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.
A category of artistic practice having a particular form, content or technique, a gesture can also refer to the action, form or pose of a model/figure. Gestural works often relate to a subject’s (usually a model) basic form and express movement.
Shirin Neshat is a contemporary Iranian visual artist well known for a diverse body of work that explores gestures in relation to body, language, religion and politics. Using photography, video and film (such as her 1999 film Rapture), Neshat employs gestures as a means of decoding the relationship between women and the spiritual, religious and cultural systems of Islam. The simplicity of the gestures contained within her diverse body of work highlights the role of women in contrast to the rigorous formality of life under strict moral and social codes.
Gouache refers to a type of water media that consists of water, the binding agent, attached to a natural pigment. As a technique, it goes back over 600 years and has been used by artists for generations. The water-based matte is oftentimes referred to as “opaque watercolour” due to its distinctive look, which often uses binding agents such as Arabic gum or gum tragacanth. The opaque nature of the gouache is due to the addition of white fillers, such as clay or chalk, or a higher ratio of pigment to the binder.
Grafitti refers to terms or images painted onto buildings in public space, typically using spray paint but also using other techniques such as adhesive and paper. Often graffiti is used to portray images and words with special meaning or social significance, especially humorous, rude or political content, either scribbled on walls, doors or public-facing interior spaces such as washrooms.
Fusing the beauty of Arabic calligraphy with modern art and graffiti-style lettering, the artist eL Seed has developed a unique form he calls “calligraffiti” – painting colourful, undulating messages of hope on buildings all over the world. His work has travelled far and wide, from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro to the bridges of Paris, his work is often imbued with the message of peace, including most iconically a piece he made for minaret on a mosque in his hometown of Gabès, Tunisia.
A graphic refers simply to design on a surface, albeit today, graphics have come full-circle with the rise of digital technology and pictorial representation of data. Graphics can be images and/or designs that are used to educate, entertain or inform, but can also include mixed media works that examine the history of typesetting, language and the graphic arts.
One example of this can be found in the work of the late Kamal Boullata, the Palestinian artist and art historian known for fusing Arabic script, particularly the geometric Kufic style, with geometric patterns and abstraction. Boullata’s work was, strictly speaking, abstract in style, but within his oeuvre he explored ideas relating to the division and diaspora of Palestinian identity, separation and homeland. These ideas came to be expressed through graphic and geometric forms, primarily through the integration of Arabic words and calligraphy on the surface of the canvas.
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS, ART GLOSSARY #52 PAGES 80-85.