By Taylor Dafoe
The middle of the 20th century was a tumultuous time for the 22 countries of the Arab world. It was a period of decolonization and industrialization, of war and mass-migration. It saw the rise of socialism, the global oil boom, and the formation of new nations.
“Because many of these countries were entering the world arena as independent nations and young nation-states, one of their primary objectives was to begin defining themselves as being distinct peoples. A good way to do that is through culture and through art,” says Suheyla Takesh, a co-curator of “Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s” at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery.
As its name suggests, the show charts the rise of non-figurative art produced in—and by artists from—Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and other countries of North Africa, West Asia, and the Arab diaspora. Nearly 90 paintings, sculptures, and other works populate the exhibition’s walls and floor, all of which were taken from the collection of the Barjeel Art Foundation, an independent organization dedicated to Arab art located in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).