Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 October 2018

A rare chance to see Arab prints 

This is an exhibition that aims to appropriately contextualise the selected artists as both cultural producers and recorders of the contemporary problems in life.

Untitled (1994) by Ahmed Morsi. Courtesy Meem Gallery
Untitled (1994) by Ahmed Morsi. Courtesy Meem Gallery

The process of printmaking in visual art has been experimented with in dimensions, colour and material since the early 20th century. Painters and sculptors hoping to diversify their techniques into printmaking did so while continuing to address movement, repetition and sequential order in our lives.

Robert Rauschenberg’s mixed-media prints and Andy Warhol’s lithographs are part of this. However, artists from the Arab world, within and outside the West, have also taken part in this conversation.

Crowned Head (1999) by Ahmed Morsi. Courtesy Meem Gallery
Crowned Head (1999) by Ahmed Morsi. Courtesy Meem Gallery

In its third iteration of Arab Prints (the previous exhibitions were staged in 2016 and 2008), Meem Gallery offers a selection of rare earlier works by post-war artists who were dedicated to experimenting with their arts and fostering them in their art communities.

These artists address part of a larger metaphysical idea of the human condition - one of existence, intimacy, chance and order in the post-war period in the Arab world.

“Printmaking is often an overlooked medium, whether or not the overlooking takes place in the West or the East," says Meagan Horsman, business development director of Meem. "For us, these works are important as they highlight pioneer artists' work, often artists who are better known for their painting or sculpture. By exhibiting under-researched and overlooked areas within Arab artists' oeuvre, we are also hoping through the creation of a publication that we can assist with raising the profile of Arab Printmaking."

Complete with a selection of artworks and accompanying old exhibition catalogues since the 1960s, this show aims to contextualise these artists as cultural producers and recorders of the contemporary problems in life, during the both violent and peaceful post-war years in Sudan, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq.

The artists include Assadour, Munira Al Kazi, Ahmed Morsi, Ibrahim Salahi, Hashem Samarchi and the late Ismail Fattah.

“For me, the works of Munira Al Qazi are really quite an important addition to the exhibition. There aren't as many female modernist artists in the Arab world as male, and certainly printmakers within that group are fewer and farther between. I love how her use of monochrome works so well with such dynamic, vibrant subject matter and composition,” Horsman says.

Untitled artwork by Assadour. Courtesy Meem Gallery
Untitled artwork by Assadour. Courtesy Meem Gallery

Islamic, African, Arab and western symbols pervade the prints and are used as a map to understand how the human condition is explored by the artist. Coupled with the efficiency and rapidity of printmaking, the works displayed narrate the everyday problems of humankind. Symbols, colours and rigid lines delineate the sorrow and the horrors of mankind, alienation, the imaginations of the mind, and the bodily form.

On entering the gallery, the works of Morsi are a testament to his contemplative gaze and perspective on human relations, regardless of time, class or culture. Crowned Head, (1999) appears as an abstracted head without a brain with a single dilated eye pupil pulsating into the viewer’s eyes. His Untitled, (1994) smaller prints showcase colourless figures and horses without pupils.

If you were uneasy with Morsi’s nightmarish figures, Ibrahim Salahi’s triptych, The Resurrection, (2009) mural has hundreds of squinting eyes in every crevice of the work amidst an entire suffering community, naked and chained, left either to sit to ponder their condition or to hold up their arms in desperation. Seen within a larger narrative of the human journey, artist Assadour’s beautifully decorated works embody the movement of a person navigating time and space, depicting the process of up-rooting and reconstructing spaces.

Testament to techniques and imagery used, the artists were trained inside and outside of their home countries by some of the most highly-respected teachers and fine art schools in the world. Each developed their niche in in printmaking - etching, lithographs, dry point, and mezzotint - while establishing their painting practice.

Egyptian artist Morsi studied English literature in the University of Alexandria’s faculty of fine arts, mixing with the arts and literary circles of Alexandria, Cairo, Baghdad and later in New York, where he now lives.

Untitled by Munira Al Kazi. Courtesy Meem Gallery
Untitled by Munira Al Kazi. Courtesy Meem Gallery

Lebanese artist Assadour studied under the renowned Lebanese Armenian painter Paul Guiragossian, moved to study art in Italy in the 1960s and then at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris under engraver Lucien Coutaud.

Born in India with Saudi-Kuwaiti origins, Munira Al Kazi studied at London’s Central School of Art and Design in 1961 and was part of the inaugural exhibition of the Sultan Gallery in Kuwait in 1969. She later moved to Ibiza where she continued with printmaking.

Although most of these artists are painters and sculptors, their prints continue to evince the tangible feel of human character. Many appear in similar iterations, however, the artist's main concern is to trace the relation in space between abstracted subjects and experiment with form and process while doing this.

This exhibition is the third volume of a proposed five-part series. As volumes I-III focused on modernist artists, editions IV and V, will look at contemporary artists using print as a medium in the Arab world.

Arab Print II runs until September 20 at Meem Gallery in Dubai. Go to www.meemartgallery.com for more details.