A strong presence of Middle Eastern art at the year’s biggest art fair in London added a touch of oriental beauty to the event.
Art’13, which was held from the 1st until the 3rd of this month, showcased contemporary art from different countries around the world such as the US, Brazil, India, China, in addition to a variety of breathtaking artworks by young Middle Eastern artists.
Art’13 hosted four different young galleries from the UAE such as ArtSpace and Art Sawa as well as Athr Gallery. Athr Gallery is based in Jeddah and was launched four years ago by a group of Arabs who believed art in its different forms and techniques as a tool to demonstrate the creativity of the Arab artists in delivering their thoughts for the rest of the world. One of Athr Gallery’s developers, Adnan Manjal, said that their aim is “to expose the portfolio of unique and talented artists to the rest of the world, beyond the boarder of the Middle East”. Manjal added about Athr’s participation in London’s International Art’13, “even though the Middle East is a crucial point of focus for the gallery, Europe is equally important as we strongly believe our artists are of the same calibre and yet unique… Although Athr Gallery has collaborated with London-based galleries on several exhibitions in the past, Art’13 was a perfect platform to introduce Athr Gallery’s artists to the London’s art fairs.”
For Athr Gallery, the main goal is to push the flourishing local art scene in the Middle East forward to become in touch with the most prominent international artists and art enthusiasts. In Art’13, Athr Gallery has chosen a solo-exhibition for one of its artists. “Athr Gallery has participated at SOLO fairs in Basel during the Art Basel season in the past two years, and Artissima in Torino last year,” according to Manjal. In Art’13, Athr Gallery presented a solo exhibition of the Palestinian artist Hazem Hareb’s series “Inside-Outside,” “Me and the Other Half,” and the video installation “Impossible Travel,” which consisted of beautiful conceptual photos that expressed his protest against the deterioration of the quality of life in Palestine.
In his description of Athr Gallery’s most influential artists, Majal expressed to Sketchbook, “Hazem Harb is the latest addition to our exclusive artists. The Gaza born, Rome-based artist is a minefield of conceptual art that flourishes from his firm beliefs in humanity. He is a promising artist who studied art in Rome and had several successful exhibitions and artist residencies under his belt in UAE, UK and Italy. Exhibiting his latest solo project exclusively at our stand in Art’13 was our way of introducing his talent to the art world.” His work also loudly spoke about a struggle and the frustrating story of the wall that was built on the Occupied Palestinian territories by the Israelis in 1967. In his explanation of his work, Hareb explained, “The act of climbing in order to see over the wall entails defiance, and the ladder, by its very nature, symbolizes a rising up and a reaching out for the horizon, a horizon that was deliberately obstructed.”
A picture from the Hazem Harb’s series “Me and the Other Half”
Another fascinating and controversial piece of art that was presented by ArtSpace and grabbed the attention of the majority of the visitors was “As You Can’t See It” by the Moroccan artist Zakaria Ramhani.
This popular artwork, which was drawn with Arabic calligraphy and featuring words such as Tahrir and Cairo, is an expression of the struggle that Egyptian women had gone through during the most recent revolution in Tahrir Square in Cairo.
“As You Can’t See It” by Zakaria Ramhani
The exhibition also hosted a talk on “Saudi Arabia and Contemporary Art: Reaching Out” which was organized by Athr Gallery. The discussion revolved around the identity of contemporary Saudi art and its continuation and development from an early evolution, the relationship it tries to build between traditions and the globalizing world, and the importance of Saudi art’s presence internationally.
The Middle Eastern art scene is currently preparing for the largest annual art event in the region, “Art Dubai” which will host over 100 galleries from all around the world at Madinat Jumeirah.
WORDS: ERUM AL HOWAISH
IMAGES: ATHR GALLERY & ERUM AL HOWAISH