Arab Contemporary Art

KNOWN UNTIL RECENTLY ONLY FOR THEIR OIL AND LUXURY CONSUMER INVESTMENTS, THE GULF STATES ARE UNDERTAKING THEIR FIRST MAJOR INVESTMENT IN ART AND MUSEUMS SINCE THE VICTORIAN PERIOD.

Some cliché breaking developments are currently under way in the field of art, for centuries the exclusive domain of Europe. Major artists - so important as to change the course of contemporary art - and their works are now emanating all over the world from countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. This Middle Eastern contemporary art dynamism is poised to become a trailblazing movement in the field as Middle Eastern artists acquire cachet by the day. The current young generation of contemporary artists form a vanguard struggling both to change the way the West views Arab societies and to take their own communities to even greater heights.

ARAB MODERNIZATION 
Among them Egypt, Iran and Iraq, some of the countries of the Arab world, which stretches from North Africa to the Arabian peninsula, boast an artistic heritage from their past. Other countries are making their biggest investment of the last two centuries in museums in order to play a more influential role on the global art stage. With the involvement of major museums like the Louvre and the Guggenheim, the construction of upwards of thirty museums is taking place today in the skilled hands of leading names in world architecture like Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Jean Nouvelle. Another reason for the bold initiative in the region is that these countries, which are in the forefront when it comes to global economics and politics, do not want to be left behind in world culture. Some countries in the region are investing in art in order to be cultural frontrunners. Another movement underway spearheaded by Arab artists themselves. Namely, that the new generation of Arab artists, in the wake of the September 11th events in particular, would like to open up to the world and establish a global communication through art. They are keen to overcome the unfavorable prejudices that are developing in the West and prove that they have a place in an increasingly globalizing and hybridizing world.

THE MOST HIGHLY PAID LIVING ARAB ARTIST
Artist Abdulnasser Gharem’s work titled Message/Messenger found a buyer at $842,500 last April in Dubai in an open auction organized by Christie’s, one of the world’s most prestigious auction houses. The figure earned Gharem the distinction of being the living Arab artist whose work has gone for the highest price. But even more importantly, Gharem donated his earnings from the sale to the training of a new generation of artists and curators in his native Saudi Arabia. Gharem, who could be described as an outsider, received no formal training in art and was therefore forced to undergo a more difficult and intensive initiation than other, trained artists. He decided to donate his earnings from the sale so that future generations of artists would not have to endure the same difficulties.

Some of Gharem’s works were included in the exhibition, Transition, mounted by Edge of Arabia as part of the Istanbul European Capital of Culture 2010 events. At the same time Edge of Arabia this year for the first time also mounted a Pan-Arab exhibition titled Future Of A Promise at the Venice Biennale. The group are also paid another visit to Istanbul in November to take part in Contemporary Istanbul. And in January Edge of Arabia is mounting its first public exhibition in Jeddah, appropriately titled Jeddah. Edge of Arabia works with Arab artists mainly from the Saudi and Persian Gulf region in a central gallery in London, a location that plays a key role in enabling Arab contemporary art to open up to the world. What’s more, as a gallery operating in the West but supporting Arab art and artists, it also fulfills the important function of eliminating the physical and political barriers between East and West.

Although this initiative in the world of contemporary Arab art has not yet made deep inroads among collectors, galleries and museums in Turkey, Edge of Arabia director Stephen Stapleton says he has no doubt that contemporary Arab art will soon spread in Turkey as well thanks to the serious interest of Turkish art lovers. Meanwhile in the Middle East, Art Dubai is one of the world’s leading art fairs, and collectors from around the world are taking an intense interest in the auctions organized by Christie’s. Who knows, perhaps the Arab states, already the world’s leading financial capitals, are soon to become some of its capitals of art and culture as well. It looks anyway as if they’ve already taken a major step in that direction.

1    Fayçal Bagriche
    Souveheir

2     Manal Al-Dowayan
    Suspenden Together
   
3     Emily Jacir
    Embrace

4    Nadia Kaabi-Linke
    Impressions

5     Ayman Baalbaki
    Al Maw3oud

6    Lara Baladi
    Rose

1    Jahanne Al-Ani
    Aerial IV

2     Ahmed Alsoudani
    Untitled
   
3     Mounir Fatmi
    Al Jazeera

4    Nadia Kaabi-Linke
    Butcher Bliss

MODERN INSPIRATION FROM THE TRADITIONAL ARTS
A brief glance at the European artistic tradition and the process of modernization in Arab art reveals that the departure from the strict rules of perspective that were abandoned with modernism and the turning towards the abstract have actually been observed in the Arab and Islamic arts of calligraphy and the miniature for centuries. The leap of the European modernization movement to the Arabian Peninsula has given Arab artists an important opportunity to redefine their own culture and art.

1    Ahmed Mater
    The Cowboy Code

2     Ziad Abillama
    Untitled
   
3     Kader Attia
    La Colonne Sans Fin

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WOMEN IN CONTEMPORARY ARAB ART
The Saudi-born Hala Ali is a woman artist currently working in the United Arab Emirates. Centered around texts, her works can be considered a contemporary interpretation of Arab culture, which is based more on the written word than on visual elements. Another important young Saudi woman artist is Noha Al-Sharif. Sharif, who works in Jeddah, reveals the profound influence of her Islamic faith in her works.