By Danna Lorch
Anyone familiar with the UAE art scene has appreciated the fruits of Barjeel Art Foundation, the Sharjah-based organisation established by Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi in 2010 to manage and exhibit his personal art collection. Al Qassemi has acquired a magnificent collection of modern and contemporary Arab art, and made the work and its underlying art history accessible to the public through numerous initiatives, most recently with Sharjah Museums Authority.
In the Arab world, the 1950s through 1980s was a vividly tumultuous era encompassing the overthrow of European colonialism, the rise of Arab nationalism, the oil boom, war, and large-scale forced migrations.
Now, 90 pivotal works of the era form the collection are on view in New York City at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery in Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s. Artists include Etel Adnan, Shakir Hassan Al Said, Kamal Boullata, Huguette Caland, Ahmed Cherkaoui, Saloua Raouda Choucair, Rachid Koraïchi, Mohamed Melehi, Samia Halaby, and Hassan Sharif. Rejecting the figurative, many of the works here were created in reaction to the times, and with critical messages to convey through Islamic geometry, mathematics, lettering, calligraphy, mystical rituals, and other traditions both rooted in the region and beyond.