Artists Journey through Arab World’s Transformation Era

ABU DHABI — Disorientation II, a powerful, poignant political statement made through contemporary artistic form, opened on Saturday as part of the Abu Dhabi Art fair.


Silvia Radan

Published: Mon 23 Nov 2009, 11:19 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 9:02 PM

The exhibition takes viewers through the turbulent and transforming years of the late seventies through the nineties in the Arab world extending from Levant to Egypt and Algeria.

Photography, installations, sculptures, paintings and videos done by an extraordinary group of artists are mind-opening not only for the historical, social and political content they reveal, but also for their art value.

It all starts with Hala Elkousy’s ‘On red nails, palm trees and other icons’, a small room installation. Old Arabic written booklets on “epoque” tables and chairs, Arabic textiles and rugs and walls filled with old, nostalgic black and white photos, but also coloured ones, paintings and family portraits and even images of children donning army and military uniforms. It is all meant to reflect the utopia created by former Egyptian president Jamal Abdel-Nasser and his failed pan-Arab unity plan.

Ali Jabri keeps the viewers in Egypt during the eighties, his ‘Journey Back’ of 12 framed montages of drawings and newspaper cuttings also depicting the hypocrisy, the disappointment and the anguish of the time.

The plight of Palestinians is outlined by Mona Hatoum’s mosaic-looking and soap-smelling installation ‘Present Tense’.

Made out of Palestinian olive soap and red glass beads, the artwork depicts the map drawn at the Oslo peace agreement of 1993, marking out the disconnected, singled out Palestinian territories within the new state of Israel.

The artist has chosen to use cubes of soap, a perishable material, as to express the hope that one day these borders will be “washed away.”

Also “inspired” by Palestinian suffering, Wafa Hourani asks the question of how the Palestinian refugee camp adjacent to “famed” checkpoint of Ramallah would look like 100 years after it was established.

In her installation ‘Qalandia 2047’, Hourani gives a tragi-comic answer in the form of miniature crammed houses made out of photographs and negatives, lighten from “indoors”, where a soft sound of Arabic music is also heard. At the separation wall, large mirror panels are hung, to give the illusion of space to those crammed inside.

In other parts of the Arab world, two sets of intriguing photographs point the finger at politicians interfering in peoples’ lives.

‘Rochers Carres’ by Kader Attia are images of the breakwater beach constructed by former Algerian president Houari Boumediene. Big, ugly and obtrusive, these are concrete blocks, which, in Attia’s viewpoint, have become the border separating young people who sit on them, looking on at passing ships and the dreams carried on by the sea.

From a distance, Hriar Sarkissian’s ‘Execution Squares’ may look like cityscapes of Arabian cities, but there is something very eerie about these photographs. The 12 images depict large squares in the Syrian cities of Aleppo, Lattakia and Damascus, where public executions usually take place.

The photographs were shot in the early morning — when executions also happen — and are completely void of people to symbolise death and the disappearance of humanity.

There are plenty more surprises to keep viewers engaged in this unique exhibition. Unique because never before such a display took place anywhere in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.

“Disorientation II” opens not only an extraordinary collection of art, but the first purpose-built art gallery in Abu Dhabi, Manarat Al Saaddiyat, which is also the first building to take shape in the Cultural District of Saadiyat Island. The exhibition will continue until February 20.

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