbolises a journey to the unknown, much like Alfraji’s creative process, always punctuated by unravelling opportunities. The gallery’s entrance is claimed by a black wooden boat leaning on the floor, a prelude to Alfraji’s latest body of work that was instigated by a letter from his nephew Ali, also displayed on the gallery walls. Next to his drawing of a boat, the young boy addressed his uncle with a plea to escape the horrors of Iraq. In response, Alfraji crafted a universe pairing mobility and the impossibility thereof, elaborating on dreams as oftentimes the only means to embark on a voyage.


above : Sadik Alfraji, Ali’s Boat Diary, graphite pencil on notebook paper, 2014

opposite page top :

Sadik Alfraji, Don’t Put All Your Dreams in One Boat, 270 × 390 cm, indian Ink, charcoal, printed paper on canvas, 2014

opposite page bottom :

Sadik Alfraji, Take Your Boat and Abandon Your Home from Ali’s Boat series, 270 × 678 cm, indian ink, charcoal on canvas, 2014

Facing the stranded boat, a monumental canvas of black and white introduces Alfraji’s emblematic child-like figure, whose identity has shifted from autobiographical to a portrayal of Ali. Once clumsily towering, as if incapable of fitting into the canvas, the character now adopts an upright posture, facing the viewer. With only his eyes, hands and heart apparent while blackness swallows the rest of his body, Ali resolutely stands next to a floating boat that sags under the weight of piling loose heads. Don’t Put All Your Dreams in One Boat, Alfraji cautions through the title. The use of a proverbial allusion here, paired with an eerie backdrop of starry skies, injects both humour and hope to the painting, appeasing the existential heaviness. Contrasting in size and thereby demanding a more intimate approach, a wall installation of 99 small size prints from the artist’s sketchbook documents his fantasies of Ali travelling. As if at the back of a classroom, each piece is pinned to the wall and paired in sequence, based on similarities in text and shape – trees, boats, and the board game of snakes and ladders, evoking the tumultuous journey strewn with pitfalls that life is. At this point, the music resonating from the back of the space becomes sharper and its piercing melancholy takes over. It accompanies Ali’s Boat, a five-minute-long stop motion animation consisting of over 3,000 frames drawn by the artist. With a highly detailed, constantly transforming scenery as background, Ali’s floating figure motions through the screen, travelling. Palpable and at the same time ungraspable because of their dramatic antagonism, emotions come spilling out at the sight of Alfraji’s video. Sadness and serenity struggle, creating a dynamic of opposites that threads throughout the whole exhibition – black figures on immaculately white landscapes, large scale works facing smaller sized pieces, floor installations opposing hanging works, and a variety of media that eventually sees the union of both characters, in ideology and child-like aesthetic alike. Sadik and Ali coalesce into one being that absorbs their inverted dreams – Ali yearns for the outside world while his uncle fantasises about a return to his homeland. The resulting imaginary world they both find themselves drifting across reveals the hopeful possibility of escape. Staged around a strikingly simple and yet humanising visual narrative, the show is read like a children’s book: with unwavering hopes of a positive outcome.

selections art paper #06




selections art paper #06

Tarek Butayhi, Draw Me, acrylic on canvas, 100 × 80 cm


Reflections on femininity Tarek Butayhi revisits the meaning of womanhood by India Stoughton


Delicate shades of pink, mauve and purple adorned the walls of Art on 56th in March during Syrian artist Tarek Butayhi’s solo show Women in Canvas 2015 – but these were colours with a satirical twist. The artist revisited the portrayal of women in art, the theme of his 2013 exhibition at the gallery, updating and expanding on his earlier work with a new sense of irony. The sexualised objects in his earlier work, described by prominent Syrian artist Youssef Abdelke as women “formed from the fantasies of men,” are here replaced with even more fanciful and exaggerated notions of the feminine, as emphasised through Butayhi’s colour palette. This time around, his work primarily seeks to reflect on the role of women as muses and sources of inspirations to generations of male artists, rather than capturing their sexual allure. In Whatsapp, he captures a woman in a white T-shirt and green trousers lying on a bed, her arms raised, as though holding a mobile phone. Her delicate features, surrounded by a shock of brown hair, appear focused on an invisible object where her hands should be, but, preoccupied with painting her full lips, eyes and body, Butayhi has neglected to paint her hands and the phone they hold. Other paintings capture women with clouds of pink or purple hair, rendering long tresses — often seen as a symbol of femininity — even more overtly emblematic of womanhood. Butayhi captures his subjects at everyday moments: writing at a desk, eating, sleeping, curled up in bed. Many of them are paired with cats, which they stroke and pet, taking on a nurturing role often associated with womanhood. Captured in a rough impressionistic style, Butayhi’s women are not idols or studies in perfection. In their postures, he communicates a sense of emotion, rendering his subjects human  —  with all the imperfections that entails — rather than simple objects defined by the male gaze.

selections art paper #06



Dreaming big Fatma al-Shebani has a strong vision for the future by India Stoughton

“All my inspiration comes from my environment and my travels, because I travel a lot,” says Fatma al-Shebani. “Sometimes also from politics — it depends on my mood.” The Qatari artist’s work travels as much as she does. In recent years she has participated in exhibitions in London, Abu Dhabi, Beirut, Bonn, Bethlehem, Paris, Jeddah and Kuwait, and in April 2013 she became the first Qatari artist to paint on the Israeli separation barrier, during a trip to the West Bank. Al-Shebani studied art at Qatar University, graduating in 1994. She then worked as a fine art teacher for over a decade, before quitting in 2005 to focus full-time on her own work. A multidisciplinary artist, she produces colourful abstract paintings in oil and acrylic, as well as installations and video art, but in recent years she has focused mostly on sculpture. Since founding her own company in 2005, she has worked to produce bespoke commissions for private and government clients, coming up with designs for large-scale works and bringing them to fruition with the help of her own team. In November 2013, a 12-metre high sculpture by al-Shebani was installed at The Gate Mall in Doha. An interlocking series of reflective metal teardrop shapes, ornamented with a colourful mosaic pattern, the sculpture towers over visitors to the mall, reflecting the warm Qatari sunlight. As a Qatari national, al-Shebani says she considers herself an ambassador for the arts and proof of the creative power of Qatari women. Inspired by architect Zaha Hadid, artist Georgia O’Keeffe, painter Frida Kahlo and Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, al-Shebani’s role models are strong women, high-achievers not afraid to break with social conventions. “I admire the work of Marina Abramovic, the performance artist,” she notes. “I like her very much. She’s very strong. She can do anything she wants. I want to be like her, but it is very difficult, because we have some traditional roles in our Arab countries.” Al-Shebani plans to exhibit an installation entitled Batoula in London later this year, which touches on her passion for women’s rights. Featuring

Fatma Alshebani, artwork sculpture after being installed at The Gate, Alsalam, Doha

sheets of polished metal adorned with her distinctive mosaic pattern, the piece is accompanied by a series of black-and-white photographs of beautiful women in black lacy headscarves, their mouths hidden behind thick black shields, like beaks. “My installation now is about women in art, women in Qatar,” she says. “We need to fight for freedom. Actually, if you compare between Qatar and other Arab countries, we have 80 percent freedom for women, but our problem in Qatar is the traditional mentality. I think in 20 years it will change. We need to fight for our children now, for our future.” The artists says that in the past decade she has noticed an evolution in Qatari attitudes and society, when it comes to women, but also when it comes to art and the messages it sends. “Here in Qatar, we still need time to understand what people mean in their art,” she explains, “but it has changed since 2005 — there is a lot of movement now and there are a lot of artists and a lot of good museums here in Qatar. It is changing, but it needs time.”



THE WORLD ON A STRING by India Stoughton

Egyptian artist Wael Shawky talks marionettes, manipulation and history repeating itself

In 1095, Pope Urban II gave a speech so powerful that it launched a 200-year-long war. There’s no doubt his words had a profound and tragic effect on the course of history, launching the first wave of the bloody Crusades, but although the results of his speech are known, his exact words are not. When Egyptian artist Wael Shawky learned that there were four different versions of Pope Urban II’s speech in circulation, it crystallised his belief that history is not made of facts, but perspectives. This discovery, coupled with his reading of Amin Maalouf’s book The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, led to the film trilogy Cabaret Crusades.

Wael Shawky, Cabaret Crusades, The secrets of Karbala, marionette, CC III-M85, 2014, glass, fabric, enamel, thread


Over the course of three films, Shawky highlights both the hypocrisy of the European fighters, driven by secular motivations rather than religious fervour, and the treachery and ruthlessness of Arab leaders fighting amongst themselves. The twist? Instead of actors, Shawky uses beautifully crafted marionettes, creating a tension between the violent, tragic history he revisits and a form of theatre associated with childhood innocence. The three films are on show as part of Wael Shawky: Crusade and Other Stories at Doha’s Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art until August 16. Alongside them, Shawky is exhibiting a second film trilogy, entitled Al Araba Al Madfuna, which is being shown in its entirety for the first time. The exhibition also includes a selection of his drawings and intricate, hand-crafted marionettes. The idea to use marionettes in Cabaret Crusades came from researching Pope Urban II’s speech. “We know that he was really inspiring for many Europeans during this time,” the artist explains, “so after his speech they decided to walk towards Jerusalem. Many people died on this trip and it took them four years... When they arrived, all the sources say that the Crusaders killed everybody, whether Muslim or Jewish or Christian. Reading this, the first thing that really came to my mind was the word manipulation, which is what [led] to using marionettes.”




Wael Shawky, Cabaret Crusades, The secrets of Karbala, film stills



Shawky’s decision to use a different set of marionettes in each film helps to create a distinct visual identity in each work. The materials he chose also contain a powerful symbolism, linking back to the history of the Crusades. For the first film, set during the First Crusade between 1095 and 1099, he used antique wooden marionettes from Italy, representing the European dream. For the second one, he designed his own marionettes. He worked with local craftsmen from a French town close to the city where Pope Urban II gave his speech, skilled in a centuries-old tradition of creating ceramic religious icons. The final film culminates with the Fourth Crusade, in which Venetian forces looted Christian Constantinople. “This, I think, shows that the entire Crusade vision had become economic — it was not really a holy war as Pope Urban II pronounced it in the beginning,” Shawky says. “So this involvement that happened from the Venetians led into the idea of [using] Venetian handmade blown glass.”

Wael Shawky, Cabaret Crusades, The secrets of Karbala, marionette, CC III, M125 2014, glass, fabric, enamel, thread

The marionettes’ finely crafted features, complex mechanisms and meticulously detailed costumes allow Shawky to create genuinely emotional scenes. Many of the characters have an animalistic aspect, with long camel-like necks or cat-like faces. These aspects of Shawky’s work tie Cabaret Crusades to Al Araba Al Madfuna, in which young boys with gluedon moustaches speak in the voices of adult men, telling magical tales in flawless classical Arabic. In the first film, one boy slowly digs a large hole in the earth floor of the room as the others recount the surreal tale of a village where men who blindly follow the instructions of their sheikhs over successive generations gradually transform into animals. The stories in the series, the final film of which will premiere at Mathaf in May, are based on tales by Egyptian author Mohamed Mustagab, who was born in Upper Egypt in 1938 and died in 2006.



Wael Shawky, Al Araba Al Madfuna II, 2013, HD video, b/w, sound, 33 minutes, video still. Courtesy the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery Beirut and Hamburg



Shawky was inspired to create the series after a visit to Upper Egypt, where he saw the villagers in Al Araba Al Madfuna digging in their houses in search of buried treasure, following the advice of holy men believed to have the power to divine the location of ancient artefacts. Shawky was fascinated by the contradiction in this process, the villagers’ belief that by using a metaphysical system, a sort of magic, they could uncover material treasure. “The story that you see is really explaining my experience in Upper Egypt,” he says, “but at the same time the kids are not speaking about my experiences, they are telling one of the novels of Mohamed Mustagab. So you are always living in two different worlds — metaphysical and material.” Shawky’s decision to use children to act in his films also ties the work to Cabaret Crusades. Instead of controlling marionettes on strings, the artist directs children to enact stories they don’t understand, by a writer they’ve never heard of, in a language they can’t speak.

Wael Shawky, Cabaret Crusades, The secrets of Karbala, marionette, CC III-M81 2014, glass, fabric, enamel, thread

Decades after they were written, Mustagab’s fables remain clear and relevant contemporary sociopolitical critiques. More surprising, perhaps, are the striking parallels between the events depicted in Cabaret Crusades, which Shawky began in 2010, and the Arab world post-Arab Spring. “This series has nothing to do with what is happening today in the Middle East, but of course when you look at it you find that there are a lot of parallel events,” he says. “It’s really history repeating a part of itself... Sometimes I even feel surprised that it’s that clear. What is happening, especially in the last film, Cabaret Crusades: Secrets of the Karbala, is someone having a plan to make an agreement with someone against someone, so really it’s all about these close meetings between people – – everybody’s trying to be smarter and this is really what’s happening even today.” 




Recent exhibition Open Rhapsody brought diverse visions to Beirut

An eel wriggles frantically in a tank lined with a shallow layer of water, which leaves the creature’s back and head exposed. Above it, an impossible sculpture is formed by an explosion of water, which appears frozen in midair, as though displaced by something heavy and then rendered immune to the forces of gravity. Ceasing its sinuous writhing, the eel lies still, exhausted. Its mouth opens and closes slowly and the sound of rasping breaths, oddly human, fills the dark room. Coagulate, a work of video art by Romanian artist Mihai Grecu, played out on a loop in a speciallyconstructed auditorium at Open Rhapsody, a journey into photography and video collections at the Beirut Exhibition Center in March and April. An exploration of what happens when the laws of nature cease to exist, the dreamlike film explores the materiality of water through shots of a still lake under an open sky, a man’s body immersed in liquid up to the neck and the writhing eel under its sculptural umbrella. The exhibition was curated by Tarek Nahas and JeanLuc Monterosso, director of La Maison Européenne de la Photographie, which lent the BEC the seven video works on show. Lebanese photographer Roger Moukarzel, who was responsible for the scenography, constructed a central viewing room with theatre-style seating for the longer video works, which included his own piece, Sundust, Tribute to Freedom. He divided the remainder of the gallery in a series of independent, interconnected spaces. These were used to showcase an extensive selection of photographs on loan from ten Lebanese private collectors.


The roster of names attested to the growing clout of Lebanon’s collectors. Pieces by international stars including Gerhard Richter and Sebastiao Salgado were paired with work by some of the best-known local and regional names, including Yto Barrada, Mona Hatoum, Walid Raad and Akram Zaatari. The diverse selection was not united by a theme, but the curators loosely grouped the photos according to subject matter, creating a sense of continuity between one image and the next. The exhibition lacked a sense of overall cohesion, but the quality of the work made up for it, allowing visitors to view pieces by artists rarely exhibited in Beirut. Close to the entrance, two photos by Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf, from the artist’s Dusk and Dawn series, played with perceptions. Each captures a child peeping through a doorway into a room dominated by light or dark shades. At first glance, the photos appear to have been shot in black and white, but closer inspection reveals that they are colour images, cleverly constructed to confound the eye. A section dedicated to interior and exterior architecture paired German photographer Candida Hofer’s two symmetrical colour shots of rooms in luxurious Italian places, utterly devoid of life, with Ziad Antar’s off-kilter black and white photograph of Beirut’s ruined Murr Tower, a symbol of the country’s years of civil war. Rich, surprising and a fitting tribute to the diversity of photography as an artistic medium, Open Rhapsody’s many good points more than made up for any lack of continuity. 

above: Alex Prager, Crowd #6 (hazelwood), 2013, archival pigment print, 151,1 × 215,9 cm, © Alex Prager, courtesy of Lehmann Maupin gallery, New York and Hong Kong, private collection

below: Erwin Olaf, The soldier from the serie dawn, 2009, lambda print on kodak endura, 74 × 141 cm, © Erwin Olaf, courtesy of Hamiltons gallery, London, private collection




Tarek Nahas

Whether profession or passion, art spurs an unwavering thirst for endless research and subsequent discoveries, each of them amplifying the yearning for further finds. Tarek Nahas and Jean-Luc Monterosso share just such a sweet obsession, at whose core is an eagerness to shed light on the diversity of artistic approaches and messages seen across the medium of photography. Evidence of this can be found in their coming together as co-curators of Open Rhapsody, a group show hosted at the Beirut Exhibition Center in March 2015. A Beirut-based lawyer and passionate photography collector, Nahas initiated the project with the aim to showcase the photographic and videomaking practices of local and regional artists, whose works he gained access to through 10 of his collector


Jean-Luc Monterosso

friends. As Director of La Maison Europeenne de la Photographie (MEP) in Paris, Monterosso participated in the elaboration of the show by contributing artworks from the MEP’s public collection. A philosophy scholar and member of Centre Pompidou’s pre-opening team, Monterosso has founded a number of organisations and initiatives throughout a successful 40-year career, in an attempt to uplift perceptions about photography and gain its acceptance among audiences as a fine art practice. While he admits to not having an appropriation instinct when it comes to art, Monterosso defines himself as an explorer of images, with good reason. Here he shares his views on photography, and engages in a conversation with Tarek Nahas about his selection of inspirational works.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Lake Superior, Eagle River, © Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy The Pace Gallery

SELECTIONS: What first drew you to photography, and how did you discover this medium? Jean-Luc Monterosso: I discovered the photographic medium in 1974, as part of the team working on the prefiguration of the Centre Georges Pompidou museum. Around that time, I also started writing a regular column on photography in a daily newspaper, which I pursued for four years. Tarek Nahas: I believe that I was interested in photography in general, and after I made my first few impulsive purchases of photography works, I realised that this was the medium that I liked most and decided to educate myself through readings, attending exhibitions, dialogue with gallery owners, going to museum shows around the world, etc. S: What aspects do you look for in an artwork? JLM: What interests me most about contemporary photography is an approach that incites me to better understand the world, to see life with new eyes. I am moved by photographs that stimulate me to see more and more deeply, to notice something I would have otherwise ignored—by photography that is transformative. TN: It has first and foremost to bring an emotion and

a “fresh eye”. I particularly like conceptual photography and staged photography, as the photography by itself is only the medium through which the artists express their art. S: While conceptual art begins to meet a growing interest among Middle Eastern art collectors, photography still seems underestimated, appreciated only by a handful. What would you say to those hesitating about this medium? JLM: In today’s world, the photographic medium has been adopted by countless artists, and photography is accepted by and promoted in numerous art galleries. However, being a photography collector requires a certain comprehension of the medium and of its history, as is the case with contemporary art. Because they are unfamiliar with this history, many people miss out on this art, which has become prominent in today’s society. TN: Photography in the world today has its place alongside all other artistic mediums. This is confirmed by the fact that the major galleries in the world have now a substantial number of photographers among their artists, and that a growing number of museum shows are dedicated to photography. In addition,


Scarlett Hooft Graafland, Lemonade igloo, 2008, c-type print, 120 × 150 cm, © Scarlett Hooft Graafland, courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery, London, private collection

many artists are multi-disciplinary, and photography is today one of the mediums through which they express their art. I would recommend that they look into photography works by Middle Eastern artists and they will find that photography is an integral part of their artworks. S: On the other hand, Peter Lik’s Phantom broke the world record in December last year, with a reported $6.5 million sale. Would you credit this result and other similar multi-million prices to effective promotion or talented creativity? JLM: Since the early 1980s, photography has shifted from being a document to being seen as a legitimate art form. I have witnessed enormous changes in the market due both to changes in the way artists use the medium and to the way it is perceived. Tremendous pressure has been placed on the photography market because we are arriving at the end of analog photography, so these works, especially vintage prints, are limited in number and are perceived as precious. But the result for Peter Lik’s Phantom seems to be the result of promotion and has little in common with prices paid for important artworks, modern or contemporary,


like those by Richard Avedon or Edward Steichen, Cindy Sherman or Jeff Wall. TN: Art, whatever the medium, is something that moves and informs you or changes your opinion. In my opinion, Peter Lik’s photography has nothing to do with creative photography; it has more to do with promotion. I believe that we have to differentiate his photography and works by artists such as Andreas Gursky or Cindy Sherman who represent for me creative photography and which works have reached the highest prices before the one by Lik. S: Are you a photographer yourself? And if so, are your images the result of spontaneity or are they planned? JLM: No, I do not myself take photographs. My life is about working with photographers, encouraging and supporting them by organising exhibitions, creating publications and collecting their work. I have been fortunate throughout the years to accompany many exceptional artists, including Robert Frank, William Klein, and Irving Penn. TN: I am not a photographer myself. I leave this activity to the artists. 



There are some terms that are so casually overused in the art world that they no longer have a clear definition. ‘Emerging artist’ is one of them. The label is haphazardly slapped in front of artists’ names almost like a salutation, yet it is unclear whether its use has anything to do with formal education, age, gallery representation, press, social media following, value of work, or auction history. It’s also increasingly rare to find an artist using the term in a statement to describe his or her own status in the competitive art ecosystem.


Thanks to access to university programmes in the visual arts open to both women and men, speedy internet, a diverse gallery scene, a growing host of patrons and collectors, museums and cultural institutions, and several noteworthy art fairs, there has never been a better time in history to come up as an artist in the Middle East. We’d like to humbly suggest that ‘Curious Talent’ be used instead of ‘emerging artist’. Curiosity is the antithesis of stagnant boredom, and the very quality that tempted Lewis Carroll’s Alice down the rabbit hole leading to Wonderland, where she encountered the unexpected and was forever changed. We’ve curated a group of artists and galleries with ties to the Middle East who pique our curiosity with their adventurous practices and fresh concepts. Their names pop up everywhere and are impossible to ignore. They are part of a growing tribe. Interestingly, the majority of them are women.

THE CURIOUS TALENT LIST An almanac listing of artists like this one is by definition never comprehensive enough. To widen our breadth, we asked each of the artists, designers, and gallerists profiled in this section to name another Curious Talent who they are watching or who continues to influence their practice: Dana Awartani’s Curious Talent is Ala Ebtekar | Monther Jawabreh’s Curious Talent is Hani Zoarob | Dima Abdul Kader’s Curious Talent is Elham Etemadi | Nikki Meftah’s Curious Talent is Bouthayna Al Muftah | Hala Al Khalifa’s Curious Talent is Aisha Al-Sowaidi | Ammar Al Attar’s Curious Talent is Zeinab Al Hashemi | Sanaz Askari’s Curious Talent is Bahareh Navabi | Aisha Al-Sowaidi’s Curious Talent is Maryam Al-Homaid | Yasmina Nysten’s Curious Talent is Hamed Sinno of Mashrou3 Leila | Yazan’s Curious Talent is Niels Shoe Meulman | Fatma Bucak’s Curious Talent is Nuri Bilge Ceylan | Noor Bhjat Al-Masri’s Curious Talent is Elias Ayoob



BEYOND THE KEFFIYEH words by Danna Lorch translation by Farah Abdelsater

Monther Jawabreh explores life as a Palestinian

As a boy growing up in a refugee camp in his own country, Monther Jawabreh thought of Palestinian resistance fighters as real-life comic book heroes. He often wore a keffiyeh (the traditional scarf) to imitate them, and recalls that, “Their presence reflected hope, security, and belonging.” Later as an adult Jawabreh revisited the archetype of Palestinian masculinity and asked, “Where has the man in the keffiyeh gone? How do Palestinians themselves perceive him today?” During the first Palestinian Intifada, fighters covered their faces with scarves out of fear that Israeli intelligence would identify, detain, and subsequently arrest them, and consequently the image of a face obscured by the keffiyeh became a common symbol of resistance. Following the breakdown of the Oslo Accord, the appearance of the resistance fighter has often been equated with terrorism in Western media.

Phantom 1 and Phantom 4, from ‘Phantom’ project, 4 photos, 2013, print on canvas, 50 cm × 70 cm


These concepts were brought to life when Jawabreh concealed his face with a scarf and brought a performance titled The Wanted to the streets of Bethlehem in 2009, obscuring his face with a keffiyeh and distributing 250 stones to the public, while leaving the message behind the gesture up for individual interpretation. The performance was subsequently repeated in 2012 in the German towns of Cologne and Berlin under the title of Stone. In the European context, the pebbles handed out originated from the leftover rubble of WWII. The parallels between the West Bank’s separation wall and the Berlin Wall were profound and not lost on the audiences. As Once Was Known, a 2012 series of paintings, humanised the resistance fighter by portraying him (and on occasion, her) enjoying everyday human activities like reading a book, taking a nap, and playing cards. Beyond pushing an international audience to question stereotypes, Jawabreh intended for the series to reflect the immense disappointment of the first Intifada generation of Palestinians, whom he says, “dreamed of liberation until the Oslo agreement blew it all up, leaving them to play cards.” The series documented a distinct era in the history of resistance. Of his current body of work, which will be shown in June at La Villa Des Arts in Rabat, Morocco, Jawabreh says, “My new paintings visually document the social and political developments, challenges and concerns witnessed by Palestinian citizens.” Although he continues to mentor young artists, Jawabreh acknowledges that “the artistic scene is still very limited in Bethlehem, mainly due to economic factors,” which ultimately kept him from getting his own community arts space, Marsam 301, off the ground. He works from a studio based in Bethlehem but thinks of various European cities with their unnamed alleyways and live music venues as his wider studio.




THE CONSTRUCTION OF MYTH In calling powerful narratives back to life, Fatma Bucak reinvents their possible meanings

Where do myths begin and end? Are there even specific points of time in their recurrence? These fundamental constructions, archetypes, foundational narratives, ubiquitous and often interchangeable, laying in wait at the heart of every civilisation, are often constructed less as time structures than as negotiations between ritual and violence, between exclusion and redemption. Turkish artist Fatma Bucak, a skilled mythographer on video and photography, conceives of these strange locales never as dreams or illuminations, but as sites to remake herself and others, to re-invent, so to say, the possibility of history through a genealogy of symbols. In Bucak’s cinematic expeditions, familiar sites become strange and almost calculated, theatrical, and pregnant with the allegory of ruins, but these places are not the aesthetic background for abstract signals, but rather a performative stage where myths intervene in historical ruptures, lyrical obscurities and ultimately, political grounds. Returning to places where neutrality is no longer possible – the Kurdish question in Anatolia, the Turkish-Armenian border, the boundary between gender and power, between representation and sacrality, these performances are carefully constructed in the manner of classical and early modern painting: perspective, measure, equilibrium and optic illusion.


Transforming the meaning of bodies, objects and symbols, changing their gender, altering their roles and status, even opposing them, the artist plays with the inside and outside of personal identity, reflecting her condition of alterity in both the national myths of Turkey and the post-colonial landscape of European art. At the centre of Bucak’s practice is the desire to let the work stand before her own identity. A curious enigma is, however, embedded in this work nurtured by the ideology of European painting and the complex narrative world of the Mediterranean area, through a cinematic simultaneity between two different kinds of myths. On the one hand, the monumentality and epic nature of Bucak’s visual constructions recall the stage of a tragedy in the Greco-Roman tradition, with their cyclical concept of time, which denies creation and conceives of the world as eternal and permanent. On the other, the narrated myths re-enact the foundational archetypes of monotheism – the absolute, conveying a certain anxiety over arresting time, moving towards dissolution. Eternity and dissolution. Eternity and disillusion. Far beyond solipsism, audiences participate in the work in the manner of ancient theatre, and are turned into both the subject and the object of a work. For a body of work which operates on the scale of such grand narratives, Fatma Bucak’s influences resonate locally: Bucak identifies as curious talents in her practice the writer Yaşar Kemal’s portraits of nature which influenced her understanding of Anatolia and the films of Yılmaz Güney. Today she resorts to the Anatolian depictions of filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan. The departure points in the artist’s work are multisourced but yet hearken back to a common myth: birth, rise, exclusion, extermination and rebirth. At the threshold of an era of violence, these myths become articulate political realities, and often, historical impossibilities. Something at the beginning of time, or maybe, at the end. We could never know.


Fatma Bucak, And then God blessed them, video stills

Fatma Bucak, Suggested Place for you to see it, video stills




Dana Awartani’s minimalist illuminations place her in a rare and illustrious art circle

Dana Awartani regards herself as a contemporary Islamic artist. Her illuminations are distinguishable by their minimalism, and she may very well be the only artist working strictly within the medium in Saudi Arabia today. Ironically, as all university programmes in the visuals arts in her home country focused on Western arts, she had to go to London to study at The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, one of the only institutions in the world that offers training in geometry and illumination. We met for a conversation on a windy hotel terrace one morning before Art Dubai’s opening. Selections/Danna Lorch (DL): Your practice incorporates sacred geometry. How would you explain the underlying theory to a beginner? Dana Awartani (DA): First of all, geometry is not exclusively Islamic. You see it in Buddhist mandalas and churches’ stained glass windows, but because Islamic art is non-figurative, geometry has developed tremendously. I wrote my dissertation on the eight-pointed star. Ibn Arabi relates the number eight to the throne of God. Sufis believe in an eightfold path towards perfection. These designs weren’t originally meant to be decorative.

Dana Awartani, He Who Created The Heavens and Earth In Six Days, 2013, natural pigments shell gold and pen on mount board

DL: Who is your mentor? DA: I’m the apprentice to a master illuminator in Turkey. She holds certificates (ijaza), in illumination and calligraphy. It’s a very technique-based, old school way of learning. Within one year I anticipate receiving an ijaza myself. DL: How much room for innovation is there within your medium? DA: I stick one hundred percent to traditional techniques. With illuminations, you can experiment in terms of concept and design, but when it comes to execution there’s a system: transfer the design, add gold and a basecoat, make the outline, next the rendering, and finally the background colour. I don’t use a computer at all, just my hands and sometimes a compass or a ruler. DL: You have your first solo show coming up at Athr Gallery in Jeddah this summer. What will you be introducing? DA: The work has to do with Abjad (Arabic numerology). Every letter of the alphabet has a value attached to it. Alef is 1, Ba is 2, and so on. Numbers are regarded as a gateway to the truth. I find geometry everywhere in nature. If you cut an apple widthwise, there is a perfect star inside. DL: There is a strong element of progression in everything you create. Perhaps the best example of this was He Is Who Created The Heavens and Earth In Six Days. What are the reasons for this? DA: In that specific piece, I demonstrated each of the steps of the illumination process. Today, the technique behind Islamic art is under-appreciated. I want people to understand the system as well as the beauty.





IT’S ALL IN THE EYES by Danna Lorch

Inside the world of artist Yasmina Nysten

It always begins with the eyes for Yasmina Nysten, whom I’ve never seen without heavy eyeliner. When she fixes her stare on a few textured brushstrokes on an otherwise blank canvas long enough, she suddenly finds a stranger gazing back at her, waiting for a face and a body. Nysten, who is Lebanese and Finnish, describes herself as so cerebral that half the time she paints a body just to support a face. She believes, “If you really look into the iris of the eye, it will show you on a non-verbal level which planet someone is originally from.”

The first chapters of the book (which also narrates the population’s subsequent massacre) are set in Massachusetts where Nysten currently lives. She says, “The Native Americans called this countryside Dawn Land or ‘land of the first sight’. The nature there is enchanted.” She shares an old house with a secret passage leading to a woodshed, which is a studio space for an older artisan named Smoky, who sometimes constructs the frames for her canvases. From bed she can see the Milky Way, although she often pulls allnighters in the studio and sleeps in the day.

Our interview took place as we dug into breakfast manakish early in the morning on the last day of Art Dubai. Nysten had a plane to catch back to the United States where she is mid-residency at the UMass in Amherst. At the moment, it is quite often Native American spirits whose eyes appear in her work. She applied to the residency after reading 1491 by Charles C. Mann, a work of non-fiction that suggests that North America’s Native American population was more sophisticated and in greater power over their land’s natural landscape before Columbus “discovered” the Americas, than history has previously acknowledged.

Though she is becoming known as a painter, Nysten secretly prefers drawing, which comes naturally, almost like a mother tongue. She says, “Drawing is the most direct form of expression. Mohannad Orabi compares it to fresh vegetables. That’s exactly what it is — I don’t feel the same uncomfortable pressure when I’m drawing in my sketchbook as when I paint.” Nysten’s work is so busy with words, figures, and textures that it demands a prolonged relationship with any viewer, rather than a hyperactive art fair crowd. She studied at the Pratt Institute, and it’s clear that New York’s underground culture made an impact— especially the epigram-touting street artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, with whom she shares a special connection. Texts scratch across her paintings and drawings almost as though they had been vandalised. Nysten’s work is packed with a wondrous tension. A life-long catfight between painfully well-honed art school technique and the practice of a free spirited soldier has already begun to play out on her canvas.






Aisha Al-Sowaidi calls on the senses to evoke and preserve memories of time past

Aisha Al-Sowaidi lived in the same family home in a historic neighbourhood of Doha for more than 30 years before it was bought back by the government for land development purposes. The urban landscape was expanding so rapidly that at times she didn’t recognise her own city. While completing her MFA in Interdisciplinary Design at VCU Qatar, Al-Sowaidi set out to preserve memories of her former home through objects which offered the comfort of the past yet still embraced the future. Her work poetically examines the emotionally charged relationship between scents, memories, and objects. Now a curator at Doha’s newly opened Fire Station, Al-Sowaidi is at the forefront of Qatar’s rising design scene. We met during Design Days Dubai to discuss her practice. Selections/Danna Lorch (DL): You set out to remember your childhood home through design. Have you succeeded? Aisha Al-Sowaidi (AS): Through my work, I try to investigate the notion of home, and have realised that it takes time for a place to bring us familiar comfort. We can buy everything else in the world except time. Smell is the closest scent to memory, because it hits you in a certain place in your brain and suddenly you are reliving a moment from your past.


DL: You don’t have a choice. When you breathe in a certain scent it automatically triggers the memory, whether you like it or not. Tell me how that relates to your cassette tape. AA: The memory behind it concerns my late father. When I was six years old, he’d take me in his Land Cruiser to visit the sheep market every day at 4pm. Afterwards he’d stop by a shop to buy raw tobacco for smoking Gidu from a ceramic pipe. The car’s velvet upholstery captured the smell. A cassette tape was the only thing I could play with in the car, and I still associate that journey with the smell of tobacco and almond oil, so I poured wax with these scents into a mould shaped like a cassette. DL: It is surprising that you chose to capture a smell in an object that is by function associated with sound. Your more recent designs also concern scent and heritage. AS: My last project was titled Domestic and dealt with the scent burners we traditionally have in our homes in Qatar. We use personal burners for the room, the hair, and the abaya. I designed functional, sculptural scent burners from Pyrex glass. Sometimes when we use an object every day we stop seeing it, which is why I constructed the burners in an unfamiliar way, with the idea that they could still serve a familiar purpose.

opposite page top: Aisha Al-Sowaidi, Nostalgic table, embedded layer of wool underneath the tabletop, 37 × 54 × 120 cm, walnut wood and wool fabric

opposite page bottom: Aisha Al-Sowaidi, Cassette, plaster, wax, almond oil, tobacco, courtesy of the artist





Photographer Ammar Al Attar finds art in his surroundings

“Are you uncomfortable around blood?” is the first thing Ammar Al Attar asks when we meet for an interview at his cluttered studio. His desk is an archaeological site of old negatives, slides, and retro camera equipment he’s collected from recent visits to long-time commercial photographers’ studios in an effort to trace the history of photography in the UAE. Al Attar, who is entirely selftaught, is one of the only photographers in the UAE still using a dark room. Adjusting his thick-rimmed glasses, he opens a plain white envelope and fans out The Slaughterhouse, a photo essay documenting the ritual slaughter of goats and sheep on Eid Al Adha in Khorfakkhan, a rural town in the Emirate of Sharjah. The photographs follow a crowd of men, many of whom are dressed in the traditional white kandora robe, as they shepherd the stock to their prescribed deaths. The animals’ blood carpets white tile, and while the contrast is shocking, there is also an abstract beauty to the way in which Attar has painstakingly documented each second of an ancient ritual.

Ammar Al Attar, from ‘The Slaughterhouse’ series. Khorfakkan, UAE. From Emirates Fine Arts Society’s Annual Photography Exhibition, 2015


The images were shown at the Emirates Fine Arts Society’s annual photography exhibition and mark a new stage in Al Attar’s practice in which he is moving away from documentary photography and towards fine arts photography. Al Attar, who lives in Ajman, recently quit his day job after gaining recognition for two exhibitions of work at Cuadro Art in Dubai— Prayer Rooms, in which he shot prayer spaces in malls, offices, and on roadsides, and Sibeel Water, in which he documented the ornately tiled and simple aluminium water fountains placed for community use outside homes in the UAE as an act of giving. These earlier projects had an anthropologist’s methodical quality to them, but Al Attar’s new work is more portrait-focused. You might have observed him hunched eccentrically under a sheet, adjusting the focus on his old-fashioned Linhoff 5 × 5 camera outside an artist’s studio in the industrial area of Al Quoz. He explains, “It takes time. The subject has to stand still for five or ten seconds while I load the film or the image blurs.” The subjects are the artists, patrons, and gallery directors who have been central to building the UAE art scene from the 80s until the present. The project, which Al Attar has been quietly working on since 2013, will be shown at Maraya Art Centre in May and includes studio shots of the older generation of Emirati artists and patrons including Abdelmonem Alserkal, Hassan Sharif, and Najat Makki, who paved the way for the younger generation that includes Al Attar. It is this appropriation of the very best of the past with an eye to the country’s boundless future that best characterises his growing practice.





Yazan Halwani is on a mission to replace the ubiquity of politics with culture in public spaces

“There is an alternative voice rising,” says Yazan Halwani, the Lebanese street artist. “I’m not going to say that what I do is going to free Lebanon or change the sectarian political system, or fix any regional problem, it’s far from that. But it tells people that you don’t have to accept what’s already there.” Halwani has just finished university for the day when we catch up, his English carrying more than a hint of a French accent. His passion for graffiti, calligraphy and the reclamation of Beirut’s streets from the clutches of the city’s myriad political parties is clear. For an alternative voice, he is both endearing and charismatic. Following a brief and highly publicised mix-up in February of this year, the possibility that much of his work – and that of other graffiti artists – would be removed by Beirut Municipality has receded, leaving him free to plan a spring offensive on the city’s blank walls. He’ll also be free to continue to replace the imagery of political propaganda that plagues Beirut with more inspirational cultural icons. “This is the main objective behind my work. To try and loosen the political grip,” he says. “That is why I paint Fairuz or Mahmoud Darwish or Ali Abdullah, the homeless man who used to live on Bliss Street. Because for me these are the true faces of Beirut and with whom Beirutis should identify. The true figures of our society should not be political but rather cultural or artistic.”


According to Halwan, graffiti is politically incorrect in the sense that he attempts to beautify the city without first taking permission, whereas everybody else destroys the city without taking permission. It’s an interesting concept, and one that relies heavily on the fact that his work is indeed striking. Originally a traditional tagger, he has embraced calligraffiti, a medium that merges Arabic calligraphy with graffiti writing, and has sought to create murals that solidify the link between the people of Beirut, their culture and the Arabic language. His style incorporates Kufi (an angular script that is made up of short square and horizontal strokes), Diwani (a complex cursive style of Arabic calligraphy) and Thuluth (a cursive script designed with curved and oblique lines). His creative process utilises numerous techniques including stencilling, the use of string and chalk for certain geometric patterns, brushes and acrylic paint for calligraphy, and spray paint for the portraits themselves. He also incorporates calligraphy into faces as a means of shading, with the words relaying messages. For example, the Darwish mural included the quote ‘On this Land, there’s what’s worth living for’. “I’m moving towards an Arabesque, Oriental appropriation of the space,” says Halwani, who studies computer and communication engineering at the American University of Beirut. “It’s far from the street art feel of going against the system, because we don’t really have a strong system. It’s more about making graffiti for the people of the city. It could be Beirut, it could be Tunis, it could be any city in the Arab world. It’s about, if you want, landmarks or pieces that the people identify with because graffiti is not about the artist, it’s more about the people that live around it.”


It is easy to detect a sense of responsibility towards public spaces when talking to Halwani. Other Beirut street artists may feel the same way, including Ali Rafei or twins Mohamed and Omar Kabbani, who go by their shared tag of, Ashekman. A street art practice does require funds for materials and Halwani makes his public murals possible by taking on commissions and creating street art-inspired work for galleries. Such work, including a mixed media on canvas of Asmahan for the 2013 Beirut Art Fair, are in essence private snapshots of the graffiti he puts up for the public around the city.

On occasion, too, he has collaborated with other artists, but are there any in the region who have influenced his work? “In Lebanon I do not think so, in the region too,” Halwani replies. “But I love the photorealism of the Ma’Claim Crew in Germany. I also love the calligraffiti of Niels Shoe Meulman. What I like about them is that they have their style, which breaks off from traditional graffiti. I think in this sense this is what I’m trying to do. I’m not trying to replicate or just push a bit what graffiti already is, I’m trying to invent a style that’s culturally appropriate to the region and is different. It’s not just about taking something and slapping it on to the city.”




Noor Bhjat Al-Masri’s life as an incubated Ayyam Gallery artist

Noor Bhjat Al-Masri was covered from head to toe in paint splatter when we met at her studio in Ayyam Gallery’s Al Quoz backroom. Specks of blue dappled her French braid. We couldn’t even shake hands. Just that day she’d completed one painting and had briskly moved along to the next canvas. This happens six days a week, nine hours per day, but oftentimes she paints over the previous day’s work, washing it away like a wave reshapes the shore at high tide. At just 23 and a recent graduate of Damascus Faculty of Arts, Al-Masri is Ayyam’s first artist in residence, and although she has yet to exhibit her work, is incubating in a studio sandwiched between established artists’ spaces. To the right works Mohannad Orabi, the artist whose take on Syria was so powerful that he was listed among Foreign Policy’s ‘100 Leading Global Thinkers’ in 2014. Tammam Azzam works further down the hall. Speaking about their community, she said, “We ask one another’s opinions and offer our critiques. I learned a lot technique-wise from Mohannad, especially when it comes to creating texture.”


All of Al-Masri’s paintings are portraits. Even a still life canvas, nailed hastily to a studio wall, shows evidence of an implied human subject who arranged tulips in a vase and sipped half a glass of water before discarding it on a table. Despite the situation in her home country of Syria, she is not attracted to politics as a theme, explaining, “Sometimes the subject attracts you more than the painting itself. I like the opposite—for the painting to attract you more than the subject. “ A dusty full-length mirror leans near an easel to aid with self-portraits. Unlike her demeanour, which is ebullient, Al-Masri paints herself as severe, with the gaunt cheekbones of a much older woman. She wouldn’t acknowledge the contrast and only said, “You get everything that you need to know about the person standing in front of you from looking at the face.” It makes sense that at this time of artistic discernment self-portraits would play a leading role in her studio practice. She pointed to an untitled self-portrait depicting two versions of the same woman—one covers her own mouth, while the other leans forward as if in a submissive trance. Al-Masri said this work, which is not for sale, came about by coincidence, and represented a breakthrough in her practice thanks in part to Orabi’s mentoring. Although she doesn’t like to be too prescriptive in unpacking the messages behind her paintings, she did hint, “I lived in a place where women did not have freedom to speak their minds. Sometimes my words have gotten me in trouble, and this is indirectly what the painting is about.”


Noor Bhjat Al-Masri, Self Portrait, collage and acrylic on canvas, courtesy of the artist and Ayyam Gallery

Noor Bhjat Al-Masri, The Other Face, mixed media on canvas, courtesy of the artist and Ayyam Gallery




The Mine aims to dig deeper in the multi-dimensional, ever-evolving art scene

It was installation day at The Mine. Mapping Within: An Alternative Guide to Tehran and Beyond was on its way up. Curator Sohrab Koshani was adjusting Yousha Bashir’s hearts pinned to a blank industrial wall. There was drilling and hammering. Auction house Paddle 8 was in the process of putting all works up as lots for a simultaneous online auction. Sanaz Askari, the founder of The Mine and I sat down at a rough wooden table in the centre of it all. The Mine launched in 2013 with the motto ‘Creative Chaos’. The space itself sits in a warehouse next to a boxing club in Al Quoz rather than safely within one of Dubai’s two established gallery hubs.

Askari, who is Iranian/Canadian, is also hard to label. She has a long bob haircut and a voice like a reed flute, and is so naturally herself that, despite her newkid-on-the-block status, UAE art sovereigns like Sunny Rahbar (co-founder of The Third Line) and Rami Farook are counted as mentors. Since opening, The Mine has shown upwards of 40 emerging artists in monthly exhibitions that have cultivated an underground following primarily of 20 – somethings who are tired of predictable openings with canapés. The legwork involved in curating a group show is overwhelming. Askari says, “When you have six artists participating, it’s almost like exhibiting six shows, but that’s okay because it stimulates the viewers more. It’s like offering them a salad instead of just raw lettuce.” Exactly what kind of salad is The Mine, though? Askari simply laughs in response to the question: “People are always asking, ‘Tell us what you really are’, but I resist. We don’t want to be one-dimensional and play it safe. Art is not just one thing either. It is constantly evolving, and that is what this space is about.”

Yasuaki Onishi, Vertical Emptiness, installation at The Mine’s opening exhibition in 2013




Emergeast connects young collectors to the Middle East art scene

Best friends turned business partners Dima Abdul Kader and Nikki Meftah may still be in start up mode, but Emergeast, their online gallery bringing emerging Middle Eastern artists’ work to young collectors, is already turning heads in the art world. The two first met in London while studying at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Dima has a solid head for finance coupled with a love of art history, while Nikki previously ran programmes at Magic of Persia, a foundation that introduces Iranian art and culture to a global audience. Emergeast vets emerging artists for background, potential, and technique, then helps them to place original work online, minus the inflated prices that have come to be associated with many regional artists’ introductory sales.

Dima is convinced that online art galleries are the way the market is headed: “Before the fashion websites took off, everyone was doubting how clothing could be bought online. Now Net-A-Porter is a multi-billion dollar enterprise. I believe that art will soon follow suit.” The gallery’s first auction was held in Dubai’s International Financial Centre during Art Week and drew a crowd of 20- and 30-somethings, most of whom had never before bid on art but had blank walls to fill over their couches. Interestingly, for this debut auction, the gallery opted not to charge a buyer’s premium, a choice Nikki says was intended “to eliminate any barriers to entering the market and make sure that everyone was given the chance to raise their paddles without worrying about whether there was a catch.” Humaid Mansoor, a Dubai-based abstract painter, looked on as his Midnight Secrets sold to the highest bidder, which was quite probably a first auction experience both for artist and collector. 

Mohamed Samhoori, Eastern Bed. Courtesy of the artist and Emergeast



Blueprint (II), ink drawing on canvas (two pieces, 320 × 100 cm, 220 × 100 cm), 2013


Saba Innab retraces a journey no longer possible but replete with meaning


Untitled (II), 150 x 80 cm, mixed media on wood, 2015


The journey begins with only a gaze: the discovery of empty land. But yet there is no such thing as empty plots of land – no one has ever been in an empty chamber, and the discovery of emptiness as a marker erasing territories grows vertically, into points of dispersion rather than reference. When Palestinian artist Saba Innab travelled in 2011 from Amman to Nahr El Bared refugee camp in north Lebanon through Syria, during the reconstruction efforts of the besieged camp, she began to question the nature of places in general. Without a specific location in mind, the formless void of an abstract space becomes here apparent: can identities emerge as stable and concrete without a territory to hold them? Is an extension of land only a site or is it also a political outside? “Four checkpoints or more are stretched along the extended no man’s land,” recalls Innab of the journey, which then reaches the international fairground in Tripoli, where the UNRWA North Unit is placed temporarily to work on the reconstruction of the camp. The international fairground was designed by the late Modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer, but the project was never finished due to the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. “It is now on the list of the hundred most endangered sites, becoming a space of suspension, an extraterritoriality that holds another extraterritoriality,” adds Innab. It’s a journey that is no longer possible, she explains, referring to interruptions both temporal and geographical: the logical horizon of architecture and dwelling is a closed border, a porous wall between habitat and history. The map for this journey is traced in Innab’s most recent work, a stack of cut-out sheets of paper, each laid on top of each other, relying on gravity as the only container fit to hold this imaginary mechanism. The operation deployed is not movement but transitoriness. In the artist’s work, it is deterritorialisation rather than dwelling that constitutes our fundamental relationship to architecture. The artist and architect, born in Kuwait

and living between Jordan and Lebanon, sites herself in the particulars of Palestinian displacement from their homeland and in the Arab world, only in order to expand it and bring up a question from the future of the urban condition: temporary architectures – refugee camps, commercial venues, housing projects, executed in perishable materials, are they then the new grammar of the city? The most recent forms of urbanity have proposed also political and historical verticality by eliminating the possibility of a relationship between the public domain and architecture. The process of deterritorialisation is at work not only in conflict zones with refugees and occupied lands, but beyond a mere circumstance of the historical kind, it has grown into a pivotal part of the human condition. In Innab’s drawings and sculptures, inspired by the grand utopian architectures of the past, she articulates fictional spaces – or, vertical suspension, as the ultimate dream of postmodern architectural economies, and returns to the question of what does it mean to build without land? In the Palestinian case, it is not only a technological impetus, but the disappearance of the factual territory. The question that has haunted most postmodern thinkers interested in architecture has been not only the relationship between architecture and politics – migration, colonisation, exclusion, gentrification, hyperspaces, but whether architecture can redeem the political from the enfranchisement of financial liquidity that in itself has begot the paradoxes of inequality in contemporary architecture. This liquidity is precisely the new condition of architecture and urbanism in which the solids of the industrial era have become liquefied by transnational capital and the delusions of global culture; but while the era of the grand public spaces has already passed, new relationships emerge between dwelling and building that are time-based and point towards new forms of memory, community and solidarity. 






The new Raffles Istanbul property showcases Turkish and international art with a collection of more than 200 specially commissioned works inviting guests to ‘Dream of Istanbul’

The crystal chandeliers and balustrades of the 19thcentury Dolmabahçe Palace soar above the lobby of the Raffles Istanbul, digitally stitched together into a hyper-real photo-collage of ornate architectural details. A full eight metres high, the piece provides a striking focal point for the sleek, airy space, welcoming visitors to a hotel infused with art, and with the city’s history. In making this signature photographic work, French artist Jean-François Rauzier has “transformed reality, and in doing so launches the viewer on a journey into a dream of historic legend and modern fantasy,” says Matthew Whitaker, director of global art-consultancy firm Canvas, which curated more than 200 original artworks for the Raffles Istanbul.

Jean-François Rauzier, 8 meters height Photography and photo collage at the Raffles Istanbul Lobby

“Rauzier’s rich and fantastical photographic composition was designed for the Lobby Lounge as a way to introduce hotel guests to The Dream of Istanbul and to draw them into the experience, making them feel that they are enveloped by the fascination and mystery of the city first-hand during their stay,” Whitaker says. The Dream of Istanbul concept is interwoven throughout the overall interior design and custom lighting fixtures, along with the art collection, at Raffles Istanbul, which opened last autumn as the 11th property in the worldwide Raffles Hotels & Resorts portfolio. The hotel’s location, within the luxury multi-use Zorlu Center in the Gayrettepe business district, “reflects the modern side” of the city, while its design contains “elements of Istanbul’s full history,” says Deniz Met, director of marketing for Raffles Istanbul. She points to the Byzantine-style columns framing Rauzier’s artwork, the intricate geometric designs reminiscent of the metalwork on the Galata Bridge near the city’s historical heart, the tiny golden tiles that evoke ancient mosaics.





“There are layers and layers inserted into the property’s design,” Met says. “Everything you touch has a link to the history of this great city.” The 223 original works of art commissioned especially for Raffles Istanbul are key in creating that sense of place. To develop the collection, a mix of photography, sculpture, paintings, installation art, and other mediums, Canvas worked with both established and up-and-coming artists. A third of them hail from Turkey, where the contemporary art scene has been booming in recent years.

opposite page: Ardan Özmenoğlu, Portrait of Ahmet Ertegün, mixed media

bottom left: Margaret Tolbert, graphite, ink, colour wash on paper

bottom right: Yasemin Aslan Bakiri, mixed media, cast glass

Rather than being sequestered away in a private gallery, the art at Raffles Istanbul is integrated throughout the property, from the hotel’s restaurants and bars to its suites and spa centre. A set of doors in the lobby area is blanketed with glass tiles by Turkish artist Şahin Paksoy, who employed Selçuk motifs traditionally used on ceramics. Abstract photographs and mixed-media works line the walls of the meeting rooms. An installation of ceramic “books” by Turkish artist İsmail Öklügil nestles amongst real publications in a cosy library space.



Ĺžahin Paksoy, mixed media on mirror



Three eye-catching works by Turkish artist Yasemin Aslan Bakiri flank the entrances to the downstairs ballroom: full-size kaftans resembling those worn by Ottoman sultans, but made out of hand-woven stainless-steel mesh adorned with hand-casted coloured glass pieces. Each kaftan, which weighs some 40 to 60 kilogrammes and takes four months to make, “uses contemporary elements merged with traditional forms that harken back to Ottoman culture ,” says Bakiri. “Conserving tradition and bringing it to life in [modern] artefacts is my contribution to The Dream of Istanbul.”

among all those she has visited, “a feast to the eyes and senses” that is “crumbling around all the edges, yet still very much vibrant and alive”. Her screen-prints with gold leaf evoke the brilliantly coloured tiles and graceful arches of the city’s numerous palaces.

The first Muslim theatre actress in Turkey, Afife Jale was born during Ottoman times and lived to see the establishment of the Republic, Özmenoğlu explains: “She was the one who gave hope to Turkish young women that they could be a part of the art scene.” Another one of her portrait subjects, Ahmet Ertegün, is “best known as the founder and president of Atlantic Records, and for discovering and championing many leading rhythm & blues and rock musicians,” Özmenoğlu says. “If he were still alive, you’d probably know more [music] artists from Istanbul – he was a genius at finding stars.”

“The thing that for me makes Istanbul the most fascinating city in the world is the energy: of the people, the place, and the overwhelming impression of so many lively systems and traditions sandwiched together and repurposed for new activities,” Tolbert says. “It’s a kind of mosaic of exciting fragments old and new.”

Another American artist featured in the collection, Margaret Tolbert, has been a regular visitor to Istanbul for more than 25 years. Her love for the city and familiarity with its hidden corners and oft-overlooked details are clearly visible in her watercolour sketches, which Canvas director Whitaker describes as “intimate and personal” Another Istanbul-based artist, Ardan Özmenoğlu, uses works that “capture snapshots of daily life in Istanbul a very modern medium to – sunrise on the Bosporus, depict famous people from a street dog, an ancient THERE ARE LAYERS AND Turkey’s past. Large collages aquifer, or a bustling scene LAYERS INSERTED INTO of brightly coloured Post-It from the Grand Bazaar”. THE PROPERTY’S DESIGN, notes form the canvas for her EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH Andy Warhol-esque portraits The artist says some of her HAS A LINK TO THE HISTORY of Fatih Sultan Mehmet, the sketches are of things and OF THIS GREAT CITY conqueror of Constantinople; places she seeks out, while Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, others depict scenes or the founder of the Turkish impressions she fortuitously Republic; and two lesser-known, but culturally stumbles upon while exploring the city’s many important figures hailing from Istanbul. bazaars, backstreets, and neighbourhoods.

Many of the international artists whose works fill the Raffles Istanbul were also inspired by Turkey’s rich cultural heritage. New York-based artist Jeannie Crosby says Istanbul is one of her favourite places

Dozens of Tolbert’s sketches are displayed together in two large framed works on the hotel’s mezzanine level, their wealth of details inspiring lengthy contemplation, and perhaps further exploration. Says the artist: “I hope that others [who see my work] are inspired to wander the byways of Istanbul for their own serendipitous discoveries of this mysterious, ancient, and lively place.” 




An exploration of Sharjah Art Museum’s new collection of contemporary Arab art ahead of its unveiling

This spring the Sharjah Art Museum will reveal to the public its collection of modern and contemporary Arab art. An entire wing of the Museum will be dedicated to a permanent collection, which is envisaged to be enriched and to evolve over time. The selected works that form this collection span over a large geographic region including artists from Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, the Maghreb, the Arab Gulf, Sudan and Yemen. The idea is to exhibit a diversity of works that can provide the public with an overview of the prolific art produced in the Middle East since the second half of the 20th century. The originality of the collection, however, lies in its display of internationally renowned artists, together with a selection of artists who remain to be discovered and to receive the recognition they deserve.

Louay Kayali, Sorrows, 1971, oil on wood, Sharjah Art Museum collection


The curatorial concept of the Sharjah Art Museum was to link the artworks to different themes in order to guide the visitor through a journey exploring the multiplicity of Arab artistic modernities. It begins with pioneering modern artists, such as the Iraqi Faiq Hassan and the Syrian Louay Kayali. Their works can be related to the “Beaux-Arts” tradition and reflect the cultural interactions between the Middle East and Europe within the context of the cultural rebirth of the nahda. Among these pioneers, artists like the Palestinian Ahmad Nawash with his intriguing portraits, experimented with modernism and opened the way to the creation of innovative visual identities. Furthermore, the exhibit presents the art of hurufiya (derived from the word harf, meaning “the written word”) inspired by the art of calligraphy. Many contemporary Arab artists have been reinventing this ancestral art since the 1960s with a tendency towards abstraction. The works by artists Hassan Massoudy, Himat Ali and Ali Hassan elevate the subtle dialogue between form and meaning of the written sign to a whole new level and reflect the infinity of pictorial solutions that translate the traditional scripts of calligraphy into contemporary creations.




In addition, the portraying of everyday life and the traditional village punctuate the exhibit. From the beginning of the 20th century onwards, Arab artists have depicted rural daily life and local traditions. The visual vocabulary of the Kuwaiti Thuraya al-Baqsami or the Sudanese Salah Almur and Mohammed Abdullah Al Otaibi is deeply rooted in popular representations, which generate a symbolist pictorial universe. Others, such as the Palestinian Suleiman Mansour illustrate a utopian and somewhat nostalgic vision of the traditional village.

below: Ahmad Nawash, Woman, 1987, print on paper, Sharjah Art Museum collection

right: Thuraya Al Baqsami, Failaka, 1996, linocut print on paper, Sharjah Art Museum collection

Finally, the exhibit includes many contemporary abstract and conceptual artists, who today challenge national boundaries whether their work is intimately linked to personal narratives or whether it is related to universal issues. The collection therefore presents the public with a wide range of abstract and conceptual creations, including works by the Lebanese artist Saloua Raouda Choucair and the Saudi born Mohammed Al Ghamdi. Thus, this new exhibition distinguishes itself by its eclecticism and diversity, while it bears a solid homogeneity created through common threads. It serves as a testimony to the evolution of visual arts throughout the region and represents an important step towards building knowledge about modern and contemporary Arab art. It also constitutes a significant contribution to the ongoing reflection and understanding of artistic geographies, which are born and evolve in non-Western countries. 





5:21 PM



Nine Arab artists and one from the sub-continent participate in the second “Official Collateral Event” from the region to ever show at The Venice Biennale

Looking in on a terrific thunderstorm, it is possible to misperceive an entire region as dominated by violence, while those inside the disaster’s eye experience an eerie calm. In the Eye of the Thunderstorm marks only the second collateral event from the Middle East to be accepted for participation in the history of the International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale. Martina Corgnati, an Italian historian who has written more than 20 books and worked in the Arab world since the 90s, curates the event, which is commissioned by the founder of Contemporary Practices Art Journal, Omar Donia. The event, which opens on May 6 at the exhibition’s 56th edition, will individually present new or never before viewed conceptual work by nine Arab artists in a 300 square metre space: Rashed Al Khalifa, Alia Al Farsi, Sadik Alfraji, Shurooq Amin, Obaidi, Ahmed El Shaer, Simeen Farhat, Khaled Hafez, Haytham Nawar, and Khaled Ramadan. Donia outlined the designation process bluntly: “We chose mid-career artists with diversified practices, who were never just going for a hit and run to succeed quickly in their careers.”

Corgnati selected the thunderstorm analogy, which she describes as “poetic and intense” for the curatorial theme, explaining, “The perception from outside is that the Arab world is in turmoil”. She wanted to shed light on the notion of artists practising in the eye of the storm in which they are at once both affected by and immune to historic and cultural events, elaborating, “The mental and cultural space for creativity is the calm I am talking about”. The Biennale is unanimously understood to be the most prestigious exhibition in the world, and while a number of countries from the Middle East have hosted pavilions, Donia believes that the region is often so focused on auction results that it is not pushing enough for artists’ work to be acquired by international museum collections. He views the Official Collateral Event as a bridge to ensure that this next inevitable step will take place, noting: “The highly selective criteria for acceptance required the event to confirm a concept, curator, and a core of artists, as well as contract a space for six months, even before application”. An accompanying monograph and documentary will both be released in the autumn following the event’s opening.



Selections explores seven of the artists from In the Eye of the Thunderstorm by India Stoughton

ALIA AL FARSI Alia Al Farsi is a prominent Omani artist who works with multiple media, including lost and discarded items, to create abstract decorative art and portraits. Working on canvas as well as painting on furniture and other objects, she is a keen proponent of social media, which she uses to create an international presence as an artist.

Alia AL Farsi, Untitled, 2014, mixed media on canvas covered with white organza, 215 × 126 cm, part of the installation %22bridge%22, courtesy of the artist

Taking her inspiration from Omani culture and society, she uses items such as local coins and traditional costumes in her work, as well as experimenting with materials gathered on her travels, including silver, Sri Lankan cinnamon sticks, Burmese prayer papers, recycled paper from Cambodia, natural dyes from Morocco and laiso textiles from Zanzibar. Her paintings capture Oman’s people and landscapes in a style that is constantly changing and evolving. She also writes poetry, which she transposes onto her mixed media works. Al Farsi studied at the University of Bedfordshire in the U.K. and has held solo shows in Tokyo, Paris, Seoul and Brussels and exhibited in group exhibitions in cities including Stockholm, Berlin, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi and Geneva. She was awarded the Grand Prize by the Oman Society of Fine Arts in 2009 and won the Dr Suad Sabah Award for art in Kuwait in 2010.





Born in 1967 to a Syrian mother and a Kuwaiti father, Shurooq Amin is an interdisciplinary artist and a Pushcart Prize nominated poet, who aims to instigate change in society through her work. Having studied English literature at Kuwait University and modern poetry at Kent University in England, she went on to do a PhD in Ekphrasis, the connection between art and poetry.

Born in Iraq in 1960, Sadik Kwaish Alfraji is a multidisciplinary artist whose practice spans drawing, painting, video animation, art books, graphic art and installations. Exploring what he defines as “the problem of existence,” his work is characterised by a solitary, shadowy figure, an anonymous silhouette who embodies the experience of exile.

Her provocative mixed media works employ photography and painting to create portraits of figures with concealed faces, via which she explores the traditional family structure, patriarchal control and embedded attitudes towards gender roles. Exploring the ironies and pitfalls of contemporary Arab society, her work humorously captures some of the contradictions inherent in what she sees as a society built on secrets, denial and widespread corruption and driven by international trends. In 2012, Amin became the first female Kuwaiti artist to be auctioned at Christie’s and in 2013 she was named Artist of the Year by the Kuwait chapter of the Arab Woman Awards. As well as publishing two collections of poetry, she has exhibited her artwork in London, Dubai, New York, Kuwait and Cairo. Her 2012 exhibition It’s a Man’s World in Kuwait was shut down by authorities three hours after opening and her work was banned in her home country. Amin has since gone on to stage the show in Dubai and in London with Ayyam Gallery.


Based in Amersfoort in the Netherlands, Alfraji studied fine art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad and graphic design at CHK Constantijn Huygens in the Netherlands. A philosophy student as well as an artist, Alfraji believes that the two disciplines are intertwined, his pieces serving as outward expressions of his conceptual ideas. Alfraji was named Artist of the Year at the Esquire Middle East Awards in 2012. He has held solo exhibitions in Iraq, Jordan, the Netherlands, the U.K., the U.S., Dubai and Lebanon, and his work is housed in numerous public and private collections, including the National Museum of Modern Art in Baghdad, The National Gallery of Fine Arts in Amman, the Royal Association of Fine Arts in Amman, Novosibirsk State Art Museum in Russia, the Cluj-Napoca Art Museum in Romania, Los Angeles Country Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.

RASHID BIN KHALIFA AL KHALIFA Born in Bahrain in 1952, Sheikh Rashid bin Khalifa al Khalifa is one of the kingdom’s most famous artists. Having been encouraged to pursue a career as an artist by the late Amir of Bahrain, Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, he moved to England in 1972 and studied at Brighton and Hastings Art College. He moved back to Bahrain in 1975 and founded the Bahrain Arts Society in 1983, becoming the first president and remaining honourary president to this day. The society is a non-profit organisation that supports and exhibits local artists, arranging showcases of work in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. He also held government posts as undersecretary for tourism for the Ministry of Culture and undersecretary for immigration, passports and nationality. A dedicated patron and collector, he plays a key role in supporting young and emerging artists in Bahrain. Seeking his inspiration in the Bahraini landscape and the human form, Al Khalifa started off painting realist and impressionist landscapes before evolving towards a more figurative, semi-abstract style. Recently he has begun working in chrome, creating polished abstract works that confront viewers with their own reflections. Over the past 40 years, Al Khalifa has exhibited around the world, with solo shows in countries including the U.S., Italy, Jordan, Bahrain and Lebanon.


left: Rashid Al Khalifa, Red-White

above: Sadik Alfraji, Frame drawings for Ali’s Boat video animation, 2015, charcoal on paper. Courtesy of the artist

below: Shurooq Amin, Mara7 7aram, The Installation, 2015, 3 projections with 3 sculpture installations of wood, metal, plastic and mixed media in a 105 × 500 cm. Courtesy of Ayyam Gallery and the artist






Born in Karachi in 1968, PakistaniAmerican artist Simeen Farhat’s visual art is inspired by the beauty of language. Using Urdu, Farsi and Arabic, she creates delicate resin sculptures that transform the words of classical poets including Jalal ad-Din Rumi, Mirza Ghalib, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Khalil Gibran into abstract visual representations of beloved texts.

Born in 1966 in Baghdad, Mahmoud Obaidi is an Iraqi-Canadian conceptual artist, whose choice of media is often driven by the initial idea behind a project. He is known for tackling sociopolitical issues such as displacement, identity, propaganda and conflict in a playful manner, highlighting serious topics with a satirical twist. Although based in Toronto, his work often explores the turbulent politics of his homeland, tackling issues such as dictatorship and exile.

Born in Cairo in 1963, Egyptian multidisciplinary artist Khaled Hafez trained as a doctor before giving up medicine for a career as a fine artist in the early 1990s. Working in painting, video, photography and installation, Hafez juxtaposes elements of ancient Egyptian mythology and art with modern symbols, such as contemporary superheroes and commercial logos. Exploring the dichotomies between secular and religious, male and female, East and West, his work centres on Egypt’s changing identity.

Reminiscent of the beauty of classical calligraphy, her work explores the ways in which language functions as a series of concrete symbols to convey complex, abstract ideas. By deconstructing the original text, she transforms these symbols into abstracts shapes, visual energy encapsulated in the swoops and curves of the letters and the dramatic shadows they cast. Her main interest lies in language and the way writing evolved from gestures. Farhat is exhibiting a piece titled Word Swarm as part of In the Eye of the Thunderstorm, based on a conversation between an artist and a philosopher. “It is in the context of one’s internal swarmlike feelings,” she told Selections. “Those swarms of emotions can also be taken as not personal but also an overall swarm of anyone’s feelings”. Farhat studied at the Texas Christian University. Based between Pakistan, the U.S. and the U.K., she has exhibited in all three countries, as well as the U.A.E., India, Finland, Lebanon and Germany.


Beginning his work as an artist with sculpture and painting, Obaidi shifted into filmmaking and then to conceptual art and video production. Today, he often employs elements from all these practices in his work, shifting between different disciplines. Obaidi studied fine art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad and the University of Guelph in Ontario, new media at Ryerson University in Toronto and film producing at HIF Film Academy in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited at museums and galleries around the world, among them the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, the Musée d’Art Contemporain in Quebec, Station Museum of Contemporary Art in Houston, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art and Museum of Islamic Art in Doha and the National Museum of Bahrain.

For In the Eye of the Thunderstorm, Hafez is showing a video installation that simulates a temple. Viewers enter a projection box where they see three walls covered with replicas of ancient paintings. “The iconography comes from today’s globalised advertising culture,” Hafez told Selections, “and it is derived from my painting. After fifteen seconds, all the elements inside the painting start moving. It’s a poetic reference to media propagated imagery, with pseudo-hieroglyphs based on military iconography – tanks, snipers, choppers, bombers, etcetera – and runners that become reminiscent of forced exile, exodus and inflicted migration”. Hafez studied at Transart Institute in New York and Danube University in Austria. His work has been exhibited all over the world, including at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, at the Sharjah Biennial in 2007, at the Uppsala Museum of Art in Sweden, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Saatchi Gallery and the Tate Modern in London and the Queens Museum and New Museum in New York. 


top: Simeen Farhat, Word Swarm, 2013, plastic, 210 × 240 × 270 cm. Courtesy of the artist and ArtChowk

above left: Mahmoud Obaidi, Money. The Replacement series, 2014, digital print on archival paper, 22 × 30 cm. Courtesy of the artist

above right: Mahmoud Obaidi, News paper. The Replacement series, 2014, digital print on archival paper, edition of 3 + 1 AP, 74 × 40 cm. Courtesy of the artist

below: Khaled Hafez, Tomb Sonata in 3 Military Movements, 2010-2015, mixed media on canvas, animated 4-channel video, original music score. Courtesy Ayyam Gallery




Bryony Devitt finds inspiration in Hanan al-Shaykh’s take on a classic

Children all over the world grow up hearing stories from the One Thousand and One Nights – but not the way Hanan al-Shaykh tells them. For many people, the story of the brave queen Scheherazade, who prevents her husband the king from cutting off her head each morning by telling him a series of marvellous stories at night, brings to mind Arab folk tales like the stories of Aladdin, Ali Baba and Sinbad. These child-friendly tales of adventure are a world away from the stories in London-based Lebanese author al-Shaykh’s reimagining of a selection of 18 of the classic tales. Violence is endemic and slapstick toilet humour hints at the simple origins of these ancient stories, originally handed down orally from generation to generation.

opposite page: Bryony Devitt, The Hunchback


Al-Shaykh sourced her stories from three of the oldest written copies of the tales she could find, discovering a world of raunchy encounters, saucy jokes, wild adventures and wily women. “As a female Arab writer,” she explains, “my real enchantment was with the discovery that women in these forgotten ancient societies were far from passive and fearful; they showed their strong will and intelligence and wit, all the time recognising that their behaviour was the second nature of the weak and oppressed.” It was the feisty women in al-Shaykh’s book — and their clever means of overcoming the injustices visited on them by a patriarchal society — that first caught the attention of British artist Bryony Devitt. She began to create a series of intricate black and white drawings featuring fishermen and genies, hunchbacks and dervishes, princess and slaves, each based on one story from al-Shaykh’s book.






“I went to Beirut to visit a friend and I originally wanted to record daily life there,” she recalls. “My friend gave me the book and my mind was instantly filled with imagery... I had a picture in my head and I just started to draw. I wanted to convey all the intricacies of her story.” Devitt tries to capture the diversity of al-Shaykh’s characters and the humour and liveliness of her storytelling through her drawings. Each one is handdrawn entirely from her imagination, and the intricate detail means each can take up to a month to finish. Some of al-Shaykh’s chapters are so packed with characters and plottwists that Devitt has had to create two MY FRIEND GAVE ME THE BOOK AND MY drawings to convey the complexity of MIND WAS INSTANTLY FILLED WITH IMAGERY... the storyline.


“When I first started I was trying to read one chapter and then draw straight away,” she says, “because it kept the first impression fresh and that’s how I prefer to work. But I got a bit overexcited by the stories and I just wanted to read on, so I read to the end. I’m re-reading the chapter now every time just before I start to draw. If you read too many at once there’s so much going on that you just have no idea where to start.” What attracted her to al-Shaykh’s One Thousand and One Nights, she explains, is its openness and humour. “I liked the bold characters,” she says. “It’s kind of very blunt but also very sophisticated. There’s people killing each other left, right and centre without thinking about it. And even though it talks about the relationships between women and men and more serious subjects, it’s done in a funny way.” Devitt’s drawings share the same qualities of fantasy and humour. Each one immerses viewers into a rich and complicated world, where the magical becomes tangible and anything might happen. 

opposite page: Bryony Devitt, Budur and Qamal Al-Zaman






Some books are sought for the power of their imagery while the words of others have the ability to bring out the good in mankind. Iranian abstract artist Golnaz Fathi adores both categories and guards them in her carefully organised library.

Aesthetic observation aside, Fathi is an ardent reader, with the giants of Russian literature, such as Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Turgenev among her favourites. “Whenever I read their novels I get very emotional and become one with the book,” she confides.

“I wanted my painting to have its own power, not the power of the words.” Golnaz Fathi’s statement very accurately summarises why she gradually transitioned from the millimetre-precise practice of traditional Iranian calligraphy to increasingly abstract forms, allying meticulous scripts with bold brushstrokes and vibrant colours. When it comes to books, Fathi’s approach is identical – aesthetics first, followed by (or not at all, sometimes) the interpretation of the text.

Her fridge magnet showing Tolstoy’s portrait beside his well-known quote is blatant proof of Fathi’s admiration. “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself,” it reads. “It is a simple sentence, but if people actually followed it, our world could be heaven,” reflects the artist. One of Tolstoy’s classics, War and Peace, pops up quite often in the conversation with Fathi, who admits reading it gives her courage in life and strengthens her faith in the good. “I believe I should read this book every six years or so, because my opinions on it constantly evolve, while I get transported to another world.”

When she was in her twenties, Fathi received from her mother a collection of old lithography books that once belonged to her grandfather. “I did not care about what was written in them and in fact never read a word from these books. Fascinated by the decoration and typography, I considered each page a piece of art,” Fathi explains. With their leather covers, fragile pages often falling apart as they were being turned, and most importantly an impressive graphic design, the inherited volumes led Fathi to a creative turning point, inspiring an abstract series that was exhibited at The Third Line Gallery in Dubai (Un/Written, 2005).




IT’S THE JOURNEY THAT GETS ME IN A BOOK. THE WRITERS HAVE EXPERIENCED LIFE AND DIVULGE IT THROUGH FICTION. THE STORY IS JUST AN EXCUSE The works of Czech authors Milan Kundera and Ivan Klima also have their place in Fathi’s library, which is carefully divided into distinct sections: Persian literature, novels by foreign authors, and philosophic texts. Yet the most precious section is dedicated to art books. On its shelves, monographs of Antoni Tapies, Pierre Soulages, Jean Dubuffet, Lee Ufan, and many more, rub covers with books about contemporary art movements. “I never lend them. My friends can flip through them in my house but I will not allow them to take the volumes out,” admits Fathi, who is very protective of her art book collection. The same custodial, endearingly obsessive behaviour seems to emerge when it comes to the very precise order Fathi has established for her bookshelves: “I know by heart which book is where. If anyone touches a book and puts it back in the wrong place, I go crazy,” she laughs.


Untitled, 2007, acrylic on canvas, triptyque, 100×180 cm, (each 100×60)


During the process of selecting new books, the meticulousness goes. There is no specific method or reading list. Fathi visits bookstores and spends hours looking at new releases and old volumes alike. The quest for new reads is an emotional one and the books that end up in the shopping cart are the ones that spiked her curiosity in one way or another. One of Fathi’s latest finds is a novel titled The House of Sleeping Beauties by Japanese writer and 1968 Literature Nobel Prize recipient Yasunari Kawabata. “It’s the journey that gets me in a book. The writers have experienced life and divulge it through fiction. The story is just an excuse,” she explains. It is this learning process that matters the most to Fathi, who has been devouring books from age eight. And yet she wonders if and how her reads transpire into her

art. “Perhaps they go to my subconscious and then reappear somehow on the canvas. I am not the one interpreting my paintings. I make them and leave it up to the viewers to decide,” she ruminates. One thing the artist is certain about is the impossibility of existence without literature in its traditional form: hard copy books that can be held, pages that can be flipped and smelled, designs that can be admired. “I am not a technology person. When people ask me ‘who buys books any more today?’ my heart aches,” Fathi sighs. In a month’s time it’s Nowruz [the start of the New Year among Iranians] and on this occasion, Fathi always gifts herself new books. “I bought about 15 this time and am very enthusiastic to start reading them because they will surely open a new door for me.” 



INNOVATION ABOVE ALL by Maria Cristina Didero

Gaetano Pesce’s body of work spans decades of diverse inspiration. Now, as Maria Cristina Didero finds out, he is exploring the emotional and creative side of the kitchen




Renowned architect and designer Gaetano Pesce could not miss the opportunity offered by Expo Milan 2015 as an ideal, international stage on which to present one of his latest projects. The Universal Exposition, set to invade Italy’s business capital from May to October this year, will unveil his personal interpretation of nutrition, a project commissioned by the Triennale Design Museum, and presented at the Padiglione Expo – the only pavilion in the heart of the city. “This opportunity arrived with perfect timing in order to express my will to deal with a relevant element of the house,” Pesce says. “I refer to the kitchen, which for me represents a theatre of passions. I believe this special space, part of every house, stands for the expression of creative desire, food experimentation, meetings, love, battles and even provocations. I want to express that spaces for living should not only been conceived as functional but they should inspire emotions, joy, movement, perfumes, sonority, and any other elements of our life that could be played on stage; I want to stress the idea that what actually happens in life happens also in the kitchen.”

Gaetano Pesce

Details of the scenes with actors around The Kitchen

Last year, the New York-based Italian’s body of work featured in a comprehensive solo show titled The Time of Diversity in Rome at the MAXXI Museum. Since the inception of his work, Pesce has always theorised about the diversity, arbitrariness, and breaking down of barriers between subject areas, be they art, design or architecture. The theme of diversity is expressed via a nomadic installation, which invades the 1,300 square metres of the museum’s ground floor. “Rather than introducing a rigid interpretation of Pesce’s work, who for decades has theorised on creative chaos and a breaking down of disciplinary fields, we have chosen to recount his works through key-words and a mobile installation, one that changes in time,” says Domitilla Dardi, co-curator with Gianni Mercurio of the exhibition. “The result of this is an ever-changing itinerary where everyone is free to move about amid the objects which are deliberately not condescending or consoling, but are a display of things in all their exciting truth.”



Pesce’s presence also extends to the open-air plaza in front of the building where he has installed one of the most remarkable pieces, a giant sevenmetre high version of his Up5&6 from 1968 – one of two site-specific installations commissioned by the museum. This product, also known as La Mamma (The Mother in Italian), signified a crucial moment in the history of design internationally: the piece demonstrates how the designer’s work went well beyond functionality and expounded on themes such as the female condition or, because it is linked to its ottoman (the UP6), alludes to conception and the umbilical cord that binds a mother to her baby. For the presentation in Rome, Gaetano Pesce emphasised the subject of female-to-male prejudices and power with a series of fake videos inside The Mother displaying sentences defending the freedom of women. It is “an armchair that, since its first edition, turns 45 today. I conceived this chair, which metaphorically chains a female body to a ball, to denounce the state of imprisonment that women are subjected to due to male bias,” comments Pesce.


above & opposite page: Gaetano Pesce, the Maxxi Solo Exhibition 2014

The second site-specific installation was located inside the exhibition area, where Pesce created a room, supposedly from ice, but actually made out of polystyrene, where he explores the theme of passing time: a stream of water creates drops which fall to the floor, all different from one another and each of them making a specific sound to underline the uniqueness of every drop. “In a museum inclined to innovation the way ours is,” says Margherita Guccione, Director of MAXXI Architettura, “Gaetano Pesce’s creative commitment represents an ongoing and constant research into the language, the formal results and the ways of producing.”


Selections/MCD: Some months ago you presented the show The Time of Diversity in Rome: how important are differences in this globalised world? Gaetano Pesce: I believe that one of the fundamental missions of creators in different countries of the world is producing diversity and convincing people that places, cultures, languages and people are all different. The globalised world is useful when there is a ruling democracy everywhere, otherwise people think the same way, dress the same way, buy in the same stores and everything is standardised. S/MCD: How does your creative process begin and how do you physically represent your early idea for a project: drawing on a notebook, bringing together materials, making a written note? GP: My creative process has no rules. It can be triggered by an emotion, a piece of information about reality, a trip, listening to people or music, or other things that I cannot remember now. An idea can pop up in the middle of the night, so I get up and make a note of it. If I get an idea while travelling, I sketch it so I don’t forget what came up in my mind. If inspiration comes when I’m at home, generally I have materials to build a small three-dimensional model. If I feel inspired when I am in the office or in a lab, obviously I have all the tools to work and develop what I thought about, in a more thorough way.

S/MCD: So is there an object that you consider the most necessary for mankind? GP: The light bulb, which allows us to live better lives and prolong our time living, working and enjoying, even at night. S/MCD: A thought about design: in your words, what is your personal definition of design? GP: One of my teachers used to say that the object of design could range from a mere spoon to an entire city. I find myself in perfect agreement with him. I would add that design is able to redesign a State in a way that is more suitable to the 21st century. S/MCD: Every day all of us come in contact with design. What is your relationship with it and has it changed in the past few years? GP: I think that every day I get in touch with an ordinary world, ordinary things, ordinary spaces and only sometimes do I stumble upon the extraordinary and honestly I do not know if this is design. S/MCD: Which object epitomises or represents design par excellence? GP: I think that design is innovation. Therefore, all that is innovative is design.

S/MCD: Which criteria do you use for refusing or accepting a project and what are the limits you could not accept when saying ‘no’. GP: If I get offered a job where there is no room for innovation, I generally decline it. S/MCD: Is there a particular masterpiece in the history of design, a project that you would like to have created yourself? GP: I would have loved to have been the inventor of the light bulb.





S/MCD: Do you think the history of design has to be taken into consideration when creating a new product or you prefer to look to the future than to the past? GP: No, I don’t think that the history of design must be taken too much into account, when designing a new work or making art. Normally, whenever I work, I look to the future and not the past. However, [I do so] knowing the past can tell us where we come from and where we are bound. S/MCD: What kind of relationship do you have with time? I’m thinking of another show called Il Rumore Del Tempo at the Triennale Museum in Milan, years ago. GP: For me time has always been an important element. I am persuaded that every instant is unrepeatable and unique. For this reason, the important exhibitions I had at Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Triennale in Milan and the MAXXI Museum in Rome all touch upon the theme of time. S/MCD: What is your daily routine at the studio? GP: In the morning, I get up early and answer emails and phone calls. Later on, I go to my lab in Brooklyn and then to my office in Soho. But this is not a routine. S/MCD: You live in New York. Do places possess their own innate energy or is there a geographical, special place in the world you like most? GP: I like New York because it is an energetic city, where routine comes after 15/16 days of experiencing the city itself. For this reason, I try to travel and avoid this routine, by visiting places that spark my inspiration and keep boredom at bay. S/MCD: Do you have any rituals for good luck before starting a project? GP: No, I don’t. S/MCD: If it were possible to go back in time, what would you like to become? GP: I would have liked to have lived in the Renaissance, where artists could work in different disciplines with different forms of expression and where it was possible for them to have interests in other fields, such as science, for example. In any case, due to the numerous possibilities offered today, I do not feel the need to be nostalgic about the Renaissance. 

above: Wardrobe ”Pork chop”, 2015, colored pencils and acrylic on paper, 29.5 × 29.5 cm

opposite page: Gaetano Pesce, the Maxxi Solo Exhibition 2014, photo Cecilia Fiorenza




Aljoud Lootah debuts a new furniture collection at Design Days Dubai

Aljoud Lootah might very well be the only designer out there who loves wrestling with creative block. The last time she got stuck, she sat at her desk for more than a week struggling to sketch out her first collection of furniture. After wadding up one too many drafts, and throwing them on the floor, creativity hit in a strange way. She remembers, “I began folding a Post-It note. I got the idea for the Oru cabinet just from playing around with folds and organic shapes.” Oru is Japanese for “fold.” Although she never learned origami, the four-piece limited edition Oru Collection, which debuted at Design Days Dubai in March, is clearly grounded in the Japanese art of paper folding and reflects Lootah’s commitment to design that marries tradition with modern function. The Oru Chair is constructed from locally sourced teak wood and stands on one traditional leg, while the rest of the body is so conceptual that it pushes against the grey fogbank dividing sculpture from design.


Everything from her straight posture to her crisp use of language reinforces the design principles evident in the Oru Collection. Lootah’s family recognises the similarities to her character: “My sister asked me recently why all my designs are geometric with sharp edges and symmetry. She reminded me that it’s to do with my personality being sharp and straightforward.” Lootah began her practice working on fabric under her first label Niftee, but a design trip to Europe sponsored by Dubai Culture, solidified her commitment to furniture. All of her previous Aljoud Lootah, Chair projects have shared a connection to Emirati culture and heritage, including a collaboration with Repetto Paris in which she reimagined her grandmother’s old burqa’as by laser-cutting Arabeseque patterns into the leather of the brand’s classic ballet flat.


The Oru Series: lamp, mirror, chair and cabinet


Lootah is one of a growing handful of full-time product designers based in the UAE, a sector that is expanding thanks to Design Days Dubai and new platforms such as Dubai Design District, which will soon offer studio space for designers and even develop the UAE’s first higher education institution focused on design. Next up, she plans to return to her roots: “You can’t find Sadu (textile weavings typically found in the low cushions of a majlis) or Khous (date palm weavings) in homes nowadays. I really want to work with local artisans to take their crafts and modernise them and make them fit the functional needs of the younger generation.” 




New York’s Cooper Hewitt is open once again, showcasing one of the most captivating collections of design objects in the world

Cooper Hewitt is back, after a three-year closure and renovations that cost upward of US$91 million. While other iconic New York museums, like the Whitney Museum of American Art, have opted to leave the Upper East Side (the Whitney had its final show, Jeff Koons: A Retrospective, last year and reopens in a brand-new building in the Meatpacking District in May this year), Cooper Hewitt decided to renovate and remain in its historic home, the Carnegie Mansion on East 91st Street and Fifth Avenue.

above: Cooper Hewitt exterior


Formerly named the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the venerable institution has been rebranded as Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (yes, the hyphen has been dropped), perhaps in a nod to the purist ethos of the early 21st century, and it remains the only museum in the United States devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design.


above: Garden Bridge, ©Arup

below: Learning Hub, ©Heatherwick Studio





Cooper Hewitt officially reopened last year in December, with 60 percent more exhibition space to showcase one of the most extraordinary collections of design works in the world, numbered at roughly 212,000 objects. The Carnegie Mansion in which the museum lives is the former residence of steel industry mogul Andrew Carnegie and was built in 1902. The renovations involved 13 design firms, including Gluckman Mayner Architects and Beyer Blinder Belle, who together renovated the interior space; Diller Scofidio & Renfro, for the entrance and the retail space; and Hood Design, who created the landscaping. In addition, the offices were moved to a separate location, allowing a great expansion of the local exhibition space. The high-tech aspect of each Cooper Hewitt visit is certainly one of the most dazzling aspects of the museum. At admission, each guest receives a pen that allows him or her to track the visit by virtually collecting the objects of their choice from around the galleries. Visitors can even create their own designs on nifty, interactive, digital tables. At the end of the visit, once the pen is returned, all objects collected or designed by the guest become accessible online, through the personal web address printed on the admissions ticket. So guests basically have an online record of their visit to be accessed and used at their leisure.

SHOP Cooper Hewitt

Exhibition highlights from the current season include How Posters Work, running from May to November this year. The exhibit showcases about 125 posters from Cooper Hewitt’s permanent collection, by the likes of Paul Rand, Herbert Matter and Philippe Apeloig, and explores how designers have employed design principles to produce powerful visual communication. And from mid-June to mid-October, Cooper Hewitt features Provocations: The Architecture and Design of Heatherwick Studio, which examines the work of British designer Thomas Heatherwick and his Londonbased studio, responsible for the UK Pavilion at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, as well as various largescale international architecture projects. After their museum visit, guests can also stop by the museum store, SHOP Cooper Hewitt, which stocks various design objects, and have a bite at the on-site café, operated by Tarallucci e Vino. 

opposite page top: UK Pavilion, ©IwanBaan

opposite page bottom: New Bus for London, ©IwanBaan

See for yourself at



SEQUINED ART by Marwan Naaman

Rahel Guiragossian looks to her artistic legacy as inspiration for her eco-friendly sequined garments



Rahel Guiragossian is creating an exciting new universe, one in which art and fashion are inexorably combined. The 23-year-old is no stranger to art: she’s the daughter of esteemed contemporary artist Emmanuel Guiragossian, and the granddaughter of the late, great painter Paul Guiragossian. “I grew up surrounded by colors,” she says, “having spent most my life in my father’s atelier.” But the young Lebanese woman is also enthralled with the glamorous world of fashion, holding degrees from both Istituto Marangoni in London and ESMOD Berlin International University of Art for Fashion. In an attempt to bring together her two great loves, Guiragossian decided to create a collection of clothes consisting of five unique pieces made from sequins, each one fashionable and wearable, yet closer in spirit to a valuable painting than to an item of clothing from a designer label. “I was raised with the knowledge that whatever we do, either drawing, painting, creating dresses, sculpturing, anything creative basically, we consider it as art,” she explains. For each of her sequined pieces, Guiragossian used artworks by her family members as inspiration. “I chose to work with the abstract paintings of my grandfather Paul and father Emmanuel,” she says. One of the most important aspects of Guiragossian’s work is that although she selected sequins to create her dresses, she actually invented her own, ecofriendly version of sequins in the process. “I chose sequins, a luxury textile that is completely made out of polyester,” she says. “The innovation was to reinvent the same textile by making it 100% biodegradable.” To achieve her vision, Guiragossian joined forces with Swiss luxury textile manufacturer Jakob Schlaepfer, who sponsored her collection, and German chemical company BASF, which is currently helping her produce a new kind of biodegradable plastic for her sequins.

Under the newly created Rahel Guiragossian label, the young designer launched the aptly named Quand L’Art Inspire L’Art (When Art Inspires Art) collection, which includes an evening dress, overalls, a blazer, a pantsuit and a short dress. The five pieces boldly mix feminine and masculine elements with strong artistic references. The evening dress is particularly dramatic, featuring free draping and powerful artistic strokes inspired by Emmanuel Guiragossian’s painting titled Movement. “The paintings I chose are executed in a fast movement and dynamic strokes, emanating a lot of freedom in the work, while at the same time relaxing the eyes when you look at them,” says Guiragossian. “This concept has been repeated in the entire design aesthetic by draping the sequins on the body and imitating the fast movement as seen in the abstract art.” Of her collection, Guiragossian explains that the aim was always to create art, so she has no plans to release any of her pieces commercially. “The pieces are unique and cannot be replicated 100%,” she says. “I work on demand. If someone likes a certain look, then I will recreate it in a different way, just like a painting.” In recognition of her groundbreaking work, Guiragossian won a mentorship from Gucci. The prestigious Italian label has invited the young woman to its Florence headquarters to further develop the sequins project and to provide needed help and support. This could mark the beginning of a new trend in fashion, one in which each item of clothing is the unique vision of talented young artists – artists like Guiragossian herself. 

Rahel Guiragossian design, inspired by “Movement” of Emmanuel Guiragossian



House of Tabbah offers a worldwide bespoke service that turns clients’ dreams into reality




The House of Tabbah is bringing the bespoke experience to a wider audience

To walk in Beirut’s august House of Tabbah is to leave your troubles behind you. The chaotic traffic, heat and dust of the city are forgotten amid the spacious interior of the jewellers, with its pristine cream carpets, pale wooden surfaces, and plump chairs and sofas upholstered in a soothing pale blue. Founded by Joseph Tabbah in 1862, the House of Tabbah is one of the world’s oldest family-owned and run jewellers in the world and specialises in bespoke creations. For over 150 years, five generations of the family have wrought unique creations tailored to each individual customer. Fifth generation Nagib Tabbah, who directs the House of Tabbah alongside fourth generation Nabil Tabbah, sat down with Selections to discuss the jewellery house’s ethos and approach.

Tabbah made waves in the international fashion press in 2011, when he designed a bespoke necklace, Infinite Cascade, for Princess Charlene to wear during her wedding to Prince Albert II of Monaco. Based on a series of meetings between Tabbah and the royal, the piece consists of six parallel strands of rose gold, set with diamonds and tipped with pearls. It’s not just princesses who can expect the royal treatment. The House of Tabbah philosophy, the jeweller explains, is that the client should always be the muse. “We’re here to listen to you. We’re not here to pull out a tray and sell,” he says. “This is completely different from what’s happening around the world today, because we come from a bespoke perspective, we don’t come from a retail experience. If you want to sum up the House of Tabbah today, we’re trying to open up the bespoke experience to more people.”



above: The original House of Tabbah Bab Idriss boutique


below: House of Tabbah on Allenby Street Beirut is inspired by the original boutique from the 1950s reinterpreted in contemporary style


Determined to ensure that the jewellery house’s heritage remains alive, Tabbah says the current Beirut location on Allenby Street was inspired by the former venue in Beirut’s bustling pre-war gold souks. “The story of the way we built the House of Tabbah here is pretty interesting,” he says, “because it comes from the design of my grandfather’s boutique in Bab Idriss, back in the 50s. I found all the archives of my grandfather’s boutique – – the designs, photos from 65 years ago. I said, ‘This is a sign.’”

Tabbah always has an eye on the future. “My role is to transmit to the next generation the know-how and heritage of the house,” he says, “I’m just a link on a chain that started 152 years ago.” His two daughters might yet take over one day, he says, but only if they have a passion for the work. Jewellery design isn’t just a job, he explains, but a calling.

Tabbah designed the new location to match the old. “What I wanted was to actually rebuild the House of Tabbah,” he explains, “obviously in a modern, interesting way, yet to have this feel of authenticity — of a house of jewellery, rather than a boutique.” As a designer, Tabbah says he works intuitively, allowing each client to be a fresh source of inspiration. “Actually I’m not a designer, I’m a sketcher,” he laughs, “which means I can see a person and as they speak I try to render their emotion into a sketch... A client will never tell you ‘I want this.’ They will tell you what they want to feel, and you have to interpret what they feel into a shape.”

Nagib Tabbah


He cites the story of a Swiss client who ACTUALLY REBUILD THE HOUSE OF asked him to create a necklace inspired TABBAH, OBVIOUSLY IN A MODERN, by her new sailing boat. She sent INTERESTING WAY, YET TO HAVE pictures of the vessel, but it was only THIS FEEL OF AUTHENTICITY — OF once she sent him a self-portrait that A HOUSE OF JEWELLERY, inspiration struck. “I saw her, and with RATHER THAN A BOUTIQUE one stroke of the pen it was done,” he recalls. “I need to see the eyes. I need to see the soul of a person, and then I understand. I designed a wave around the neck. That Does House of Tabbah have a motto? Tabbah considers was the first time I actually drew without taking my for a moment and then decides. “Loyalty to the end,” he pencil off the paper.” says. “With my clients, it’s loyalty to the end.” 




Chanel’s Camélia Brodé and Camélia Maki-e timepieces, both from the Mademoiselle Privé collection of watches, tell the hours with artistic flair

When Gabrielle Chanel founded her now legendary label, back in 1909, she quickly rose to prominence on the international fashion stage. Mademoiselle Chanel was, after all, the first to introduce such iconic styles as the Little Black Dress (LBD) and the simple-line design for dresses, which would eventually supplant the hourglass look favoured at the dawn of the 20th century. She was also one of the first to use sober colours for female garments, like grey and navy blue, as a reflection of women’s growing power and their changing roles in society. Throughout the course of her illustrious career, Mademoiselle Chanel would also conquer the worlds of accessories, perfume and jewellery, by creating shoes, handbags, fragrances and various styles of jewellery that have remained wardrobe classics to this very day. But it wasn’t until 1987, long after Gabrielle Chanel’s death in 1971, that the first Chanel watches made their appearance on the retail scene.


Much like Chanel clothes and accessories, Chanel watches shimmered with elegance, sophistication and avant-garde style, instantly becoming fashion classics. In fact, to this day, every single Chanel watch is unique and numbered, meaning that any Chanel watch automatically becomes a collector’s item upon its release. The Mademoiselle Privé collection of watches from Chanel is particularly beguiling, as it effortlessly fuses modern artistry with the House of Chanel’s noble heritage. The collection often highlights one of Gabrielle Chanel’s most cherished symbols, the camellia flower, as well as other symbols that she held dear, like the bow. Thanks to the work of master artisans – enamellers, engravers, carvers and stone-setters – the watches become much more than a timepiece or a jewellery piece: they’re veritable works of art.


above and below: Making of – “Mademoiselle Privé” embroidered camellia dial watch, Embroidery: Using pearls, gold flakes, diamonds, silk and gold threads the embroiderer starts work on the design. CHANEL Watches

opposite page: “Mademoiselle Privé” Camélia brodé dial watch. 18K yellow gold case set with 60 brilliantcut diamonds (~1 ct). Embroidered dial made by the Maison Lesage with 1 rose-cut diamond, 18K yellow and white gold paillons and gold threads.18K yellow gold hands. Black satin bracelet with 18K yellow gold ardillon buckle set with 80 brilliant-cut diamonds (~0.48 ct). High-precision quartz movement.Functions: hours, minutes. Water-resistance: 30 meters. Diameter: 37.5 mm. Thickness: 9.85 mm. CHANEL Watches



Two such artistic timepieces from the Mademoiselle Privé collection are Camélia Brodé and Camélia Maki-e, both of which are new releases, and both of which incorporate Coco Chanel’s beloved camellia into their design. The camellia was always part of Chanel’s fashion spirit. The fashion designer seemed to have been particularly attracted to the minimalist beauty of the white flower, as she shunned the over-thetop frills and embellishments that characterised women’s fashion during the early 20th century.

Mademoiselle Privé Décor Camélia Maki-e, 18K yellow gold case set with 60 brilliant-cut diamonds (~1 ct). New dial, Maki-e, black lacquer and camellia motif in yellow gold paillons on the background and 3 camellias in quail eggshells. 18K yellow gold hands. 18K yellow gold crown set with onyx cabochon. CHANEL Watches


The Camélia Brodé watch, which won the prestigious Montre Métiers d’Arts prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie in Geneva, showcases a delicately embroidered camellia on its dial. This intricate, impressive work comes courtesy of Maison Lesage, the illustrious embroidery atelier located in Paris. In business for nearly a century, Maison Lesage has, over the years, created embroideries for the likes of Dior, Louis Vuitton, Jason Wu and, of course, Chanel. To enhance the beauty of the Camélia Brodé watch’s embroidery, Maison Lesage uses pearls, gold and silk threads, gold flakes and diamonds, all carefully positioned on a deep black fabric background. The embroidered dial is then placed inside an 18-karat yellow gold case set with 60 brilliant-cut diamonds, with the final touch provided by a sophisticated black strap. 


Sundus Abdul Hadi, Rumanna


A nation’s creative force flourishes beyond its own borders



In the introduction to a collaborative project between artist Rachid Koraichi, poet Mahmoud Darwish, and calligrapher Hassan Massoudy, Abdel Kebir Khatibi begins by asking: “How is it possible to lay the poetic and artistic foundations for a nation in exile?” Khatibi’s question is not only posed in light of the subject of Palestine as it is masterfully navigated in Darwish’s poems, but also alludes to the predicament facing so many artists from the Arab world, including Massoudy, who left his native Iraq for France in 1969. Although waves of Arab migration in the late 19th century established sizable communities in places like the Americas, a succession of political conflicts and wars over the last one hundred years have led to the formation of today’s Arab diaspora—a fact that is addressed in myriad ways by artists and poets alike. Among those exiled, themes of displacement and dispossession, often from the vantage point of mourning, frequently appear in the works of Iraqi artists. The ensuing large-scale destruction of Iraq and the disintegration of its society have made it impossible for the majority of artists to return, a reality that exacerbates an already heightened sense of fragmentation. In his seminal essay, Reflections on


Exile, Edward Said describes forced displacement as an “unhealable rift,” resulting in a state of consciousness that is divided between the present environment and the one left behind through the lens of memory. Similarly, Khatibi argues that exile is “an art of memory, a furrow of amnesia,” that can serve as a starting point for resistance if the “founding myths” of a collective past are recognised. While this method of resistance has been applied in theoretical terms since the 1960s, leading to notable examples of art, subjectivity has also allowed artists to probe the inbetween through a range of formal techniques and conceptual approaches.

above: Nazar Yahya, 6000 years old

opposite page: Sundus Abdul Hadi, Majbooreen bil Amal


The creative branch of the Iraqi diaspora, although not organised as a cohesive art scene, exists as a series of concentric circles connecting artists across continents. Jordan has been a hub for Iraqi art since the 1990s with a handful of art spaces such as Darat al Funun, Dar al Anda, and Orfali Gallery, which fostered a culture of patronage. After the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, a wave of artists arrived in Amman, including Serwan Baran whose painting style changed after settling in Jordan. Born in the United States and educated in Iraq and the United Kingdom, Sina Ata currently resides in Amman, where he continues to work in photography, painting, and assemblage. Conceptual artist Rheim Alkadhi and painters Leila Kubba and Mahmood Shubbar live and work in Lebanon, which, although not a centre for Iraqi art, has attracted artists and intellectuals since the modern period. Kubba recently opened an art space with adjoining studios in Beirut’s Hamra district in hopes of cultivating new talent. Elsewhere, sculptor Ahmed al Bahrani divides his time between Egypt, Italy, and China where he maintains workshops in order to execute public art projects around the world. Earlier in his career, al Bahrani lived between Qatar and Sweden for 15 years. Halim al Karim, whose haunting portraits of otherworldly figures

explore the deception of memory and the silencing of narratives in periods of war, resides in the United States but also spends part of the year in the United Arab Emirates. In Dubai, mainstays such as Meem Gallery and Ayyam Gallery promote contemporary Iraqi artists, assuring that a market is maintained despite the absence of a national base. Meem Gallery’s books and catalogues on key figures have added to a growing list of Englishlanguage publications that are tracking the Iraqi art scene across its multiple locations. Qatar’s Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art holds one of the largest collections of Iraqi art outside the country, and began acquiring works more than two decades ago. The Doha museum mounted an impressive display of its holdings at New York’s Columbia University in 2009. Modernism and Iraq, curated by US-based Iraqi art historians Zainab Bahrani and Nada Shabout, highlighted several generations of artists with more than three-dozen works, most of which were borrowed from Mathaf. The National Gallery of Fine Arts in Amman, however, boasts a longer history of collecting, which was spearheaded by Jordanian artist and historian Wijdan Ali. Sultan Sooud al Qassemi’s Barjeel



Sama Alshaibi, Sweep, video box edition of 3, 2010, 41.6 × 35.5 × 6.5 cm

Art Foundation in Sharjah holds some of the best examples of modern and contemporary Iraqi painting, and regularly organises international exhibitions and loans of its collection. Apart from regional efforts to create significant collections, the British Museum began acquiring works on paper by Iraq’s foremost artists in the mid 1980s. Iraqi artists have immigrated to Europe since the 1970s, when several painters settled in major metropolises or travelled to the United Kingdom and France to pursue academic training. Abstract painter Himat Mohammed Ali has lived in Paris since 1991, although he regularly exhibits in Japan where he ran a gallery for several years. Britain is home to Dia Azzawi, Suad al Attar, Faisal Laibi Sahi, Rashad Salim (the nephew of pioneering Iraqi modernist Jawad Salim) and Jananne al Ani, among others. Azzawi travelled to London in 1976 to serve as a consultant to the Iraqi Cultural Centre. Aside from his influence as the initiator of several art movements, Azzawi has supported his colleagues at home and abroad through various efforts, such as the mentorship of a younger generation of Baghdadi artists whom he encouraged to experiment with book art, resulting in a significant trend in the early 2000s. London-based ceramist Maysaloun Faraj has also been an important advocate in the diaspora, notably by organising the


groundbreaking exhibition Strokes of Genius (2001), which gathered painters, sculptors, and media artists working in Iraq, Europe, and the United States. The exhibition’s accompanying publication has lasting influence with its extensive documentation of Iraqi art from the mid to late 20th century. Included in the book are firsthand accounts by Rashad Salim and Hanaa Malallah who details her experiences as an artist in Baghdad under the US-led sanctions. In 2002, Faraj co-founded Aya Gallery with her partner, Iraqi architect Ali Mousawi, launching a hub for Arab art that was at the centre of events for 10 years, an environment that surely made an impact on their son Athier, who is now a rising painter. Based in the Netherlands, multidisciplinary artists Nedim Kufi and Sadik Alfraji have extensively exhibited in Dutch institutions and art spaces. Pioneering painter Ali Talib maintains homes in The Hague and Amman. After moving to Jordan from Iraq in 1991, Talib lectured on contemporary art at Yarmouk University for several years. Adel Abidin lives and works between Amman and Helsinki, Finland, where he switched from painting to video and installation art, creating politically subversive works that often upend the spectacle of mass media. Abidin has represented Finland and Iraq at the Venice Biennale, and will be


featured in the 2015 Iran pavilion alongside artists from Central and West Asia, including Walid Siti, who first left Iraq in 1976 after graduating from the Baghdad Institute of Fine Arts. After completing his artistic training in Slovenia, Siti sought political asylum in the U.K., and developed a multifaceted practice that merges drawing techniques with the geometric principles of architecture in works inspired by the mountainous region of his native Iraqi-Kurdistan. Northern Europe is also home to painters Modhir Ahmed and Ali al Najjar who alternate between abstraction and figuration. From Sweden, al Najjar has simultaneously built a successful career as an Arabic-language art critic, and in the late 2000s sought to document a new phase of Iraqi art by profiling early and mid career artists who have spent most of their lives outside of the country. Included in the online series are Jananne al Ani, Rheim Alkadhi, and New York-based artist Athir Shayota, in addition to Sundus Abdul Hadi, who, although born in the United Arab Emirates to Iraqi parents and raised in Montreal, Canada, often explores post-2003 media representations of Iraq with a critical eye.

Hanaa Malallah, My Night 16–17.01.1991, mixed media on canvas, 2013, polyptych, 150 × 600 cm

Abdul Hadi recently collaborated on a series of mixedmedia paintings with her sister Tamara, an artist and photojournalist living in Dubai. Incorporating Tamara’s images, the paintings depict sweeping landscapes in which children from Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, and Palestine are shown leaping beyond the confines of povertystricken neighbourhoods, refugee camps, and war-torn cities. The sisters are the children of Sawsan Alsaraf, a Baghdad-born painter who has lived between North America and the Middle East since 1977, an experience of displacement and migration that informs her multimedia work. Also in Canada, painters Kareem Risan and Mahmoud Obaidi are based in Toronto, although they mostly exhibit in the Arab world, as the city’s art scene is small and limited in its scope. Risan’s 2014 exhibition at Meem Gallery, Steps in Migration, debuted his latest series of neo-expressionist paintings and drawings, a body of work that maps the permanent sense of alienation induced by exile. Iraqi artists immigrated to the United States as early as the first half of the 20th century. Although born in Aleppo, Syria in 1908, pioneering painter Madiha Omar spent her childhood in Baghdad, and became active in the local art scene in the 1930s. As the first female artist to receive funding from the Iraqi government, Omar studied in England after training in Lebanon and Turkey. When she returned to Iraq in 1933, she taught art at the university level and moved to the United States a decade later, where she exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery, the Smithsonian Institute, and



University in Michigan after emigrating from Egypt. Shayota was an active member of a vibrant community of artists in Detroit during the 1980s and 90s before the city’s decline, often exhibiting alongside his younger brother Athir. Despite sharing a studio, and sometimes using the same palette, the brothers developed radically different painting styles. Wafer’s expressionist canvases burst with colour and brushmarks, particularly as figures and objects collide in war-torn settings where the laws of gravity cease to exist. Although Athir’s works reflect a similar psychological tension, his reserved portraits and still lifes are rendered with realist techniques that emphasise a gradual build-up of paint as his subjects shift in place. Athir received an MFA in painting from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri in 1992, and later moved to Manhattan, where he painted New York-based Iraqi artists Osama Khatlan and Haitham Abdullah in a series of postinvasion portraits.

Walid Siti, Chasing Utopia, 2, 2011, No1, straw, acrylic & MDF board, 40 × 40 × 40 cm

the Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco. Between the 1960s and 80s, Omar spent additional time in Baghdad, where she gained recognition as a leading modernist painter. As the first Arab artist to exhibit modern calligraphic work in 1949, she is often cited in Iraqi art history. Omar spent her final years in New York City, where she died in 2005. Most Iraqi artists in the U.S. either arrived as children or adolescents and later trained at American universities, or emigrated from the Arab world and Europe over the past ten years. Although studying at the Baghdad Institute of Technology in the late 1970s, Wafer Shayota completed his artistic training at Wayne State


Although the centre of the American art world, New York City is home to a small number of Iraqi artists who rarely convene but regularly exhibit throughout the country. This is perhaps due to the fact that, unlike London, the major metropolis lacks a steady history of engagement with contemporary Iraqi art. Painter Ahmed al Sudani is the most visible Iraqi artist in the New York art scene, having experienced early success with the backing of a local blue-chip gallery. Al Sudani’s large, colourful canvases of mutilated bodies and devastated spaces can be read as part of the expressionist lineage of Iraqi art that was established by Dia Azzawi, and expanded by subsequent painters like Wafer Shayota, and, more recently, Athier Mousawi. As an Associate Arts Professor at New York University, new media artist Wafaa Bilal is known for controversial performances and video works that scrutinise the militarised imagery of mass culture. Multidisciplinary artist Dena al Adeeb is also an academic, whose writings on art, gender, activism, and politics often overlap with her research-based practice. In 2010, al Adeeb collaborated with Iraqi-Palestinian, multidisciplinary artist Sama Alshaibi on a three-part


video and photography series titled Baghdadi Mem/ Wars, a project that maps the eternal traces of war that can be read on the body as the psyche is confronted with the reality of forced displacement. In addition to producing conceptual photography, and video and installation work, Alshaibi is an Associate Professor of Art at the University of Arizona, Phoenix, where she mentors young photographers and media artists. Collectively known as the Eighties Generation, the most scattered group in exile is a circle of Baghdadi artists who were born in the early 1960s and trained with leading Iraqi modernists. Nedim Kufi, Sadik Alfraji, Kareem Risan, and Hanaa Malallah—who moved to London during the second Gulf War—all belong to this generation, as do Nazar Yahya and Ghassan Ghaib, who live in Houston, Texas and Los Angeles, California, respectively. Mohammed al Shammarey, although selftaught, was active as a young artist in Baghdad around the same time. Al Shammarey now resides between Houston, Texas and Amman. Most of the artists of this generation began as painters but eventually altered their practices to include conceptual, installation, and media art, the beginnings of which Malallah identifies in her contribution to Strokes of Genius. Younger painters Delair Shaker and Sinan Hussein moved to the U.S. from the Arab world in the last five years. The son of influential ceramist Saad Shaker, Delair was previously based in Jordan, where he taught art after leaving Iraq in the mid 1990s. Hussein lived in Amman for two years before travelling to Kuwait in 2007, where he exhibits regularly. The surrealist painter’s forthcoming exhibition at Stal Gallery in Muscat, Oman will feature a recent series of paintings that reflect the difficulty of adjusting to a new environment when one’s home country is etched in the cavities of memory. In a recent solo exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York, California-based painter Hayv Kahraman similarly described the obstacles of assimilation that arise when language barriers serve as a reminder of a fractured existence. Kahraman’s delicate, stylised works are based on the 13th-century Maqamat al Hariri paintings that served as a satirical record of life in Baghdad, pre-Mongol invasion.

Michael Rakowitz and Joyce Dallal, who were born in the U.S. to Iraqi parents, have produced performances and installations that articulate multigenerational experiences of exile by incorporating aspects of their respective family histories. In 2014, Rakowitz’s interactive project Dar Al Sulh was held at Traffic Gallery in Dubai as a popup space serving Iraqi-Jewish cuisine inspired by the recipes of his grandmother. Dallal’s forthcoming participation in Ten, a group show at the Arab American National Museum in Michigan, will include the story of her father’s immigration under McCarthy-era surveillance in Cold War America through a multimedia installation. Dallal will be featured alongside Wafer Shayota, Nazar Yahya, Dena al Adeeb, and Sama Alshaibi, among others. The above overview, although nowhere near exhaustive, offers a glimpse of a nation in exile. While a uniform aesthetic does not exist, there are conceptual strands that can be detected across media, confirming Khatibi’s observation of an art of memory among the displaced. The individual perspectives of artists, however, are what have led to the establishment of an artistic foundation. To borrow Kobena Mercer’s description in the introduction to the edited volume Exiles, Diasporas, and Strangers (2008), in place of “roots” one might propose to view this history as a series of “routes.” As Mercer further explains, “signifying materials are actively appropriated by choices that create new forms of collective attachment and belonging.” In the pages that follow, four Iraqi artists are profiled in detail.




AHMED AL BAHRANI As a sculptor working over the span of nearly three decades, Ahmed al Bahrani has used a variety of techniques and materials— from evolving abstract forms rendered in steel to detailed figures and objects cast in bronze. Although al Bahrani trained under modernist painter and sculptor Ismail Fattah at Baghdad’s Institute of Fine Arts in the late 1980s, he often cites the experience of modelling three-dimensional works from the earth near his childhood home in Babylon as the start of his experiments with the medium. The lasting impact of this environment on the artist is evident in works that evoke the pregnant signifiers of its ancient culture. Small, stylised sculptures with laboured surfaces, as though repurposed from an excavated source, hint at mythological legends and symbols while also suggesting a protracted state of ruin. Other examples of this size include ordinary objects transformed into unsettling artifacts, such as Nest (2010), a bird’s structure seized as a repository for discarded military equipment. Al Bahrani’s large-scale public art projects puncture space with monumental imagery as he effortlessly moves between figuration and abstraction. Focusing on the dynamism of interlocking forms, lines and shapes seem to rise from the ground, and meet as intersecting planes suspended in space. His latest outdoor sculptures reconsider the representational tropes of commemorative statues by employing classical or naturalist techniques with a conceptual twist. In the series War to War, largerthan-life portraits of famous figures are shown carrying different types of handheld weaponry. Installed in downtown Miami during the city’s 2013 Art Week, the provocative, anti-war series asks viewers to imagine the legacies of notable leaders and celebrities, such as Mother Teresa or Charlie Chaplin, had they advocated violence instead of peace.

Ahmed Al Bahrani, Nest, 2010, mixed media, 20 x 20 x 18 cm





ATHIER MOUSAWI Athier Mousawi’s painting style can be categorised as geometric expressionism, combining the bold shapes and brilliant colour of mid century non-objective art with the scale and evocative sense of movement of abstract expressionism. Yet underwriting his work is the evident influence of Iraqi modernism and the contemporary experiments in abstraction that followed, specifically those of his mother, artist Maysaloun Faraj. Also visible is an architectural sense of compositional organisation (despite outward chaos), an aspect of his paintings that can be linked to the work of his father, Iraqi architect Ali Mousawi. In the artist’s paintings organic forms collide with hard-edge lines and geometric planes. These distinct elements occupy the expanse of the canvas, and overlap as they compete for pictorial dominance, creating dimension. As the disparate forms interact and appear to move across the surface, they become tangled as a single formation. Independent forces seem to push back from the centre of this unified body, propelling shapes toward the edges of the canvas. With the scene suspended in mid-air, the artist suggests an anti-gravitational setting where elements are unrestrained. Although his paintings are inspired by specific circumstances, such as war, in place of a realistic depiction, he identifies a series of fundamental components then renders his scenes as a struggle between opposing sources of energy. With an emphasis on form, he allows viewers to enter conflicted spaces through perceptual experience. Improbable Possibilities, a multi-part series, shown at Ayyam Gallery London in 2014, proposed an alternative realm in which the intrinsic equilibrium of material reality is restored through a series of transformative phenomena. Informed by theoretical physics, the paintings of Push and Pull; The Cut; and Eternal Balance depict wormholes, the tubular portals through which an object’s makeup is changed, and the intermediary and final processes of reconstruction. In doing so, Athier prompts viewers to consider the obstacles we face today in a world in desperate need of eternal balance.

Athier Mousawi, Cosmic Fluid, 2014, 203 × 213 cm, acrylic on canvas







SINAN HUSSEIN Sinan Hussein’s whimsical characters appear weightless in sparse environments that indicate a state of limbo. Hussein’s protagonists are depicted in pairs or as lone figures, twisting through open spaces. Lovers are huddled as clusters of mass around which all other elements revolve. To achieve this effect, their bodies are first rendered with a thin black line that creates a shell or capsule, a home for the spirited in need of shelter. This cast is then filled with solid forms and finalised with the layering of washes, creating volume. At times, his characters are canonised with golden halos—some of which grow to enclose the entire figure. In the artist’s latest series Just a Trip, his compositions include recognisable settings, the interior spaces of homes or barbershops. The theme of this body of work is emigration, an experience explored from the vantage point of the artist’s biography. Through surrealist imagery, Hussein attempts to journey to the realm of primordial isolation, returning to the place where dreams reveal the aspirations of the subconscious mind. Surrounded by hybrid creatures—animals that possess human traits such as oversized feet—the artist’s figures appear silent. The wingless birds that hover around them attempt to warn and steer his displaced subjects, who patiently wait for some sort of sign despite visible bewilderment. Other symbolic clues are distributed throughout Hussein’s compositions. Fish figures appear as an indication of seclusion and reproduction, a paradox that mirrors the reality of exile, estrangement in exchange for the possibility of a new life. Hussein’s central man and woman enter his paintings with their characteristic stances, detailed in the positions of their feet, as they struggle to gain traction a new environment. The man’s left foot covers his right, a sign of thinking logically when faced with an obstacle. The woman, however, displays the opposite position, approaching their predicament with imagination and empathy.

Sinan Hussein, Wikipedia Wedding, 2014, 180 × 210 cm, mixed media on canvas



ATHIR SHAYOTA Athir Shayota paints psychological portraits and allegorical still lifes, working within the modernist tradition of figuration in which form conflates space and time in order to perceive reality beyond its material dimensions. Since the late 1980s, Shayota has depicted his family and friends, and the circumstances that stir their outward sense of restlessness. As the artist has witnessed the continual destruction of Iraq from afar, he has located its descent in the altered dispositions of his subjects. In the initial phase of his work, Shayota rendered everyday scenes of life as experienced within the Iraqi community of Detroit, where he spent most of his adolescence. The artist’s early portraits of his father, Hanna, a retired schoolteacher whose stoicism speaks of a particular ethos, capture a pensive state of withdrawal. With the onset of the first Gulf War, he began to expand the spaces of his compositions, painting outdoor environments where even vegetation seems to close in on his figures. As the sanctions further crippled the country, the artist’s representation of the mundane was emptied of its familiar motifs. After the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, Shayota produced several self-portraits with a cinematic conception of space, as the interior of his New York apartment repeatedly obscures and fragments his image. The artist’s recent works, although depicting inanimate objects, deliberately evoke the imagery of his portraits. Today as Iraq is unrecognisable, still lifes are painted as snapshots of life in the absence of his figures, resulting in partial views of brooding environments. Yet, the blossoms and leaves of Shayota’s floral bouquets reach toward the edges of paintings, refusing to submit. 

Athir Shayota, Still Life V, 2015, oil on canvas, 61 × 46 cm





Wafer Shayota, Tigris and Euphrates II, 1996, oil on canvas



Flow, work in progress 2015


Selections explores the dream world of photographer Lara Zankoul





Lara Zankoul is one of those people who can immediately catch you off guard. When I tell her that her photographs remind me of scenes from a David Lynch film, she reveals that she isn’t familiar with his work, which is all the more remarkable when you look at one particular image. A man and woman, dressed in black and white formal attire are seated in a room, half-filled with water, below a chandelier. Beneath the water’s surface, you can see the woman’s hands clasping a teacup, her head protruding in the form of a rabbit, and her companion is sporting a horse’s head. Moody and surreal, it is all very Lynchian. Much more than the stuff of filmic dreams however, her photographs involve a certain degree of mathematical reasoning. “I always wanted to photograph with water – people look different above water from below – but I wanted to do it without Photoshop, or the manipulation that means you photograph the two different sections separately and then glue them together,” she says. And so to be able to picture a seamless, submerged image, she created her own large-scale aquarium, a three-walled open box, framed with frontal glass. But the most incredible thing about it is, while you might think the room’s partitions in the image are actually real and the water part is fake (because how could that be filmed in real time?), it’s actually the other way around – the room’s walls are completely constructed on a stage set.

The Zoo, available at Ayyam Gallery, the underwater series are in editions of 5


Lara began very differently, by working with natural conditions outdoors. “I would take photos in nature during my lunch breaks, or go to my parents’ house in the South on weekends, it has beautiful rooms in pastel blue, yellow and green. It became the setting for many of my images and I learned the technical aspects of working with different conditions, even low light, though it’s much more restrictive. Then I moved to working in the studio, where I could control many of the elements I needed.” Completely self-taught, 27-yearold Lara has an academic background in economics and only began working with photography in 2008, when she bought her first camera and embarked on the 365 project (which was trending on Flickr) to take one photo a day for a whole year. “By doing this, I made a personal commitment with the camera,” she says, “and it grew on me. I got drawn in, into dreams and a sense of timelessness.”


The Workspace, work in progress


We are sitting in Beirut’s Ayyam Gallery, which represents her work – it was after the Shabab Ayyam incubator programme that she won her first award in their photography competition in 2011. She describes her real artistic breakthrough as the The Unseen series from 2013, also her first solo exhibition at Ayyam. “I always say my work was born from the conceptual movement in photography and this was how I got into dream and fantasy. The Unseen was my most developed work by far.” Then there are her cinemagraphs, which incorporate video. “Video adds life to the image, for a 3-D effect,” she says, pointing to one which zeroes in on the body of a woman in a white dress, holding a glass jar with a butterfly flapping its glowing blue wings inside. Everything else is still, but there is so much depth to the photo that the woman’s hands and lap seem to project out towards the viewer. “The stop motion enhances the entrapment,” Lara continues, explaining how the video is superimposed onto the still and she then erases all the other elements of movement around the butterfly to create this effect.


“I’m also interested in psychology and the analysis of human behavior. In capturing the absurdity of the mind,” she adds as we take a look at her recent work, which was triggered by one piece from The Unseen – a vertical panorama of several people, posing, tumbling or diving into the water in their flowing fabrics. “It’s chaos,” Lara says, “and the relationships between them aren’t clear. I felt like exploring the collective and how they behave.” In one untouched image from her latest photo shoot, a caricature of human greed, people are scrambling in an office space, to reach the top, even if they have to climb on one other to do so. The composition is reminiscent of a Renaissance painting, which she says is intentional. Here, she is depicting different dichotomies from those in her water rooms: it’s another sense of confinement. “There, I always had windows, openings to the outside, women levitating around them. The lines of the room represented a Cartesian reality. For me, it always feels like a closed space, like this square we are sitting in now. I guess you can say I like to research freedom.” 

Selections # 30