Khaled Hafez, Houston Angels, 2014. Mixed media on canvas, 500 x 200 cm. Courtesy of the artist
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.

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CANON

A general law or rule, a criterion by which something is judged. It also could mean a collection of written documents considered sacred or genuine. Derived from the word qanun in Arabic via the Greek word kanun, meaning “law,” it represents a body, laying claim to permanence that is universally binding in any field of artistic study.

Polykleitos was named a piece of the so-called canon. This sculpture represents the perfect proportions of the human body. The fact that the canon is what determines which art or artists make it into the history books and onto the walls of artistic institutions is the way that the art world states that there are certain aspects of culture, more crucial or important than others. How is it that a society precisely determines that which is worthy of validation? The original concept of this canon has become largely rejected in the modern era. However, one should not neglect to see that the hierarchies in the fields of art continue to polarize our exposure to the variety of art existing today.

Since the canon is constantly redefined relative to time and space, it is interesting to look at the interaction of these different sets of every evolving principles. A good read in which this kind of correspondence can be viewed was written by Ivana Prijatelj Pavičić, Marina Vicelja Matijašić and Martin Germ: Liminal Spaces of Art between Europe and the Middle East. It is a collection of essays that shed light on the nuances between the two giants of culture, their differences and their constant interaction, whether on a comparative scale or in their seamless merging into the global human culture at large.

CENSORSHIP

The practice of intentionally editing or omitting elements deemed too controversial, subversive or obscene relative to commonly held mores of the societal status-quo. The suppression of a book, an artistic oeuvre or news considered obscene, politically incorrect or a danger to individual or social safety. See: Bowdlerization, Bastardization, Pasteurization and Abridgment.

Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, UAE thinker and commentator, art collector and founder of the Sharjah-based Barjeel Art Foundation, spoke at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar in October 2016, to relate the importance of the artist in a region riddled with oppressive censorship. He claims that the artist is the closest source of truth that the world has since the message of their craft relays the immediate state of the population in the fluctuating globally interdependent socio-political sphere.

CHIAROSCURO

Derived from an Italian word that combines the words for “brightness” and “darkness.” The concept behind the term is based on an effect of contrast created by light. The directional uneven source of illumination tends to bring forth the volumetric quality of the subjects it illuminates. It is also a renaissance term that draws its origins from what are known as “illuminated manuscripts” (handmade books of religious scripture).

Even though one can’t say that the following examples fall directly under the literal definition of chiaroscuro, they are worthy of consideration because of their intrinsic exploration of darkness and light. Cycles of Collapsing Progress, a collective exhibition held in Tripoli’s International Fair in Northern Lebanon in 2019, brought about a few pieces that played with the mystery of shadow in dialogue with Oscar Niemeyer’s mystifying modern architecture: Don’t Fall Because Whoever Falls Will Fall for Good by Zad Moultaka, Harvest by Damien Ortega and Moongold by Stephanie Saade are all noteworthy efforts.

Harvest - Damian Ortega. Image by Line Itani.
Harvest – Damian Ortega. Image by Line Itani.
Don’t Fall, Because Whoever Fell Will Fall for Good - Zad Moultake. Image by Chantale Fahmi.
Don’t Fall, Because Whoever Fell Will Fall for Good – Zad Moultake. Image by Chantale Fahmi

CITYSCAPE

The artistic representation of the city as seen from a particular perspective, often depicting a horizon of buildings. It could, however, be any imagery containing the standard elements of an urban place: density, modernity, scale, capitalism, poverty, transportation, concrete, technology, overpopulation, infrastructure, social class, segregation, industry and the organised outdoors.

With a minimalistic approach to visualising city life comes the photography of Nadim Asfar. His photographic book entitled Habiter le Jour (2008) (meaning “daytime living”) is comprised of photos taken from Asfar’s balcony of civilians crossing a city street. The simplicity of this project shows a romantic and purified side to “cityscaping.” It stands apart from most images of its kind, which are more often than not depictions of cluttered or squalid environments.

Habiter Le Jour by Nadim Asfar (2018) - Inside Pages, Courtesy of the artist and Kaph Books
Habiter Le Jour by Nadim Asfar (2018) – Inside Pages, Courtesy of the artist and Kaph Books
Habiter Le Jour by Nadim Asfar (2018) - Cover Image, Courtesy of the artist and Kaph Books
Habiter Le Jour by Nadim Asfar (2018) – Cover Image, Courtesy of the artist and Kaph Books

(ART) COLLECTIVE

An artistic creative movement in which various creative clans, pods or individual entities form an artistic alliance or creative conspiracy. It’s a group of at times anonymous allies working together towards a common goal or good, an individual initiative working in parallel usually with a unified purpose. In some cases, a collective could form simply because of geographical proximity. Artistic conglomerations give each creative individual the chance to feel a sense of contextual relevance and alleviate artistic solitude and solipsism. See: Movement, School.

The Casablanca School, founded in 1965 in Morocco, consists of a group of artists considered a collective for their common avant-garde ideology. Their motto is an “abstract methodology with historical relevance.” Through the thorough study of local Islamic creative motifs, this collective embraces nonrepresentational modes of expression. It is derived from their Islamic traditions, and spiritual ideologies, which commingle into their own unique new aesthetic.

A student preparing the exhibition of students’ works in the Fine Arts Gallery of the Arab League Park, organized by the Casablanca School of Fine Arts, June 1968. Photo M. Melehi. Archives Chabâa family. Courtesy of Fondation Alliances
A student preparing the exhibition of students’ works in the Fine Arts Gallery of the Arab League Park, organized by the Casablanca School of Fine Arts, June 1968. Photo M. Melehi. Archives Chabâa family. Courtesy of Fondation Alliances
New Waves, MACAAL, 2019 - © Omar Tajmouati
New Waves, MACAAL, 2019 – © Omar Tajmouati

COMICS ART

Sunday-Paper periodical serializations depicting repeated characters illustrated through image and text framed within a single square or often a panel, allegedly done to illicit laughter or amusement from its audience: the casual common reader. Colloquially called: “the funny papers.” Comics often include comedic/satiric portraiture in which comical elements of the subject’s appearance are enlarged or exaggerated to an often grotesque degree. Comics could also take the form of more serious or academically aesthetic narrative or illustrative works. The range of simplicity, accessibility and artistry depends on the author/publisher, their motive and hypothetically whether or not its output is subjected to time-sensitive publishing deadlines.

Nadim Damjuli came across a box of comics in the Tahrir Square Market in Cairo. This find would become the basis of a three-year touring exhibition he put together exhibiting Arab comics. Divided into vintage Arab comics, contemporary Arab comics and Western adaptations such as “the Arabian Mickey Mouse,” the show Arab Comics: 90 Years of Popular Visual Culture is a comprehensive overview of the art form in the region. Other Arab comic artists currently taking this form of expression to new creative heights include Lebanese artists Mazen Kerbaj, Zeina Abirached and Lamia Ziade. See also books and publications: A City Neighbouring the Earth by Jorj Mhaya and Samandal Comics.

CONCEPTUAL ART

Abstract Ideas for an actual art form. Art in which the idea takes precedent over all other. The traditional, aesthetic and technical elements are only considered as secondary agents. They must serve the idea. This none-tangible, intellectually inclined precept is what the conceptual artist commits to absolutely, with a fervour that is almost religious. The conceptual artist tends to observe the creation with a great deal of methodical reasoning and heavy handed symbolism. The product is usually a representation of a longer train ofthought, or thesis. The observer may deem the experience of conceptual art more rewarding when they take the time to learn about the artist’s process and reasoning.

Embrace is a circular motorised sculpture by Palestinian artist Emily Jacir meant to look like an empty airport luggage conveyor. Once approached by anyone, the perfectly still machine’s belt is activated and circulates as does a normal conveyor. The narrow circumference of the sculpture says it all. Not only is the etymology of the word “embrace” related to encircling, but the diameter literally represents the height of the artist. This added personal element represents the idea of waiting. Begging the question: what is the artist’s personal relationship with patience and impatience?

CONTEMPORARY ART

The art of today. All art produced in the second half of the 20th century up to the present. It consists of work that is internationally influenced, celebrates cultural diversity and promotes technological and industrial advances. Contemporaries do not shy away from combining mediums and challenge the boundaries of an array of common subjects. It is a movement that is bound to the present time and has given birth to what is known as the “star artist.” Creatives that find popularity on an international scale are deemed idols, supported by major artistic institutions, and become coveted as a highly lucrative “product,” the persona of the artists being tantamount to a form of currency.

Artists working within this stretch of popular culture include Egyptian-born painter Khaled Hafez and Pakistani multi-disciplinary artist Saks Afridi. Hafez has one foot in the traditions of Egyptian art and the other in a popular aesthetic unconfined by geographical boundaries. He layers ancient Egyptian motifs with imagery from present-day Cairo. Bridging this temporal gap creates a body of work that evokes a keen and current observation on the evolution in this region and makes it accessible on a global scale. Afridi’s approach, on the other hand, is a bit more sci-fi: constructing what could be called “spiritual machines,” such as several of the pieces from series such as SpaceMosque, Site 1 and Sighting #4, in which he explores a new genre he calls “Sci-fi Sufism,” wherein the artist draws parallels between the ancient mysticism of religion and the more modern appearances of extra-terrestrial and paranormal phenomena.

“If all your prayers were answered, would it change the world, or just yours?” – Unknown
Saks Afridi’s SpaceMosque is a body of work created around a parafictional narrative in which, for a brief time, a mysterious spacecraft resembling a hovering mosque appeared, and every human on Earth was granted one answered prayer every 24 hours. The vessel appeared in countless forms. We later learned that it uniquely manifested itself depending on the personal biases of the individual witnessing it. The narrative explores greed and morality at war when prayer becomes
the de facto global currency. The work asks us to reflect on what it is we pray for and to what end. Sighting #1 and Sighting #4 are part of a series of vessel sightings seen across the globe.

Khaled Hafez, Houston Angels, 2014. Mixed media on canvas, 500 x 200 cm. Courtesy of the artist
Khaled Hafez, Houston Angels, 2014. Mixed media on canvas, 500 x 200 cm. Courtesy of the artist
Saks Afridi, Sighting #4, 2018. Vibrachrome print on Aluminum, 36”x 48”. A collaboration between Saks Afridi and Ferda Kolatan and his team: Amir Ashtiani and AliReza Kabiri. Courtesy of the artist
Saks Afridi, Sighting #4, 2018. Vibrachrome print on Aluminum, 36”x 48”. A collaboration between Saks Afridi and Ferda Kolatan and his team: Amir Ashtiani and AliReza Kabiri. Courtesy of the artist
Saks Afridi, Scout 1, 2018. Vibrachrome print on Aluminum, 30”x50”. Courtesy of the artist
Saks Afridi, Scout 1, 2018. Vibrachrome print on Aluminum, 30”x50”. Courtesy of the artist

A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS, ART GLOSSARY #52 PAGES 54-63.

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