By Heba Elkayal
Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World 1950s–1980s, a landmark exhibition currently on display at New York University’s Grey Gallery, presents an extensive evolutionary narrative of the development of abstraction by Arab artists.
The Algerian artist Mohammed Khadda wrote in a 1964 essay that artists must seek a new function for art as the dawn of a post-revolutionary socialist era began to emerge around him. He argued that art can have other purposes than those that aid propaganda, and that the evolution of art has allowed for new forms of art beyond the figurative. Abstract art, he wrote, has “a horizon of infinity.”
Suheyla Takesh, lead curator of the exhibition, cites Khadda’s essay in her introductory essay in the exhibition catalogue, and it seems that Khadda’s proposition guided much of her intelligent curation of this selection of works drawn from the collection of the Barjeel Art Foundation, in Sharjah. Takesh took painstaking care to highlight Arab artists’ innovation and ingenuity as they explored a post-figurative approach to artmaking by riffing, so to speak, on art forms and techniques already present in their everyday visual culture.