A group show featuring works from Sharjah’s Barjeel Art Foundation Collection explores desire, love and the human form

Beloved Bodies II is entering its final month at Sharjah’s Maraya Arts Centre. Curated by Mandy Merzaban from the Barjeel Art Foundation, this show takes Roland Barthes term “beloved body” and looks at the object of a lover’s desire, whether that is a person, an object or a place. Merzaban’s objective with the first in this Beloved Bodies series was to “prompt the viewer to think about the body as part of a different political, social and spiritual arena that is at times at odds with one another.” In this second iteration, the focus has moved to love and desire and the selection of works has grown.

Hayv Kahraman, Tagreed Darghouth and Nadia Ayari are some of the artists present who employ the body as a canvas to express concepts of home, privacy, pain and nature. Kahraman, the Iraqi-born artist whose delicate Asian-inspired style is at odds with the brutal content of many of her paintings, is represented by her Flayed Lamb work from 2008. The substitution of Ibrahim and his son for two calm female protagonists, both richly and immaculately dressed, subverts the Biblical act and the expectation.

Zoulikha Bouabdellah’s feminine viewpoint is very much at the forefront of her work. Neon lights spelling “love” in Arabic are duplicated and layered, echoing the physicality that the title Two Lovers suggests. Meanwhile, there’s another duality with Nu Paysage, Chaouki Choukini’s exotic hardwood sculpture that’s either a curved nude or an undulating vista. Currently based in Paris, the Lebanese sculptor harks back to his motherland’s southern landscapes. Staying in Lebanon, the Faces series of posters from Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige are ravaged memorials to the lost men in the Lebanese Civil War, reinvigorated by the artists’ own hands.

The Barjeel Art Foundation Collection currently boasts over 1200 works of Modern and Contemporary Arab art from the region. Another show that selects from the collection, Between Two Rounds of Fire, The Exile of the Sea is on at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center in Washington DC until December.

Featured image: Zoulikha Bouabdellah,’Two-Lovers'(2010), Neon light, 161 x 156 x 5 cm. Image courtesy of Barjeel Art Foundation.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, A Dialogue Between Generations of Arab Women in Art #42, page 41.