May 19, 2020 By Géranne Darbouze Taking into account their geographic locations and their religious and political histories, artists from the Arab world occupy a unique position. As a result, many have dedicated their lives to highlighting injustice — among them Iraqi artist Dia al-Azzawi. Known for his abstract paintings, sculptures, and tapestries, Azzawi is […]
April 2020 The following conversation was produced by ArteEast, a leading New York-based not-for-profit organization founded in 2003 that is dedicated to engaging a growing audience with the contemporary arts from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and its diaspora. Through public programming, strategic partnerships, and dynamic online publications, ArteEast is a forum for […]
April 23, 2020 By Karim Zidan As in the rest of New York City, the crowd at the Grey Art Gallery was dense and tightly packed, a mixture of ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities gathered together at the opening reception for the exhibition Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World 1950s–1980s, which took place on January […]
April 15, 2020 By Yunzhi Pan When it comes to thinking about Arab modern art, it is nearly impossible to overlook the impact of the Hurufiyyah movement. Beginning in the 1940s and lasting into the 1980s and beyond, artists in this loosely defined movement introduced Islamic calligraphy into modern visual art practice. Many of them […]
April 15, 2020 By Géranne Darbouze I shall be supplied with whatever I need; and, if I have not everything I desire, I may conclude it is either not fit for me, or I shall have it in due time. —Matthew Henry As they say, life has a strange way of making things work out […]
March 31, 2020 By Géranne Darbouze Located in the area devoted to gestural abstraction in the Grey Art Gallery’s current exhibition, Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s, Abdallah Benanteur’s painting The Garden of Saadi of 1984 is thought to represent not only a contrast between the physical landscapes of Northern France and Southern […]
Modern Arab art is having a moment; there is no question about it. In the past decade there have been large exhibitions of Arab artists at both the Centre Pompidou and Tate Modern, and a series of others across the world. Now, ‘Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s’, which starts at the Grey Art Gallery in New York and will spend more than a year touring East Coast and Midwestern universities in America, brings together some of the region’s finest modern artists. It is a real hit parade of work – some of it truly wonderful – from almost every country in the Arab world; Morocco, Egypt, Sudan, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Palestine are particularly well represented.
One could not think of a more serendipitous backdrop — an acclaimed park, a cool neighbourhood and a cosmopolitan academic institution — for the exhibition billed ‘Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab world, 1950s-1980s’, slated to run from January 14 to April 4. On display is a collection of 90 works — all drawn from the Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah, UAE — featuring sundry artists from most countries in the Arab Middle East and North Africa.
Taking Shape was conceived as a visual journey into the creative minds of some of the Arab world's most prominent artists and their approaches to non-representational art. In her essay in the exhibition’s accompanying catalogue, curator Suleya Takesh quotes Algerian painter Mohammed Khadda’s compelling observations about the potential of abstraction and his argument in favor of the freedom inherent to the movement: "The history of painting had been one of successive revolutions and continuous liberation that eventually culminated in the emergence of abstraction, allowing painting to become an art unto itself, no longer reliant on a physical subject. There was no longer a horizon, but infinity."
Calligraphy is so deeply embedded in Arab communities’ lives that it has become something of a banal sight to most who live in its direct proximity everyday. But the history of the evolution of Arabic calligraphy finds itself intertwined with the origins of abstract art in the Arab world - and even its evolution beyond the region - for centuries.