Imperfect Chronology: Mapping the Contemporary II at Whitechapel Gallery
The story of Arab art isn’t one we’re intimately familiar with in the West. In an attempt to address this, the Whitechapel Gallery has hosted four separate displays since 2015, with this being the final exhibition in the series.
All four – each exploring a different concept – have presented works from the Barjeel Art Foundation, one of the most extensive art collections from the Arab world.
While small in size, Imperfect Chronology: Mapping the Contemporary II is big on ideas. This exhibition explores how artists engage with the Arab cities in which they live or work, and it’s clear that the rapidly changing nature of these places – and their political volatility – demands an emotional and intellectual response. Their response is eclectic, both in terms of the themes that are given weight and their artistic interpretation, with the display ranging from ceramics and painting to video art.
One of the most striking pieces is by Saudi Arabian artist Manal al-Dowayan. At first glance, her two delicate porcelain doves appear to be simply a decorative ornament,but closer inspection reveals a more fascinating reading. The doves – traditionally symbols of freedom – are inscribed with the words of permission documents that all Saudi women require to travel, and that must be issued by their appointed male guardian. It’s a beautifully rendered comment on the role of women in contemporary Saudi society.
Other works focus on the shifting nature of the urban landscape, with Lebanese-born Etal Adnan’s large hand-woven tapestry depicting her country’s petrol fields in vibrant hues, bringing an injection of intense colour and joy. A mixed media installation by Marwa Arsanios, All About Acapulco, explores the changing fortunes of Beirut’s answer to Acapulco Beach. Suspended from the ceiling is a model of a modernist, doughnut-shaped beach house – a remarkable symbol of the area in its heyday. Its decline, from hip beach resort to a haven for refugees from the south and from Palestine, is registered by a collection of accompanying photographs.
The Barjeel Art Foundation’s guiding principle is to build a prominent art collection that is accessible to all. This exhibition – along with the rest of the series – will hopefully take this vision’s reach just that little bit further.
Photos: Erol Birsen
Imperfect Chronology: Mapping the Contemporary II is on at the Whitechapel Gallery from 23rd August until 8th January 2017, for further information visit here.