The United Kingdom has become home to an extraordinarily diverse range of cultures and artistic activities, hardly missing a beat even during the relaxing summer months.


INSTALLATION BY RAMIN AND ROKNI HAERIZADEH AND HESAM RAHMANIAN AT OPEN EYE GALLERY. © JOEL FILDES.

This year’s Liverpool Biennial has received warm reviews and among the offerings are the works of a few Arab and Iranian artists.  The most striking is the installation by Dubai-based Iranian brothers Ramin and Rokni Haerizadeh, and their friend and colleague Hesam Rahmanian. This creative trio have lived together and collaborated on works in their villa since 2009, where their practice is constantly growing and evolving to incorporate friends, writers, artists and musicians. These projects invariably include performance, installation, painting and sculpture, devised on site along the flow of the trio’s creativity. At the Liverpool Biennial, Ramin, Rokni and Hessam have shown objects, props, films, and works from their collection, all of which have been ‘smuggled’ by sea in a shipping container from Dubai.  Presented within the Chinatown episode in Cains Brewery (with a peppering in other locations including the Open Eye Gallery), their work is an unmissable part of this year’s Biennial.


LAWRENCE ABU HAMDAN, RUBBER COATED STEEL (FILM STILL), 2016. COURTESY THE ARTIST.

Another artist to look out for at the Biennial is Beirut-based Arab artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan at The Oratory. His work frequently deals with the relationship between listening and politics, borders, human rights, testimony and truth through the production of documentaries, essays, audio-visual installations, video works, graphic design, and a variety of other media. He also experiments with sonic analyses for legal investigations and advocacy.  Salma Tuqan, Curator of Contemporary Arab Art and Design at the Victoria and Albert Museum who was at the Biennial opening, felt that “Abu Hamdan’s disturbing and powerful work Rubber Coated Steel, is a continuation of his ongoing research into audio forensics, and the politics and power of sound. It centres around Hamdan’s own investigation into the deaths of Palestinian teenagers Nadeem Nawara and Mohamed Abu Daher at the hands of Israeli soldiers. By dissecting and analysing the gunshots in the audio files which killed both boys, Hamdan presents proof that the teenagers were indeed shot with real bullets rather than rubber ones, as claimed by the Israeli army.”  To address these significant and disturbing issues through the prism of artistic expression is a powerful means of bringing to public attention what must not be overlooked.


RICHARD HÖGLUND, SEA PICTURE LVIII (PRIMARY COLOURS. YELLOW), 2016, SILVER, TIN, LEAD AND OIL ON LINEN PREPARED WITH BONE PULVER AND MARBLE DUST, 226 X 183 CM. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND RONCHINI GALLERY.

Meanwhile, London boasts two shows for the Middle Eastern art lover.  Iranian-born globe-trotting curator and spotter of hot new artists, Kamiar Maleki has brought together an aptly-named solo show Primary Colours by the popular, award-winning Richard Höglund at the Ronchini Gallery. Höglund’s unique practice explores the fundamental practices of drawing and painting to create distinctive works that investigate the significance of these traditional media. Here he is inspired by modernist approaches to representing the human spirit and by the colours used in Turner’s seascapes.  Showing until Sept 10, the artist reminds us of the universality of abstraction, and how it speaks to the widest range of sensibilities, across cultures.


PARASTOU FOROUHAR, WRITTEN ROOM. COURTESY OF PI ARTWORKS.

Pi Artworks on Eastcastle St have commissioned Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar to create a new version of Written Room [1999–ongoing] at their gallery. This fascinating show encapsulates the artist’s use of 'calligraphic scribbling' as a most visually effective, site-specific project.  During the three days prior to the exhibition’s opening, Forouhar painted the white walls and floors with sprawling Persian script. The beauty and flow of lettering creates a pattern that harks back to certain traditions, yet refers to the modern syntax of today’s visual canon. The onlookers’ only regret is the ephemerality of the installation, and how fleeting our enjoyment of it would be. As one can say of the British summer!

The full-length version of this article will appear in the September/October issue of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia