Session 3 of 3. Between the 1950s and the 1980s, Arab countries were transformed through decolonization, the rise of nationalism, socialism, rapid industrialization, and wars and mass migrations. At the same time, artists were revitalizing their practices, finding inspiration in Arabic calligraphy, geometry and mathematics, and local topographies. Hannah Feldman, Associate Professor of Art History, Northwestern, will focus on abstract art in Algeria; and Alex Dika Seggerman, Assistant Professor of Islamic Art History, Rutgers University–Newark, on figurative art in Egypt. Moderated by Sarah-Neel Smith, Assistant Professor of Art History, Theory, and Criticism, Maryland Institute College of Art.
Session 2 of 3. Iftikhar Dadi, Associate Professor of History of Art, Cornell University, and Nada Shabout, Professor of Art History, University of North Texas, will explore how the artists in Taking Shape “reterritorialized” the Arabic alphabet and made its aesthetic more accessible to the larger world, not only in detaching Arabic letterforms from Islamic calligraphy and religious history but also in liberating them from their semantic functions. In stripping Arabic letters of their former meanings, artists enabled them to signal modern (pan-)Arab identity and the decolonization of culture. Moderated by Pepe Karmel, Associate Professor of Art History, New York University.
Session 1 of 3. Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation, will discuss this independent, UAE–based initiative, which he established in 2009 to study, preserve, and exhibit modern art from the Arab world, and to foster critical conversations about regional modernisms. Suheyla Takesh, a curator at Barjeel and co-curator of Taking Shape, will discuss her role in organizing the exhibition, framing her investigation of modernism’s development in mid-20th century North Africa and West Asia within today’s rethinking of the canon of abstract art. Moderated by Lynn Gumpert, director of NYU’s Grey Art Gallery and co-curator of the exhibition.
The play between word and image in the work of the Palestinian polymath Kamal Boullata (1942–2019) is suffused with a humanistic sensibility. Finbarr Barry Flood, Silsila/NYU, will consider the nature of Boullata's humanism and its implications for understanding the entanglements between aesthetics, ethics, and history in his painting and writing. RSVP required.
This event is now cancelled. Frantz Fanon is best known as a leading theorist of decolonization, but he was also profoundly interested in questions of culture. For Fanon, the creation of a decolonized art was one of the principal means by which once-subjugated peoples would realize their independence and freedom, and come to terms with the traumas suffered in colonial warfare. In this talk, Adam Shatz, writer and contributing editor, London Review of Books, will discuss how Fanon’s writings might illuminate the traumatic modernism of postcolonial North Africa.
This event is now cancelled. Beirut was the artistic and intellectual hub of the Arab world in the 1950s and ’60s. In this talk, Robyn Creswell, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature, Yale University, will situate Beiruti modernism within a wider landscape of Cold War politics, aesthetic abstraction, and Arab intellectual history.
Note: This event is now being offered as a 3-session webinar series on May 28, June 4, and June 18. RSVPs required; see program listings on those dates for links to sign up. Until the late 1960s, 20th-century art from North Africa and the Middle East was greatly understudied. Yet by the turn of the millennium, scholars were actively engaged in creating a global art history. Among questions to be considered are: Why did modern artists from these regions choose to create nonfigurative works? How can we approach Arab abstraction without falling back on borrowed methodologies?
This event is now cancelled. Exhibition walkthrough with Ally Mintz, Exhibitions and Publications Manager, Grey Art Gallery, NYU.
Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, writer, critic, and contributing editor, Bidoun, will explore the multiplicity of modern abstract painting from Lebanon—from Etel Adnan’ evocations of landscape to Huguette Caland’s suggestions of self-portraiture, from Saloua Raouda Choucair’s distilled forms to Saliba Douaihy’s intimations of the divine.
Against the turmoil of Lebanon’s 1975 Civil War, this largely autobiographical coming-of-age drama, written and directed by Ziad Doueiri, follows an Arab family struggling to survive as their world is blown apart. Lebanon, 105 min., color. In Arabic and French with English subtitles.
After 1945, abstract art exploded in the Arab world, announcing a new cultural renaissance. In this talk, Pepe Karmel, Associate Professor of Art History, NYU, will link the different varieties of Arab abstraction to their counterparts in the broader Middle East and in Europe—and discuss how these varieties served as vehicles for competing visions of Arab modernity rooted in histories and experiences unique to each nation.
Exhibition walkthrough with Lynn Gumpert, Director, Grey Art Gallery, NYU and co-curator of the exhibition, and Lucy Oakley, Head of Education and Programs, Grey Art Gallery, NYU.
Set in 1881, just before the start of British colonial rule, this film directed by Shadi Abdel Salam tells the true story of an Egyptian clan that has been robbing tombs for three thousand years. When Antiquities Service officials find mummies on sale in the open market in Cairo, mayhem ensues. Egypt, 102 min., color, in Arabic with English subtitles. Critically acclaimed as one of the best Egyptian films ever made. Introduced by Farbod Honarpisheh, Postdoctoral Associate, Film & Media Studies, Yale University.
Exhibition walkthrough with Suheyla Takesh, Curator, Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE, and co-curator of the exhibition.
Join us for the opening reception of Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s.