News / Arts & Entertainment

Contemporary Arab Art at NYC’s New Museum

Arab Art Featured at NYC’s New Museumi
X
August 22, 2014 2:10 AM
The first museum-wide show of Arab art in New York City is spread out over five floors at the New Museum, and exhibits work by more than 45 contemporary artists. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the show.
Carolyn Weaver

The first museum-wide show of Arab art in New York City, spread out over five floors at the New Museum, exhibits works by more than 45 artists from 12 countries. Many are animated by a documentary impulse, seeking out new ways to represent realities, but with a “critical approach to image-making,” said associate curator Natalie Bell, who helped organize the show with New Museum artistic director Massimiliano Gioni.

“We found that a lot of artists were thinking critically about whether images are capable of conveying a truth, whether images are transparent, and trying to create works that could convey these ideas," Bell said.

"Here and Elsewhere," as the show is called, opens in the museum's lobby with a photographic mural satirically portraying an ultraluxe, virtually gold-plated hotel in the Arab world. It's by the GCC, a group of artists who take their name from the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Many of the works on display point only indirectly at social and political realities, however. Photographs by Hrair Sarkissian of bland, empty city streets and squares in his native Syria, spaces where public executions were held, seem to ask the question: How did what happened here leave no trace?

Questions of war, immigration and displacement appear throughout the show, as in Moroccan-born artist Bouchra Khalili’s huge videos of maps traced by immigrants and refugees. A film, Infiltrators, by Ramallah-based Khaled Jarrar, documents furtive attempts by Palestinians to bypass the wall that barricades Israel. Jarrar was scheduled to visit New York in July to take part in a panel discussion at the New Museum, but was denied permission by Israeli authorities to travel from the West Bank.

In a video by Lebanese artist Mounira Al Solh, the camera pans over parts of a lamb, slaughtered for a feast, as the narrator considers whether trauma can ever be truly "registered" in the moment, or filmed without exploitation. The film is in part about the trauma of being a refugee, inspired by the million or more Syrian refugees now living in Beirut.

“She’s speaking more poetically about the experience, both linking it to her experience fleeing Beirut for Damascus, during the Lebanese civil war, when she was younger, and also reflecting on her family at that very moment, and these get-togethers they’re having," Bell said.

The videos of Iranian-born artist Rokni Haerizadeh, in contrast, are fable-like, with animal figures painted over the human protestors in news footage of political demonstrations.

A sculpture like a tree made of confetti, by Dubai-based artist Hassan Sharif, is constructed of surplus manufactured goods: everything from copper wires to string to cut-up plastic shoes. Qalandia 2087, a tabletop city model by Hebron-born Wafa Hourani, is a utopian vision of a Palestinian refugee village.

“While it looks very realistic, as a kind of architectural model, it’s also very simple.  And that’s something that interested us also, because it’s a way of reminding us that art can be made with very simple materials," Bell said.

The work of Moroccan artist Mohamed Larbi Rahali is another example. Since 1984, he has drawn, painted and created tiny collages on the insides of matchboxes, a project he calls Omri (My Life).

Most of the artists in the show have not previously exhibited in New York. Bell said many are indifferent to commercial art markets, or of no marketable interest to them. Many also reject the notion of themselves as “Arab” artists. 

The huge size of the New Museum show underlines another point, she added: art from the Arab world today is so diverse that it resists all attempts to categorize it.  

You May Like

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

Ali Regained Title in Historic Fight 40 Years Ago

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Beyond Category

At Washington’s Blues Alley jazz singer Jane Monheit and her quartet perform songs made famous by Judy Garland. Monheit sits down with "Beyond Category" host Eric Felten to talk about her music, the singers who influence her, and her life traveling with family on tour.