IT’S A EMOTIONAL EXPLORATION OF THE ART WORLD: WHICH ARE THE MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS WHEN IT COMES TO ART? ARTISTS, CURATORS, GALLERISTS, MUSEUM DIRECTORS, ART COLLECTORS AND MORE GIVE THOUGHTFUL AND DEEPLY PERSONAL ANSWERS TO OUR QUERIES, WHILE SHEDDING LIGHT ON THE CONTEMPORARY ART SCENE – AND OFFERING A GLIMPSE INTO ITS FUTURE.
WHAT IS CONTEMPORARY ARAB ART?
Adel Abidin: I am strongly against categorising any art practice based on nationalities or certain locations on the map. Pigeonholes always have their negative approaches to what is actually happening. Artists all over the globe have the same point of departure while choosing to express themselves in any medium regardless of their location. Yet, their environments have a huge impact on their practices, which is very normal. That does not mean that we have to label this art. Art is more of a generic notion. The themes and elements that artists use are just ways of creating arguments to deliver further meanings. I am of course talking about genuine artists not pretentious ones. Unfortunately, sometimes curators and art dealers categorize the works to take the easy path without sufficient research. Curators do it out of laziness for extensive research and dealers for the sake of more sells. If we want to go deeper, Arabic contemporary art does not exist, yet the scene does.
Ashkan Baghestani: As with many areas, there is a distinction between the academic definition and what you would see in galleries and auction houses. My personal opinion is that contemporary Arab art encompasses everything following the Revolution in Iran and the Mecca Siege – both earth-shattering events taking place in 1979.
Basel Dalloul: There is contemporary Arab art and the contemporary art movement and the difference between both is that one describes the state of art (an adjective) and another is the name of the movement itself. Locally, the latter is defined as art created after the 1980s while the Contemporary art movement is not only the art produced after 1980 but also the one involved with the dynamic forces of its time, be it local, or global. The soul of a contemporary artwork lies in its concept and its ability to question the notion of art itself.
Mahmoud Obaidi: I don’t think that there is such a thing as contemporary Arab art, but simply
Manuel Rabaté: Connection and Momentum. There is something interesting happening and many questions arise. What’s the structure? What will remain? What’s its legacy? Only time will tell. What is sure is that when there is movement, creation and artists, something interesting will remain.
Nadim Karam: Is it a reflection of contemporary Western art?
Omar Kholeif: Contemporary Arab art is difficult to define. If it could be described through one feature it would be for its heterogeneity.
Samia Halaby: It is an innovative search for our cultural future.
Till Fellrath and Sam Bardaouil: The same as contemporary non-Arab art.
Venetia Porter: Terms such as this are incredibly problematic. Theoretically of course it is art made by artists who consider themselves to be Arab and the “Arab” world comprises 22 states. So this then suggests it is one thing which its not. We all like labels but in the end you need to be able to define and demonstrate that there something intrinsically “Arab” for works that you may be grouping under this heading.
Adel Abidin was born in Baghdad in 1973. He moved to Helsinki, Finland, in 2001 and has lived there since. Abidin joined the Finnish Art Academy in 2003 to pursue a Master’s degree in art. During that time, he switched his practice from full-time painter to multimedia artist, and since 2004 he’s pursued a career as a video and installation artist.
Abidin’s art uses various media, such as videos, video installations, multimedia sculptures, sound-based installations, photography and paintings, to explore contemporary issues. His main point of departure is always linked to the intention to explore the complex relationship between visual art and politics and identity. Using a sharp palette of irony and humour, he creates works that explore different social situations while dealing with elusive experiences and cultural alienation.
The artist uses his cross-cultural background, as an Iraqi artist living in Helsinki, to create a distinct visual language often laced with sarcasm and paradox, while maintaining an ultimately humanistic approach. This sarcasm used is nothing but a medium of provocation to serve the purpose of extending the mental borders of the artwork beyond the limits of the exhibition space. Abidin is particularly interested in creating opportunities to prolong the discussions beyond artwork by enabling the audience to convey mental elements from the work into their daily life. He always finds the words “politics” and “identity” to be more than a terminology or a path that we travel in, as they unfold to other concepts like discrimination and mass media manipulation.
Ashkan Baghestani, Sotheby’s Head of Sale and Contemporary Arab and Iranian Art Specialist
Ashkan Baghestani joined Sotheby’s Middle East Department in 2012 focusing on the Contemporary Doha auctions and developing this increasingly important art platform, including the April 2013 Contemporary Art Doha sale which realised $15.2 million and established the highest price for an auction in the Middle East region, with records set for nine artists, including the record price for a living Arab artist, Chant Avedissian. His in-depth knowledge of the market for Modern and Contemporary Middle Eastern and Iranian works, his fluency in Persian, French and English, and his contacts in the region have been invaluable in cultivating this important collecting field at Sotheby’s. He constantly travels across the Middle East region, participating in Sotheby’s numerous travelling exhibitions across the region such as Jeddah Art Week, Saudi Arabia and Dubai Art Week Travelling Exhibition, UAE.
Mr. Baghestani grew up in Geneva, Switzerland and has travelled extensively to study and work in Paris, New York and London. Before joining Sotheby’s in the summer of 2012, he studied Design and Management at Parson’s, the New School for Design, in the United States in 2009, earning a BBA Degree and followed later with a diploma in Middle Eastern Art from Sotheby’s Institute in 2011. He actively worked for the Jameel Prize at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Basel Dalloul Founded the Dalloul Art Foundation in 2017 to manage and promote his father’s (Dr. Ramzi Dalloul) vast collection of modern and contemporary Arab art. At over 4000 pieces it is the largest collection of it’s kind in private hands. The collection includes but is not limited to paintings, photography, sculpture, video and mixed media art. Basel has had a passion for art since he was very young, inspired by both his mother and father, both of whom are also passionate about art in all its forms.
Mahmoud Obaidi (b. 1966, Baghdad) is an Iraqi-Canadian artist whose work has been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. After leaving Iraq in 1991, he obtained his Masters of Fine Arts at the University of Guelph in Canada, and completed diplomas in new media and film from Toronto and Los Angeles, respectively. His work has been exhibited extensively, including British museum, London-Qatar Museums, Doha; Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha; Saatchi Gallery, London; the National Museum of Bahrain; the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris; the National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman; Station Museum of Contemporary Art, Texas; and the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec, NABU museum,Lebanon. others. His work is part of the permanent collection of a number of significant museums, foundations, and private collections.
Manuel Rabaté, Director of Louvre Abu Dhabi
Manuel Rabaté is a graduate of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po, 1998), and of HEC Business School (2001). He began his career as a Deputy Director at the auditorium of the Musée du Louvre from 2002 until 2005.He participated in the creation of new programmes on Islamic Arts in the context of the first performance contract between the French government and the museum for its modernisation. He joined the Musée du quai Branlyas Deputy Director of Cultural Development a year before its opening in 2006, then led the launching of the first exhibitions abroad. Rabaté joined Agence France-Muséums in 2008, a year after the signing of the intergovernmental agreement between France and Abu Dhabi. He has followed the Louvre Abu Dhabi project from its conceptual phase until its operational implementation as a Secretary General and acting CEO since 2010. He was appointed CEO of Agence France-Museums in 2013 to set up in Abu Dhabi a multidisciplinary team of museum professionals and follow through the phases of the project realization in collaboration with the major French museums and their UAE partners. In September 2016, Manuel Rabaté was appointed Director of Louvre Abu Dhabi by the Department of Culture and Tourism –Abu Dhabi. Aside from his duties in the service of museums, Rabaté has also chaired the reflection group-Culture & Management, in which he had created the museum department. He has also taught Arts and Cultural Management at various universities in France and Abu Dhabi.
Nadim Karam – an artist and architect working from Beirut- initially trained in architecture at the American University of Beirut then earned a doctorate in architecture from the University of Tokyo, Japan. He has recently finished building his own workshop, A.MUSE.UM in the Lebanese mountains, which will be also used as a platform for art, research and exhibitions.
With Atelier Hapsitus, the pluri-disciplinary group he founded in 1996, he has realized temporary and permanent urban interventions in cities worldwide such as Prague, Beirut, Melbourne, Tokyo, London, Kuwait and Yerevan, using public art as an instrument for urban stimulation. Based on a cross-fertilization of disciplines and nationalities, the twenty-year-old practice has a multidisciplinary composition, which feeds into the experimental nature of its work. He has held academic positions in Tokyo and Beirut, gives lectures internationally and has published several books.
Omar Kholeif is an Egyptian-born, British writer and curator. He is co-curator of Leaving the Echo Chamber, the 14th Sharjah Biennial and Time, Forward! The V-A-C Foundation Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale. He is also a Guest Curator for Abu Dhabi Art and the Manchester International Festival, as well as a Visiting Tutor at the Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford. Kholeif has held curatorial positions including, Manilow Senior Curator and Director of Global Initiatives at MCA Chicago; Curator at Whitechapel Gallery, London; Senior Curator at Cornerhouse and HOME, Manchester; Curator at FACT, Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, Liverpool; Founding Artistic Director of the UK’s Arab Film Festival and Senior Editor at Ibraaz Publishing. He has curated or co-curated major international projects including the Cyprus Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale; FOCUS: Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean at the Armory Show, New York; and the 2012 Liverpool Biennial. The author and or editor of over twenty books and catalogues on art, Kholeif’s recent books include Goodbye, World! Looking at Art in the Digital Age (Sternberg Press) and The Artists Who Will Change the World (Thames and Hudson, both 2018).
Samia A. Halaby
Samia A. Halaby was born in Jerusalem, Palestine in 1936. She is a visual artist, writer, scholar, and activist. Now, rounding out her sixth decade as an active painter, she continues to explore abstraction and its relationship to reality. She has exhibited in galleries, museums, and art fairs throughout the US, Europe, Asia, and South America. Her work is housed in private and public collections around the world, including the Guggenheim Museum (New York and Abu Dhabi) and the Institut Du Monde Arabe. Halaby has authored and contributed to a number of books, notably: “Liberation Art of Palestine” (2001), “Drawing the Kafr Qasem Massacre” (2016), and “Growing Shapes: Aesthetic Insights of an Abstract Painter” (2018). She is the subject of two monographs and numerous reviews.
Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath
Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath are Founders of the multidisciplinary curatorial platform Art Reoriented in Munich and New York, Chairmen of the Montblanc Cultural Foundation in Hamburg, and Affiliate Curators at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. Bardaouil and Fellrath have jointly curated numerous critically acclaimed exhibitions at renowned museums and institutions worldwide, and have held teaching positions at universities including the London School of Economics and New York University. They are award-winning authors with contributions to academic journals, books, newspapers and art magazines. They are currently preparing their international thematic exhibition Walking through Walls opening in September 2019 at the Martin-Gropius Bau in Berlin. For the upcoming 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia they are curators of the National Pavilion of the United Arab Emirates.
Venetia is a curator responsible for the collection of Islamic art, in particular of the Arab World and Turkey as well as developing the collection of the modern and contemporary art of the Middle East.
She was previously curator of Islamic coins in the Department of Coins and Medals. She gained a degree in Arabic and Persian at the University of Oxford, followed by a M.Phil in Islamic Art, obtaining her Ph.D on ‘The history and monuments of the Tahirid dynasty of the Yemen 858-923/1454-1517’ from the University of Durham. She recently curated the exhibition Hajj: Journey to the heart of Islam (2012).
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS #48