‘Rejection of exclusivity and the rise of accessibility.’
Shades of Noir attended the Private View on the 15th of August hosted at Menier Gallery for Reconnecting Arts: ‘TRANSITION’ supported by Qatar Museums. This consisted of an exhibition of over 30 emerging Middle Eastern Artists reflecting on the ways transition has taken place in their life. Ranging from fine art, calligraphy, sculpture, photography, to video, zines, and installation, the artists explore topics and issues that shape the lives of Middle Eastern artists both locally and internationally. This includes the effect of urbanisation as well as displacement, the impact of balancing East and West, as well as gender roles, embracing faith and the future of the Middle East.
Curated by Reconnecting Arts’ co-founders Khalid al-Hammadi from Qatar and Sara Foryame, a British/Qatari independent arts curator about to commence her Masters in Museum and Gallery Practice at UCL in Doha.
Foryame spoke about the vision for the exhibition. “It is about how these artists have transitioned geographically, artistically or personally. It is about them taking control over their own narratives and expressing themselves freely without assumptions and without being guided as to what sort of art they ‘should be’ creating. We decided that we wanted to merge Khaleeji (Gulf) with non-Khaleeji artists. So, in addition to artists from the Gulf, we have Palestinians, Syrians, and Jordanians. We want to be able to celebrate all stories and all backgrounds. (http://www.gulf-times.com/story/560603/Qatari-artists-join-talent-from-across-the-Middle-East-in-inspiring-London-art-exhibition)
The Private View was buzzing and packed full of people. With people gathering in clusters around artists and their art works, taking pictures and circulating both individually and in groups, some whilst in conversation and others not. The sound of dialogue in diverse languages and the smell of traditional refreshments enriched the senses whilst navigating the exhibition space. This exhibition included artists from the Gulf, from Syria, from Palestine, Iraq, America to Europe and much more; this seemed like a much anticipated event. This event seemed to have brought together an array of diverse communities and families from the Arab diaspora, all in communication within this one space to view the work of over 30 emerging Middle Eastern Artists, reflecting on the ways transition has taken place in their life.
The artists in this exhibition are now taking control of their own representations rejecting the ideas that have been pushed onto them. Unapologetically exploring themes of religion, displacement, language but on the other hand exploring themselves as artists and as humans first of all. Merging Geographical space. (https://reconnectingartscomblog.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/reconnecting-arts1.pdf)
I think of this word ‘Transition’ and it’s meaning, to transition within space, transitioning both internally and externally, navigating the exhibition felt like moments of transition, as there were pieces that spoke of conflict, of war, of hope for the future, of optimism, of pain and trauma. The exhibition continued onto the lower floor, guided by stairs that lead you into a dark area, like walking in a void of smoky fog, the space became darker and darker, with what seemed like dust in the air, in combination to soft and sharp sounds, creating an airy atmosphere, all of this changed the entire experience of the artwork placed in this space.
The sensations of feeling trapped in this void as you moved into even darker spaces forced me to adjust my eyes to the space and to be even more cautious of my movements. I had to Transition. As I walked towards the back of the space, unable to clearly see where I was going or heading to, I walked back up as I focused my lens to the crowd that gathered around a performance that was taking place, a performance by artist Estabrak Al-Ansari, with a gleaming light that glared and darted around the space, the artist paints a film to life as an immersive style of storytelling through LPP (Live Projection Painting) Estabrak Al-Ansari. ‘She doesn’t just shift the earth beneath her feet she works with it so it travels with her and threads seamlessly in her work.’ (XANA, 2017)
While Arab artists are often grouped and defined by their ethnicity rather than their work. There is still a need for such segregation due to the art world often being one of inaccessibility to minority artists. In order to occupy spaces as Arab artists, the artists often need to collectively unite. https://reconnectingartscomblog.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/reconnecting-arts1.pdf)
Estabrak Al Ansari (@rough_silk ) is an award-winning, interdisciplinary Visual Artist & Film Maker based between London & Muscat. She is originally from Iraq, born in Iran and raised in
London, after having come to the UK with her family as a child refugee. With an arts background at Central Saint Martins UAL and a Masters in film & media production, she is both by nature & nurture; a storyteller. Often lead by emotions, particular interest lies in honest approaches to surface silenced, socio-political realities usually explored through progressive, multidisciplinary ways of storytelling.
Estabrak’s work caught my eye alongside pieces by Syrian artist, Ayham Jabr:
Ayham Jabr (@ayhamjabr ) is a 29-year-old artist born in Damascus, Syria. Working mainly as a video editor for TV and films, he is passionate about graphic design, photography and collage, both digital and analog. His main source of inspiration comes from his love for science fiction films, stories and theories.
Alongside Qatari artist, Fatima Mohamed who showed artworks using the Batula (a face covering generally worn by older women in the gulf region) combined with the beak of the American bald eagle.
“It is a comment on the westernisation you see in the Gulf States,” said the artist who did her BA in Painting and Printmaking at Virginia Commonwealth University, Qatar. This is her first showing in London. (http://www.gulf-times.com/story/560603/Qatari-artists-join-talent-from-across-the-Middle-East-in-inspiring-London-art-exhibition)
While some artists may want to focus on the politics or war of their country with every right to do so, another artist from the very same country may want to focus on the optimistic future of it. This exhibition embraces both sides. https://reconnectingartscomblog.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/reconnecting-arts1.pdf)
I left this exhibition reflecting on thoughts of accessibility, inaccessibility, displacement the role of creatives and the role of artists; reading from their press release on what the defined as a ‘creative’: ‘It is important to distinguish the use of the words artists and creatives. The use of ‘creatives’ is to create an accessible space where those who may not necessarily be ‘artists’ according to their definition or that of the art world, yet they are still creatives who produce visual work.’ (https://reconnectingartscomblog.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/reconnecting-arts1.pdf) I understand now that the creative and the artists are two very different roles and are distingusuished clearly within this exhibition, but also, that they are easily interchangeable roles depended on power and access. Transition is a perfect example of creatives using the platforms, the resources, the networks and the power they have access to, to create a space for all artists and creatives to congregate and connect, for their voices to be heard and to be seen how they wish to be seen. It gives them a space to Transition.
Our exhibition merges artists and creatives and rejects the idea of exclusivity but embraces the rise of accessible spaces. The importance of these spaces is vital to the growth of the emerging art scene in the region and beyond, more specifically Arab artists no matter where they are geographically or artistically.