It’s billed as the largest online art exhibition in the world. Last month, Saatchi Online – the Saatchi Gallery’s internet space which helps artists without gallery representation find audiences for their work – launched its 100 Curators 100 Days project.
The premise is simple: each day for 100 consecutive days, one curator selects 10 artists from the huge archive of work available at Saatchi Online.
The geographical spread has been impressive: so far curators from museums and galleries in Nigeria, Finland, United States, Germany, England and Australia have had their chance to highlight some of their favourite work. And today the focus shifts to the Emirates, as the choices of Sara Raza, associate curator at the Maraya Arts Centre in Sharjah, go live.
“It was so tricky just to choose 10!” laughs Raza. “But it’s been a great honour to be asked to participate.”
And a great responsibility, too. Too often, the global arts scene is dominated by the same artists – Raza puts it down to laziness on the part of most curators – but 100 Curators 100 Days is a real chance to look at new talent. And, in the vast majority of the work she has chosen, talent with a connection to the Middle East. Narrowing her choices down to ten was tough, but reflective of the sheer quality she sees emerging from the region every day.
“Standards have really improved,” Raza notes. “The scene in the Middle East has evolved massively thanks to the work that goes into the likes of Art Dubai and Sharjah Biennale but there are more and more fantastic galleries pushing the envelope. To me, the Emirates is becoming a meeting point for the international art world.”
One of the less talked-about byproducts of such a burgeoning arts scene, she says, is that it’s also afforded Iranian artists a platform to show their work which, perhaps, they wouldn’t have in their home country. It’s one of the reasons why Raza, half-Iranian herself, has chosen a number of Iranian artists in her selection for 100 Curators 100 Days.
“And a lot of it is photography,” she adds. “But there’s a reason for that, I think. The practice of journalistic photography is banned in Iran. But artists can, ironically, get away with the same kind of critiques on society by hiding behind the subtleties and poetry of art. I find it fascinating that art can do that.”
All of which gives many of Raza’s selections a unique narrative. She explains six of her favourites to The National below.
Mohsen Haj Manoucher
Mohsen was born in Tehran, but is actually based in California. He looked at archive photographs of women from the Qajar dynasty in Iran, replacing the central motif in each one with images of freedom. So that’s why you have the butterfly in this shot, representing growth. It’s a striking and very commercial image, but also quite seductive and thoughtful - there’s an idea of empowerment here which I really liked.
He’s my favourite – if I could have just chosen 10 images from Ali, I would have done! I love his work – it reminds me a lot of Mitra Tabrizian, who is a British-Iranian photographer and director who has exhibited at The Tate in London. His images are almost soap opera-esque; they say a lot about contemporary Iranian society and its class system. And this shot is like a tableau, a freeze-frame of something you feel you might be intruding upon. At the same time, it’s clearly staged and has a melodramatic, performative element to it. All this in one image – I love it.
I’m really interested in how Lior looks at the pressures of daily life and the human condition There is something quite naive and straightforward in the work, but if you look closely there’s also a real painterly composition too. The colour palette is beautiful with the greens, and he’s done some other really good landscape work too - he’s definitely worth checking out.
He looks at daily life in a similar way to Ali Raymar, I think. His work often explores the problems of daily life in Israel and Palestine, the idea of people who are neighbours but alien to one another, too. This image also contrasts the modern and traditional, societal issues ... there’s a photojournalistic quality to Nlimrod’s work which really stands out.
Ali is actually based in Helsinki, and what I find really interesting about his work is that he’s looking at architecture from inside rather than outside. I like the fact he’s actually taking a picture of something quite mundane from behind this window but because of the lighting and the grid structure it takes on a magical element.
Anyone who knows modern Iranian history will be able to read this image immediately. It’s looking at position of women in the modernist era of Iran, when the Pahlavi dynasty were trying to build a secular country. Women played a very active role in that, and this work explores that time; see the woman in westernised clothing, holding a gun? This kind of historical reading of Iran doesn’t really get seen anymore.
* Sara Raza’s selection will appear live online starting tomorrow, August 6. Visit www.saatchionline.com/100curators