Barjeel Art Foundation

Writing in 1964, the Algerian painter Mohammed Khadda (1930–1991) identified “that day in 1910 when the Russian artist [Wassily] Kandinsky created the first nonrepresentational work” as marking the birth of “nonfigurative (or abstract) painting.” (Note: For the sake of consistency, I have used the exhibition curators’ transliteration of artists’ names.)

Watch<br>Taking Shape: New Perspectives on Arab Abstraction<br>Session 3: Modern Art in Algeria and Egypt

Original program date: June 18, 2020. 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, focuses 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.

Watch<br>Taking Shape: New Perspectives on Arab Abstraction<br>Session 2: Arab Abstraction and Arabic Letterforms

Original program date: June 4, 2020. Iftikhar Dadi, Associate Professor of History of Art, Cornell University, and Nada Shabout, Professor of Art History, University of North Texas, 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.

Watch<br>Taking Shape: New Perspectives on Arab Abstraction<br>Session 1: The Barjeel Art Foundation and “Taking Shape”

Original program date: May 28, 2020. Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation, discusses 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, discusses 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.