‘Présences Arabes – Art moderne et Décolonisation. Paris 1908 – 1988’ at the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris

The Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris presents ‘Présences Arabes – Art moderne et Décolonisation. Paris 1908 – 1988’ shedding light on the diverse Arab modernities of the 20th century and offer a fresh perspective on relatively lesser-known artistic scenes in Europe. With over 200 artworks, most never before exhibited in France, the exhibition explores the relationship between Arab artists and Paris throughout the 20th century.

Saloua Raouda Choucair, Poem (Poème), 1963-1965
Pierre, 6 éléments, 125 x 39 x 29 cm. Paris, Centre Pompidou – Musée national d’art moderne – Centre de création industrielle. © SRC Foundation / Photo Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Bertrand Prévost

Structured chronologically, the exhibition spans from 1908, marked by the arrival of Lebanese poet and artist Khalil Gibran in Paris, to 1988, featuring the first exhibition dedicated to contemporary Arab artists at the newly inaugurated Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. The event also highlights the emergence of artists like Chaïbia Tallal and Jaber Al-Mahjoub in the Children’s Museum of the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris.

Marwan Kassab-Bachi, Mann mit grüner weste (Homme au gilet vert), 1967, Huile sur toile, 195,5 x 130 cm. Paris, Centre Pompidou – Musée national d’art moderne – Centre de création industrielle Photo © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Philippe Migeat

Historian Silvia Naef, a contributor to the exhibition catalogue, reflects on the establishment of a genuine aesthetic project during the 20th century, rooted in Arab modernity but influenced by Western avant-gardes. The exhibition reintroduces over 130 artists whose works significantly contributed to Arab avant-garde and the modern art history of the 20th century.

Paris emerges as a crucial hub, dubbed the “capital of the Third World,” nurturing anti-colonial networks and cosmopolitan modernities. The exhibition’s narrative traces the trajectories of artists who studied in their home countries’ art schools before pursuing further education in Paris. The city served as a gateway to modernity, a platform for critiquing colonialism, and a melting pot of cultural encounters.

Divided into four chapters, the exhibition navigates through significant historical periods: Nahda (Arab cultural renaissance) embracing Western influences, the advent of avant-gardes challenging Orientalism, the era of decolonisation, and the intersection of art with political struggles. The artworks, sourced from regional collections like Mathaf in Doha and private and public collections in France, are accompanied by historical audiovisual archives.

The exhibition catalogue, featuring essays by prominent scholars, provides extensive documentation and iconography, offering insights into Arab modern art in Paris. With a diverse array of artists spanning painting, sculpture, and photography, the showcase enriches the narrative of Arab modernity and its interactions with global artistic currents.

Location: Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris

Date: April 5th to August 25th, 2024

Huguette Caland, Espace blanc I, 1984. Huile sur toile, 200 x 200 cm, © Photo Jack Hems. Courtesy famille Caland, David Zwirner

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