The Middle East may not seem the obvious place to seek the rising stars of contemporary art. Yet works from the region has become increasingly sought after by collectors, with the “hottest things” including an Iranian painter in his 30s, a colonel in the Saudi army and a nonagenarian who was friends with Andy Warhol. In London today [21 July 2014], the auction house Sotheby’s unveiled a selection of the key works from Middle Eastern artists that will be auctioned in Doha in October. They will go on under the hammer alongside pieces by globally recognised artists including Damien Hirst and Anish Kapoor.
The New Museum presents Here and Elsewhere, the first museum-wide exhibition in New York City to feature contemporary art from and about the Arab world. The exhibition brings together more than forty-five artists from over fifteen countries, many of whom live and work internationally. In keeping with the New Museum’s dedication to showcasing the most engaging new art from around the globe, Here and Elsewhere is the most recent in a series of exhibitions that have introduced urgent questions and new aesthetics to US audiences. “This exhibition continues the New Museum’s commitment to looking at art from beyond the confines familiar to the New York art world,” said Massimiliano Gioni, Associate Director and Director of Exhibitions. “Here and Elsewhere brings new works and new voices to our audiences, presenting many artists who are showing in New York for the first time.” Combining pivotal and under-recognized figures with younger and midcareer artists, Here and Elsewhere works against the notion of the Arab world as a homogenous or cohesive entity. Through the original and individualized practices of a multigenerational constellation of artists, the exhibition highlights works that often have conceptual or aesthetic references to the Arab world, yet also extend well beyond.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the world’s finest museums, seeks an Associate Curator who will be required to be a specialist in twentieth and twenty-first century art of the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey. S/he will be responsible for all curatorial duties, including: researching, studying, and publishing works in the collection in her/his area of expertise, recommending acquisitions, proposing future exhibitions and publications for the Metropolitan Museum and the Breuer project.
The word that quickly springs to mind as you survey the new A to Z exhibition at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin is colour. One page from a 16th-century Shahnama, Iran’s Book of Kings, is particularly striking. A phoenix-like creature called the Simurgh carries an abandoned child to its mountaintop nest, scarlet feathers soaring across lavender rock, and all still vibrantly vivid. “One notable thing about our collection is the quality,” says Dr Elaine Wright, the curator of the Library’s extensive Islamic Collection. “They’ve just been taken care of so well. Especially some of the manuscripts, the illustrations, it’s unbelievable. You’d swear they were done yesterday.”
Patience and perseverance are the virtues of an experienced conservationist. More so when the task at hand is a complex exercise to transform a dilapidated Mughal-era monument into an illuminating contemporary architectural delight. Towards this year’s end, heritage lovers will be in for a grand treat when the decade-long conservation work would be completed at the historic Neela Gumbad, a part of the sprawling Humayun’s Tomb complex. In all probability, this octagonal structure would become the Capital’s pride of place and even end up bagging the coveted world heritage site title.
Read More: Tile by Tile
Two shipments of stolen Egyptian artefacts spanning the eras of the pharaohs and the Mamluks have been returned to Egypt, thanks to efforts from diplomatic officials. The first consists of eight Islamic wooden art decorations stolen in 2008 from the pulpit of Ghanim Al-Bahlawan Mosque in Al-Darb Al-Ahmar in Cairo’s historic Islamic district. Ghanim Al-Bahlawan Mosque, named after the Circassian Mamluk, was constructed in 1478 AD during the reign of Sultan Qait Bey. The decorative items depict geometrical patterns embellished with ivory.
An exhibition of contemporary calligraphy and paintings opened up at My Art World gallery on Monday. Titled Alfaaz, the exhibition features artworks by Rabia Malik and Mahjabeen Atif, with each artist exhibiting nine pieces. Unlike most run-of-the-mill, traditional calligraphy pieces, the artwork on display is a combination of contemporary styles and techniques and in some places they comprise only the Arabic alphabet that may or may not make up actual words. This lends the collection an open-ended feel. However, the intertwined scripts, intricate detailing and symbolism make for a visually-appealing mix.
Raya Wolfsun talks and words flow into multi-directional thoughts with the fluidity of mercury on a table. You try to catch them so as to apportion them into comprehensible slots of the conventional. But they escape. Then, she smiles and asks, “You want to know how I brand myself, right?” That fluidity also speaks for how Wolfsun treats her passions. She calls herself an artist and a scholar and reasons that those roles are quite interlinked. “I wish there was a word that could integrate both, because to me, they are heavily intertwined. In fact, all my life, it’s been strange for me to try to be one or the other,” she says. An expert in Islamic astrolabes, Wolfsun has spent many a day marvelling at the impressive collection of astrolabes at the Museum of Islamic Art, and poring over several books at the MIA library on the subject.
Read More: The Art of the Matter
Despite a minor fire last month, construction for Qatar’s upcoming National Museum remains on track, and an opening date is scheduled for 2016, Qatar Museums has confirmed. When completed, the museum, located across from the Corniche near the Museum of Islamic Art, is expected to look like a desert rose that appears to grow out of the ground. It will join Qatar’s growing collection of cultural facilities, including the MIA, which opened in 2008, and the Arab Museum of Modern Art (Mathaf), which saw a 2010 launch. Late last year, Sheikha Amna bint Abdulaziz bin Jassim Al-Thani was appointed as the museum’s director.
Read More: Qatar’s National Museum Eyeing 2016 Opening
Ayyam Gallery’s latest show, Syria’s Apex Generation, puts the spotlight on a new school of Syrian painting that developed in Damascus, and continues to thrive despite the disintegration of the art scene in the city. The multiple-venue show, spread across Ayyam’s two spaces in Dubai and in Beirut features recent works by Nihad Al Turk, Abdul Karim Majdal Al Beik, Othman Mousa, Mohannad Orabi, and Kais Salman. It explores the myriad ways a new generation of artists is responding to the current conflict in Syria, marking a new phase in Syrian contemporary art. But it also looks at how these artists are carrying forward the legacy of the artists who shaped Syrian visual culture for over 60 years.
Read More: Creations Reflecting the Conflict in Syria
The calligraphic sculptures created by Bassam Al Selawi and Maysoon Masalha look deceptively simple. But when the lights in the gallery are dimmed and the spotlights switched on, a surprising fourth dimension is revealed. The shadow cast by each wall-mounted sculpture is a figure or words related to the feelings evoked, or the mental images conjured by the words on the sculpture itself. The latest show by the Jordanian couple, Don’t Trust Your Eyes includes shadow sculptures featuring verses from the Quran and poetic phrases, with the shadows sometimes illustrating the emotions embodied by the words, and sometimes telling quite another story.
Read More: A Hidden World in the Shadows
The ‘rose and the nightingale’ is a theme that has been used in Persian literature and visual imagery for centuries. The rose represents beauty, perfection and a sometimes self-absorbed and cruel beloved. And the nightingale symbolises the devoted lover yearning to become one with the beloved. The theme can thus be interpreted as a metaphor for both earthly and spiritual love. Curator Maneli Keykavoussi explores modern interpretations of this age-old theme in a group show titled The Rose and the Nightingale: A Persian Iconography by bringing together works by pioneers of Iranian modern art such as her mother, the late Farideh Lashai, and Farshid Mesghali and well-known Iranian artists such as Amin Roshan, Rozita Sharafjahan, Dariush Hosseini, Ladan Boroujerdi, Navid Azimi Sajadi, Masoumeh Bakhtiari, Farid Jafari Samarghandi, Gizella Varga Sinai, Rasool Soltani and Sara Rahanjam.
Read More: Sweet Essence of Iran
Arab artist Kamal Boullata was born in Occupied Jerusalem in 1942, but has lived in exile in America and Europe since he was 18. Despite his Western art education, he has kept in touch with his roots by doing extensive research on Islamic and Modern Arab art, and has written several essays and books on Islamic, Byzantine and Palestinian art. His latest body of work, Bilqis, named after the queen of Sheba, seamlessly combines Western and Islamic abstraction. The series, comprising five triptychs is inspired by the Quranic legend of the queen’s visit to the court of King Solomon, where she mistook the glass floor for a sheet of water and lifted up her skirt to avoid getting it wet. The paintings are essentially about recreating the transparency and spatial ambiguity in visual perception that the queen had experienced.
Read More: Symmetry Inspired by Architecture
It is obvious from the artworks in Ramin Shirdel’s first solo exhibition in Dubai, Whispers of Love, why the Iranian artist is also an award-winning architect. Shirdel’s three-dimensional wall-mounted works have been created from hundreds of painted pieces of wood of different shapes and sizes. These have been assembled together in layers that further combine to form Farsi-Arabic letters and words. The artworks, painted with bright automotive paints, look different from different angles. As you move around the pieces, the letters and words appear and disappear. And the layers seem to move in a rhythmic, wave-like motion, with the criss-crossing lines formed by the shadows adding to the movement and drama.
Read More: A Labour of Love
In an interesting discovery following excavations carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) recently, remains of a summer palace have been reportedly found at the centuries-old Mughal-era garden Mehtab Bagh located opposite the Taj Mahal. The garden was reputedly Shah Jahan’s favourite spot which he used to frequent to get a view of the Taj Mahal at night, hence its name (Mehtab means moonlight in Urdu).
‘There is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.” Thomas Jefferson penned these words on Sept. 21, 1814, just weeks after British troops had set fire to the U.S. Capitol, reducing its library to ashes. Jefferson had compiled a personal library over 50 years and was now exploring selling much of it to the government to replace Congress’s — and the nation’s — loss. Lest anyone think the books’ range too broad for politicians, Jefferson argued, “I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection.” Two centuries later, a series of exhibitions illustrates the extent to which the Library of Congress has embraced Jefferson’s philosophy. After shows that highlighted American, Armenian and Hebraic books, we now have A Thousand Years of the Persian Book.
Read More: The World as Scripted in Persia
The recent surge in interest in Islamic art and artefacts has kindled the Hyderabad’s famous Salarjung Museum to separately house a section on Islamic Art. Work is going on in full steam and The Islamic Art Gallery is expected to be completed in one year’s time. Speaking exclusively to Times of Oman, Nagender Reddy, director of the Salarjung Museum, said: “The Islamic Art section to be housed on the second floor of the Far Eastern building in the Salarjung Museum will exhibit all the Islamic-related collectibles that are showcased in different galleries of the museum.”
This year’s spring show at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris is dedicated to the Muslim hajj, or major pilgrimage, that takes place every year in the Muslim month of Dhu al-Hijjah and is one of the “pillars,” or obligatory duties, of Islam. Spread across two floors of the Institut’s temporary exhibition spaces, the exhibition is an ideal opportunity for Paris residents and visitors to the French capital to learn more about the history of the hajj and its contemporary character. The exhibition, entitled Hajj, le pèlerinage à la Mecque, contains several hundred pieces illustrating the history of the hajj, among them objects used by pilgrims through the ages, historical accounts, and pieces taken from collections in Mecca itself.
Read More: Paris and the Hajj
Cairo Under Wraps: Early Islamic Textiles, a Centennial exhibition opening at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) on June 21, 2014, highlights the ROM’s collection of early Islamic textiles, dating largely from the 8th to 12th centuries. More than half of the exhibition’s approximately 80 fabrics are on public display for the first time and many of the oldest were collected by C.T. Currelly, the ROM`s founding director. These rare, delicate objects are displayed alongside ceramics, glass, metalwork and coins from the ROM’s permanent collection of Islamic art.
Sweaty merchants have given way to trendy tourists and horses to flashy cars, but oriental-looking “khans” in the heart of Bucharest are getting a new lease on life after marathon restoration works. Similar to the caravansaries that once dotted the Persian and Ottoman empires, roadside inns known as khans flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries in Romania, as the country at the crossroads of East and West attracted merchants from across Europe. The fortified structures built around a square courtyard comprised trader stalls, stables, and accommodation on the upper floor.
For the past six years, Moroccan-born photographer Lalla Essaydi has labored over a body of photographs made in a large, unoccupied home in her native country. She splits her time between Morocco and the U.S., transporting materials ranging from fabrics to bullet castings to a property owned by her family. The house is not just a distant studio space, though; it is a vital part of the narrative in Ms. Essaydi’s images that explore the Arab female identity. The vacant family home where her photographs are made once served as disciplinary space, where a young woman was sent when she disobeyed by stepping beyond the “permissible space.” The woman would spend a month alone in the house, where she was not spoken to by anyone, including the servants who were her only company.
“Being originally from Russia, working on this project with the British, I realise we are sort of the worst possible candidates from the Iranian point of view to organise the preservation of Persian culture.” Dr Firuza Abdullaeva gives a self-deprecating smile to a chorus of knowing chuckles. As Head of Pembroke College’s Shahnameh Centre for Persian Studies, inaugurated this Saturday [24 May 2014], Dr Abdullaeva has every reason to smile. The Shahnameh Centre is the culmination of a project founded by Professor Charles Melville in 1999, and despite the superfluous ghosts of old wrongs, any misgivings could be formed only in error.
On May 22, The Dallas Museum of Art announced the presentation of the first work of art from the rarely shown Keir Collection, now on view at the Museum. The DMA announced in February the 15-year renewable loan of one of the largest private holdings of Islamic art. The Keir Collection is recognized by scholars as one of the world’s most geographically and historically comprehensive, encompassing almost 2,000 works, in a range of media, that span 13 centuries of Islamic art making. The carved rock crystal ewer from late 10th- to 11th-century Fatimid Egypt (969–1171), on view beginning May 27 in a special installation on the Museum’s third level, is considered one of the wonders of Islamic art.
Read More: The Art of Islam
The destruction in recent years of much of old Mecca, which dates back to the Ottoman empire and earlier, has aroused protests in the artistic community and beyond. It has been estimated that since 1985 about 95% of Mecca’s historic buildings have been demolished. Now, however, the Saudi government is investing money in renovating around 30 of the country’s museums, and religious buildings in Mecca and Medina.
Read More: A New Awareness of Conservation
The government of Saudi Arabia is spending more than $1.7bn on building 230 new museums as part of a programme to promote the country’s culture. At a conference held in Oxford early in April, entitled “Green Arabia”, the influential HRH Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, nephew of King Abdullah and president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), said, “We have entered a new age; we have transitioned. Antiquities are the seat of a continuum to bring the life and history of Saudi Arabia closer to the hearts and minds of the people of the Kingdom — particularly the young.”