In this issue, we go back to basics and review definitions of frequently (or infrequently) words in the art world while referencing art from the MENASA region. IN THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES, YOU’LL DISCOVER AN ALPHABETICAL LIST OF ART-RELATED WORDS PAIRED WITH ARTWORKS THAT BEST ILLUSTRATE EACH WORD’S MEANING. ALL WORKS ARE BY MIDDLE EASTERN ARTISTS WHO HAVE LEFT AN INDELIBLE IMPRINT UPON THE INTERNATIONAL ART SCENE.
From the verb abstrahere, meaning “draw away,” an antonym for figurative art. Expressed as a shadow aspect of literalism. A visual language composed of shapes, lines and colours unconcerned with depictions faithful to real life or any recognisable visual reference.
Iraqi-British painter Athier Mousawi creates bright, multi-coloured painterly sculptures that defy optical intelligence and our ability to fully conceive the composition. His layering and colouring techniques interact fluidly, almost like a Kandinsky, at times as if suddenly stepping out of its canvas and bursting into life. Despite the generous variety of shapes and detail in each piece, it’s nearly impossible to liken them to any earthly tangible object. The abstraction manifests on so many levels of his process. Intellectually stimulated by larger concepts, his train of thought, from seed to full manifestation, reflects the feeling and atmosphere of the bellicose and often violent environment of his native land, yet all is somehow expressed in tones that always seem full of joy.
Without a clear shape, lacking focus and compositional norm. In the arts, there are many references to amorphous materials, ones that don’t have a definite melting point and consist of elements that crumble and break, forming undulating surfaces.
SHAKIR HASSAN AL SAID
In 1960, Shakir Hassan Al Said, one of the most prominent members of the Huruffiya movement in which artists redefine the outline of traditional calligraphy, became considerably interested in Sufism and the spiritual potentiality of art. He published the Contemplative Art Manifesto in which he promotes a contemplative and mystical attitude towards art. His work involves such diverse techniques as scratching, burning and manipulating the surface in various experimental ways to create the most amorphous kind of compositions. These works then relay an immediate sense of the cosmos.
A time-based art form composed of a succession of drawn or illustrated images, displayed consecutively to give the illusion of movement. Animation movies vary in style and medium: the classic hand-drawn (or 2D animation), Claymation, stop-motion and now 3D animation. Among very few comprehensive documents about animation in the Arab World and its relevance on a global scale, is a book by vice president of the International Association of Animation Films (ASIFA) Dr. Mohamed Ghazala, entitled Animation in the Arab World: A Glance on the Arabian Animated Film Since 1936. Arab animation is still a young phenomenon. This is partly the reason why it is still mostly perceived as “something for the kids.” Thankfully this is changing. Animators like Abdul Aziz Almuzaini, creator of one of the most viewed Saudi online animation series called Masameer, critiques elements of Saudi society and addresses topics that are far from being juvenile.
Appropriation is a term often applied to anonymously attributed, assimilated and re-disseminated cultural fabric and fabrication. From the Latin root word appropriare, meaning “to make one’s own,” it’s the art of using established or unknown works of art, imagery or objects as part of one’s own creation. It’s a form of sampling a visual reference that deems itself relevant to the artist’s message or wanted aesthetic.
In the case of multimedia Iraqi artist Mahmoud Obaidi’s Farewell Kiss, depicting a circularshaped black and white portrait of George Bush, framed by a series of actual Oxford-style black leather shoes, the artist commemorates the incident of a journalist throwing his own shoe at the former president during one of his speeches. The artist’s reconfiguration of the iconic face, a clothing item deemed a classic in men’s footwear and the memorable event, which is, in its own right considered an emblematic object, is a “three birds with one stone” type of appropriation, challenging the regional perception of Western ideologies. Obaidi often likes to use elements that could be considered staples in day-to-day Western transactions. His appropriations are creatively assembled as opposed to being reused in a linear fashion.
A representative of collectively held and contemporaneous consensus as to certified lack of creative contrivance. The quality of disputed origins, an account being exactly what it is claiming to be: the “original one,” hence the “realest one.” Perhaps even being one of the only real ones of its kind.
In 1996 the restorers at the Holy Spirit University in Kaslik, Lebanon, took on a massive project: the refurbishing of Downtown Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square sculpture, damaged during the 1975-1990 Civil War, while deliberately leaving certain abrasions untouched as a reminder of the 15-year conflict. Besides the innumerable bullet punctures kept as is, one of the figures unapologetically stands missing a left forearm. Multi-disciplinary artist Mohamad Said Baalbaki perhaps thought that the ultimate symbolic solution to the bigger problem would be to recreate this arm, to restore the statue’s amputated honour to its authentic self by performing a fictitious archaeological dig. “One Hand Alone Can’t Clap” is a brass sculpture made in 2010. It’s a reconstruction of the missing limb. This sculpture, exhibited as a standalone, separate from whence it suggestively originates, triggers questions as to its own authenticity. Without knowing the facts behind it, the creator and his aspirations, one is stomped by the immediacy of realism, the first and main ruse the mind plays on all that could be claimed as authentic.
Artistic Manifesto and movements mythologically championed by the vanguard of the proletariat as defined by economist and theorist Karl Marx, assisted by Engels. It is the double-edged sword with which those considered ahead of their time ultimately have to reckon. Their works and ideologies could often be ill-received, shocking, dumbfounding and may even be doomed to remain misunderstood and underappreciated.
Let us look at the music scene in the region. Lebanese musician and playwright Ziad el Rahbani, for example, a cultural staple by all means, has created an innumerable amount of work that has come to collectively encompass the emergence of a new standard. One could say that time has played to his advantage. One could even suggest that the younger cultural scene receives his works with a better understanding of his standpoint in the face of the socio-political landscape of his time. This is subject to discussion, since there is an intrinsic mystery to the extremism with which the avantgarde is associated. The book The Arab Avant-Garde: Music, Politics, Modernity, written by Thomas Burkhalter, Kay Dickinson and Benjamin J. Harbert, explores the variety of development and experimentation in the region with a focus on music. The book takes an acute turn away from the habitual tendency to revert to the region’s rich musical traditions. It concerns itself with the road less travelled, the uncomfortable one, where anything and perhaps everything is possible, standing in observation and yet unencumbered by the purism and rigidity of the established cultural canon.
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS, ART GLOSSARY #52 PAGES 42-49