Friday, April 24, 2009

More About the UAE Pavilion, 2009 Venice Biennale

I received this press release the other day with more information about the UAE project at this year's Venice Bienalle (excerpted with permission)

>>The UAE Pavilion has been initiated and supported by His Excellency Abdul Rahman Mohammed Al Owais, UAE Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, the Emirates Foundation and Dubai Culture and Arts Authority. The UAE Pavilion is being developed and presented under the leadership of its Commissioner, Dr. Lamees Hamdan, a member of the Board of Directors of the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority. Serving as curator for the UAE Pavilion is Tirdad Zolghadr, an internationally respected curator, critic, professor and filmmaker.

“It’s Not You, It’s Me”
The UAE Pavilion will be titled “It’s Not You, It’s Me,” a playful and provocative name for the country’s first pavilion at the world’s most prestigious contemporary art event. “B
y and large, art professionals around the world dismiss the notion that a pavilion can truly represent a nation,” Zolghadr explains. “There still remains much to consider—especially when the nation in question is a place where more efforts are being invested in the development of a global art arena, within a smaller geographic space, and within a shorter time frame, than ever attempted before.”

Coming from a new arrival at the Venice Biennale,” Zolghadr continues, “the title ‘It’s Not You, It’s Me’ might therefore be interpreted to mean, ‘Look, it’s the UAE’s turn now.’ The UAE Pavilion will be unapologetic about documenting the nation—even while the Pavilion as a whole can be seen as an exhibition about exhibition-making, reflecting on the very act of national showcasing at the Venice Biennale.”

Built in a large and prominent location in the Arsenale—one of the two main areas of the Venice Biennale—the Pavilion will draw attention to its nature and function as a showcase through a combination of scenographic elements and architectural design by the partnership of Rami Farook (founder of the UAE’s Traffic design gallery) and the Belgian architectural collective 
D’haeseleer & Kimpe & Poelaert, known for its collaborations with visual artists. Physically, the entire Pavilion will highlight a “World Fair” theme that will incorporate various components:

  • work by the featured artist, Lamya Gargash
  • a showroom of work by several UAE artists
  • a Kiosk featuring conversations with key figures in the cultural panorama of the country
  • a documentation of a Dubai performance by the Jackson Pollock Bar
  • scenography reminiscent of the World Fair tradition, including text panels and architectural models of UAE arts infrastructure

As Zolghadr states, “The UAE Pavilion offers a set of parallel endeavors – artistic, performative, architectural, discursive – which enjoy a measure of independence and singularity within a larger whole.”

The Art and the Artist
For the exhibition in the UAE Pavilion, Lamya Gargash has created a series of photographs titled "Familial”, the series plays on the aesthetics of hospitality, the politics of interior design and the disingenuous lure of documentation,” Zolghadr comments. “Although the work successfully stands on its own and for itself, the connections to the Pavilion as a whole are perceptible, and even tangible.”

Born in Dubai in 1982, Lamya Gargash frequently dwells on themes of identity, culture and the passage of time, as evoked in modes of dress and the design of architectural spaces. Her work has been shown in exhibitions including Dubai Next (organized at the Vitra Museum by Rem Koolhaas and Jack Persekian in conjunction with Art Basel 2008), Abu Dhabi Art, Talk & Sensations (organized by Fabrice Bousteau in conjunction with artparis Abu Dhabi 2008) and the Locarno Film Festival (where she presented her animation, Untitled, in 2006).

Art and the National Pavilion
 “If our project is to grapple with the basics of a national pavilion,” Zolghadr states, “then the documentation of a wider art scene is crucial.” The UAE Pavilion will include a selective archive of UAE artists, showcasing Hassan Sharif*, Tarek Al Ghoussein, and Huda Saeed Saif. 

Another important feature is a specially commissioned video installation by the Berlin-based artist, dramaturge and curator Hannah Hurtzig. Using a format based on her existing “Kiosk” series, Hurtzig arranged and documented a series of five conversations, held in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in March 2009. For each conversation, a key figure in the development of the cultural scene in the UAE was carefully paired with a partner from either inside or outside the country. Visitors to the UAE Pavilion will be able to listen to the conversations on wireless headsets, selecting from the choices on the Kiosk display.<<


Finally, the UAE Pavilion will include a scenographic display of elements that are typical of world expositions. It will include architectural models of UAE museum infrastructure: both the existing facilities (such as the Sharjah Art Museum and Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization) and those that are being planned (such as the S
aadiyat Island Cultural District in Abu Dhabi, which includes the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum, and the Museum of Middle Eastern Modern Art - MOMEMA). Elegantly obtrusive text panels will amplify the effect of the display.<<

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Save Delara!

Delara Darabi, a young woman convicted of a murder allegedly committed five years ago when she was seventeen, has been sentenced to death in her homeland of Iran.   From an article by Golnaz Esfandiari:

Life Story Through Painting

On death row, she has told the story of her life through her paintings, most of them dark. 

In 2006, rights activists organized an exhibition of her work in Tehran in order to bring attention to her situation and to protest against her innocence. 

In a welcome message to visitors, Darabi described her paintings as an "an oath to a crime I didn't commit." 
It is very unlikely that the murder was committed by a girl with a frail body. A strong young man was there. How is it possible that the murder was done by a weak girl?

Khoramshahi says the years Darabi has spent in jail with a death sentence hanging over her head has taken its toll on the young artist. She reportedly attempted to commit suicide in her cell in 2007. 

"Bearing prison is very difficult for a girl who was studying and at the age of 17 ended up behind prison bars. Delara's three sisters and her parents have been also [affected] by her situation, they're psychologically distressed," Khoramshahi says.

Delara's father has, in a letter, called on the head of Iran's judiciary to stave off her execution. He says living is very difficult, knowing that his 23-year-old child has been sentenced to death. 

His daughter has spent the best years of her life in prison, he says, and has been denied the possibility of having a positive role in society.

Her lawyer has called on artists and others who want to save Darabi's life to try to convince the family of the victim to give up their demand for "qesas" (retribution) and let her live. 

Iranians have also launched a campaign on Facebook and Twitter to spare Darabi's life.

Darabi is just one of over 70 juvenile offenders facing execution in the Islamic republic, according to human rights groups.<<

Please read more and sign petitions at

Friday, April 17, 2009

"UNVEILED" at Saatchi gallery London

Last chance to see the exhibition "Unveiled" at the Saatchi Gallery, which runs until May 9, 2009.  I'll be honest: none of these artists are among my favorites, and I'm not especially crazy about many of the works. But the exhibition is not only politically and art historically important; it also speaks volumes about the increased attention (and value)  this material is starting to command.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Five Features Of Islamic Contemporary Art

 *An extraordinary number of the best artists are women. This may or may not related to the oppression of women in Muslim countries, but it is certainly noteworthy.

*Iranian artists seem to draw largely from their Persian cultural heritage, with art that emphasizes aesthetics. Painterly, graceful, and often calligraphic, these works are richly-colored and can be absolutely breathtakingly beautiful.   Top artists: Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, and my personal favorite, Mohammed Ehsai.

 *Iraqi artists, by contrast, are (understandably) focused on the political, and on addressing the political and sociological conflicts of their culture.  These works tend to be more secular in nature.

*A significant number of the women artists work with photography. Examples include Lalla Essaydi (Moroccan), Shirin Neshat (Iranian), Mitra Tabrizian (Iranian), and Raeda Saadeh (Palestinian).

*This summer, the Venice Biennale will feature, for the first time, an entire pavilion of works by artists from the UAE. Other countries represented from the region include Iran (which has been represented at the Biennale in the past) and Pakistan (which makes its debut this year).    The inclusion of these artists reflects the growing interest in Islamic Contemporary art throughout the international artworld.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

This blog was inspired by passion and surprise. 

A couple of years ago, on a visit to Istanbul, I visited several collections of contemporary Turkish art, and visited some of the city's younger artists.  The work I saw was fresher, more powerful, more beautiful, than any of the art that I had seen in some time. I was captivated.

Later, an exhibition of new Iraqi art came to a new, experimental museum near my home. Eagerly, I attended the opening, having no idea what I might find there.  I had, when the war in Iraq began, held hopes to visit the region and get to know artists there, and to bring Western art to Baghdad.  While I was quickly talked out of this idea, the longing remained. 

What Iraqi artists were producing, I discovered, was even more compelling and exciting than what I had uncovered in Istanbul: poignant, poetic, political without being propagandistic, elegant, seeped in Islamic tradition and enriched by Western culture.

If this was what was happening in Turkey and Iraq, I wondered, what else was being produced by artists in the Islamic world?

And so I began to steep myself in the art that was emerging out of Iran and Palestine and Syria, and being produced by Muslims from the Middle East and Africa who were now living in the West.   The more that I have seen of this work, the more enraptured I've become.

Although many have expressed displeasure with the phrase "Islamic Contemporary Art," I have used it from the start -- with an article that appeared in Art & Auction magazine in 2008 -- and will continue to do so.  These are not simply art works made by people from the Middle East and Africa; some artists come from Turkey and other areas of the Muslim world.  Some are second generation immigrants living in the West. What the art they produce has in common, however, is a harkening to Islamic traditions,  often expressed through calligraphy and calligraphic painterliness in their work, or a political reference to issues of importance in contemporary Islam.   

This blog is my effort to share my passion, and to bring to other lovers of art the joys of what I am discovering.  More, I hope that it will also provide a doorway for the Islamic and the Western worlds to pass through to one another, and join hands.