In ART

Dubai sets the stage for Cultural Narratives, a group exhibit that brings together new and unique pieces of art from Middle Eastern artists. Drawing on centuries of tradition and know-how, artists from the Arab and Persian worlds have created works that reflect their rich culture and transcend regional boundaries. This extensive collection of artworks by established and emerging talents from the region provides a breathtaking visual map of the Arab and Persian art worlds, with unique works from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Tunis, Egypt, Palestine and Sudan. As it travels around the globe, the show shines the spotlight on the great artistic contributions of the region, while transmitting the exceptional character of each country represented.

Salwa Zeidan, Abu Dhabi
Lebanese artist Salwa Zeidan has been exhibiting her work for nearly 30 years, in the Middle East and across the globe. Her abstract, minimalist paintings reflect her own spiritual beliefs and lifelong search for inner light and peace. She initially launched her eponymous gallery in 1994, in Abu Dhabi, and has since exhibited the work of both established and up-and-coming artists, in mediums that range from painting, sculpture and photography to installation and performance art.

1. Why did you decide to take part in the Cultural Narratives show? In your opinion, what’s the show’s significance?
I was convinced of its cultural value. It’s a great idea to gather this many Arab artists under the same roof and choosing one small artwork from each artist to create a huge artwork. This show is important because it gathers more than 160 Arab and Middle Eastern artists in one place. It’s a culturally enriching and important event.

2. How do the artists you selected best represent the country?
Unfortunately we couldn’t get all the UAE artists with us due to different reasons, but the ones who were very positive about getting involved and accepted my invitation fall into two categories: young promising artists on the rise, or well-established like Hussain Sharif and myself. I’m happy with the list of artists we have gathered. I love their work, and I believe in what they are doing. I know they will evolve to be great artists in the near future.

3. What kind of impact do you hope the show will have?
I’m sure it will be a successful event and will have an impact on people when they see the diversity of the artworks, discover Arab artists they did not even know and learn about their different techniques and styles all in one place.

4. Which cultural values do you wish to share through the show?
When we gather around this many artworks, the impact is not the same as seeing just an ordinary group exhibition. People will realize that our part of the world is full of talent and great artists.

Lilia Ben Salah, Tunisia
Lilia Ben Salah co-founded Elmarsa Gallery in 1994 in La Marsa, Tunisia, with the aim to generate international interest in Arab art while initiating a dialogue between cultural, social and artistic leaders. Throughout the years, the gallery has exhibited the works of both established and emerging artists that reflect the Middle East’s rich culture and immense diversity. Elmarsa opened a second gallery in Dubai in 2015.

1. Why did you decide to take part in the Cultural Narratives show? In your opinion, what’s the show’s significance?
Tunisia’s participation represents an important step and reflects the advancement of contemporary artistic production in the country. The birthplace of the Arab Spring, Tunisia is also the site where various multicultural influences, ranging from Occidental and Arab to pre-Islamic Berber, have intermingled over centuries.

2. How do the artists you selected best represent the country?
The Tunisian artists were responsive and enthusiastic about participating in the selection process, although many of them were challenged by the medium or the size (20×20 cm) or by both. Nevertheless, we are confident that the selected panel of emerging and established artists reflects the quality and diversity of artistic talent and potential in contemporary Tunisia.

3. What kind of impact do you hope the show will have?
Cultural Narratives will support the development on the Tunisian cultural scene and its distinct voice.

4. Which cultural values do you wish to share through the show?
As the arts from the Middle East and North Africa receive greater exposure, they permit a greater understanding of each country and the wider region’s historical and cultural nature.

Rula Alami, Palestine
Rula Alami has an extensive private collection of modern and contemporary Arab art, with a strong emphasis on Palestinian and Lebanese art. She founded Kiyan Art in 2007 to encourage appreciation of Middle Eastern artists and has since held various exhibitions in places such as Lebanon, Dubai, Jordan and Kuwait, in collaboration with regional galleries.

1. Why did you decide to take part in the Cultural Narratives show? In your opinion, what’s the show’s significance?
I would reply to this question through this quote by Joan Miró: “More important than a work of art itself is what it will sow. Art can die, a painting can disappear. What counts is the seed.” Today’s Middle East region is overwhelmingly torn in conflicts and enmities. Cultural Narratives opens up an unconventional dialogue in spite of the fragmentation, while at the same time revealing the particular identity of each artist and the cultures that influence his or her work. Hopefully these narratives are the seed described by Miró.

2. How do the artists you selected best represent the country?
I selected Palestinian artists from Gaza, the West Bank and the diaspora. The variety of their work highlights the dispersion of Palestinians that resulted from the 1948 Nakba. Ironically, this bitter fragmentation yielded a richness and diversity in art representation. Despite this differentiation, their artworks reunite them under one collective trauma, one historical narrative and therefore one identity.

3. What kind of impact do you hope the show will have?
The show will shed light on the importance of art in the 21st century. Art is more than a language between cultures, it engenders reflection and brings us into a space of transformation, of interpretation and ideally of open-ended dialogue.

Hormoz Hematian, Iran
Hormoz Hematian’s art gallery, Dastan, is dedicated to highlighting contemporary Iranian art. The first incarnation of the gallery was Dastan’s Basement, opened in Tehran in 2012, with an aim to show the works of emerging and experimental Iranian artists. The gallery then opened Dastan+2 nearby to show the work of established Iranian artists and masters. The gallery also organizes pop-up curated exhibits across Tehran under the heading Dastan:Outside.

 

1. Why did you decide to take part in the Cultural Narratives show? In your opinion, what’s the show’s significance?
It’s important perhaps more than ever at this point of time to engage in dialogue and conversation with the rest of the world, especially coming out of Iran. The fact that the show will travel and bring the message of art and culture outside the region is very valuable for us, therefore we decided to be a part of it and showcase a particular generation of Iranian artists that best embodied this spirit.

2. How do the artists you selected best represent the country?
The artists that we selected represent a mix of younger as well as established artists. Even though some of the artists are established artists and in advanced phases of their career, we think that passion is the most important thing about their work. They understand the value of being in such a project, and they want to engage in conversation.

3. What kind of impact do you hope the show will have?
The most important thing is to actually demonstrate that, around the world, artistic concerns and thoughts are by nature not very different from one another, regardless of where one lives, regardless of their location geographically. Life experience and approach is what makes individuals unique. What we want to highlight the most is that we are a part of this world as a whole and bring a relevant message to the viewers.

4. Which cultural values do you wish to share through the show?
We would like to highlight several things, most importantly passion, cooperation, teamwork and openness.

Cherine Chafic, Egypt
At Cairo-based gallery ArtTalks, Cherine Chafic exhibits modern and contemporary Egyptian art. Founded in 2009, the gallery showcases the work of emerging artists exclusively represented by ArtTalks, as well as the work of 20th-century masters. ArtTalks also manages the estate of late artist Sobhy Guirguis.

1. Why did you decide to take part in the Cultural Narratives show? In your opinion, what’s the show’s significance?
ArtTalks Egypt is dedicated to showcasing and promoting Egyptian modern and contemporary art. The gallery has rigidly selected a roster of emerging artists we are proud to represent and who seek to leave a stamp, a legacy of who we are. Since their art reflects our rich culture, we are eager to convey their perception and talent to define Egypt’s position in the contemporary art world. This international platform is a golden opportunity for them to transcend national boundaries and share the stories beyond our art scene and thus for the international scene to get acquainted with Egyptian contemporary artists.

2. How do the artists you selected best represent the country?
Our artists were chosen for their exclusive talent, which they put in use to create their vision influenced by our heritage and our present. They use their personal style, whether figurative or surrealist, as a mean to express creatively their experiences and personal life, in the tense atmosphere and times we are living in. We selected a palette of artists whose artworks are to command attention on the contemporary art scene in Egypt and be in fair juxtaposition with the other participating contemporary artists.

3. What kind of impact do you hope the show will have?
Cultural Narratives is a threshold and the extension of ArtTalks’s mission to reinforce Egypt’s name on the art map, with the artistic renaissance currently taking place. It is also an occasion to nourish our hunger for the discovery of new talents and the rediscovery of talented masters. Although our artists sell outside Egypt, this cultural show is an enthralling opening for their work to be appreciated by international art lovers.

4. Which cultural values do you wish to share through the show?
Artists in Egypt work in a tense atmosphere, whether social or political. Nevertheless, they do not repress their motivation and understand that their commitment to art is the eye that will perpetuate history. This challenging atmosphere renders their discipline a noble means to communicate their vision.

Hania Zawaneh, Iraq
Hania Filgary is the director of Karim Gallery, an art space based in Amman, Jordan, with a mission to promote contemporary Middle Eastern art. Karim Gallery was first established in 2007 but then went on a three-year hiatus, from 2013 to 2015, and is now back with a revamped strategy.

1. Why did you decide to take part in the Cultural Narratives show? In your opinion, what’s the show’s significance?
Cultural Narratives is one of many original and inspiring ideas that Selections Magazine got us accustomed to. All our contributing artists are established Iraqi artists in the diaspora, so participating in this project gives them presence in the mosaic of all represented artists of the region.

2. What kind of impact do you hope the show will have?
Karim Gallery is convinced that this initiative will mark the continuity of creative value and artistic contribution of artists from the Middle East region to the international art scene.


A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, Curriculum Vitae #44, pages 232-236.

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