HAMED ABDALLA, LES MÈRES DES MARTYRS (1956). COURTESY OF HAMED ABDALLA FAMILY COLLECTION
Middle Eastern and North African Art in London
Two very different but equally eye-opening shows of art from the Middle East and North Africa will delight London gallery-goers this spring. The first to open was ‘Retracing a Disappearing Landscape’, an interdisciplinary show featuring visual artworks, installations, films and photography by 25 Libyan artists, alongside a parallel programme of public events. Najlaa El-Ageli, the founder of Noon Arts Projects who curated the exhibition, has attempted to explore people’s direct experience of and fascination with memory and personal history relating to Libya as a culture and nation. Archetypal memories as seen through the traditional Libyan family album are presented as images from personal archives dating back to the early 1900s. These images are juxtaposed alongside specially-commissioned installations that speak of the country’s history as well as current status, create a powerfully expressive composite.
Tripoli is a recurring monumental backdrop in these works, in the ever-changing landscape of the city’s story; one charming series of ceramic plaques by three artists refer to the unusual fate of the Ghazala Fountain that stood as an iconic landmark in downtown Tripoli since 1933 when it was first erected by an Italian sculptor. In 2014, this familiar sculpture of a bare lady hugging a gazelle was vandalized and has since disappeared. The statue and its fate reflect both Libya’s colonial past, a changing social fabric, and the motives behind its vanishing.
Another eye-opening series of works by Elham Ferjani speak of a dreamy realm that echoes the ancient past, inspired by the scenes and images found in the cave paintings Libya and its rock art. A personal favourite was the work of Mohammed Abumeis who highlights the shifting meanings of ‘home’ by exploring the effects of the rupture of exile, and the dynamics of identity in art. This small show exposes a burgeoning creativity to be watched closely!
HAMED ABDALLA, AL TAMAZOUQ (TORN) (1975). COURTESY OF HAMED ABDALLA FAMILY COLLECTION
On April 13, London’s leading centre for cultures of the Arab world - The Mosaic Rooms – will celebrate its tenth anniversary by launching an ambitious programme of exhibitions and events. Opening its doors to artists, writers and thinkers from throughout the Arab world and Iran, Mosaic Rooms will showcase artworks never before seen in the UK. The anniversary year's events will offer audiences an exceptional insight into overlooked aspects of the Middle East’s rich art and culture.
For those who have never visited, the Mosaic Rooms should be on the list of places to go in London. This venue has become an internationally renowned, multidisciplinary space, dedicated to art and culture of the Middle East. Its mission has been to offer alternative, nuanced perceptions of the region as a contrast to the prevalent narratives of political violence and religious ideology.
HAMED ABDALLA, CONSCIENCE DU SOL (1956). COURTESY OF HAMED ABDALLA FAMILY COLLECTION
The first of the anniversary programmes will be a show entitled ‘Arabecedaire’, an exhibition of the works of Egyptian modernist painter Hamed Abdalla (1917-1985) curated by Morad Montazami, Adjunct Research Curator at the Tate Modern. As an important and influential modern painter, Abdalla’s personal archives and library that trace his real and imagined journeys across Egypt and Europe will be the focus. These are often the best means of understanding an artist’s journey and process, and offer an intimate glimpse into the workings of his creative imagination.
Other, equally stimulating shows will follow. In July, we will see an exhibition co-curated by Mariam Elnozahy and Fiona Fox (of Townhouse Cairo), featuring the work of contemporary artists such as Mona Hatoum, Susan Hefuna and Basim Magdy, right on the heels of another show opening in September that is curated by Morad Montazami. Montazami's show will feature unseen works by Bahman Mohasses, Iran’s most famous and provocative modernist painter.
The list of upcoming events will have something on offer for everyone with an interest in the Middle East. Given that the biannual Shubbak Festival of Arab Art and Culture (whose founding, major supporter was also Mosaic Rooms’ Qattan Foundation) will not be on this summer, the Mosaic Rooms’ packed schedule of events will be a welcome substitute - a feast of art and culture to satisfy even the most demanding of audiences.