Contemporary Arab, Iranian & Turkish Art

Arab Art in London this Spring

By Roxane Zand

T wo very different but equally eye-opening shows of art from the Middle East and North Africa will delight London gallery-goers this spring. The first to open, at the P21 Gallery on March 30, was Retracing a Disappearing Landscape, an interdisciplinary show bringing visual artworks, installations, films and photography, as well as a parallel programme of events, involving 25 artists from Libya.


Founder of Noon Arts Projects and curator of the show, Najlaa El-Ageli has attempted to explore people’s direct experience of and fascination with memory and personal history relating to Libya as a culture and nation. Archetypal memories as seen through the traditional Libyan family album showing images from personal archives dating back to the early 1900s, alongside specially-commissioned installations that speak of the country’s history as well as current narratives, create a powerfully expressive composite.

Tripoli is a recurring monumental backdrop in these works, in the ever-changing landscape of the city’s story; one charming series of ceramic plaques by three artists refer to the unusual fate of the Ghazala Fountain that stood as an iconic landmark in downtown Tripoli since 1933 when it was first erected by an Italian sculptor. In 2014, this familiar sculpture of a bare lady hugging a gazelle was vandalized and has since disappeared. The statue and its fate reflect both Libya’s colonial past, a changing social fabric, and the motives behind its vanishing.


Another eye-opening series of works by Elham Ferjani speak of a dreamy realm that echoes the ancient past, inspired by the scenes and images found in the cave paintings Libya and its rock art.  A personal favourite was the work of Mohammed Abumeis who highlights the shifting meanings of ‘home’ by exploring the effects of the rupture of exile, and the dynamics of identity in art. This small show exposes a burgeoning creativity to be watched closely!

On April 13 and across the summer, London’s leading centre for cultures of the Arab world – the Mosaic Rooms – will celebrate its tenth anniversary through an ambitious programme of exhibitions and events. Opening its doors to artists, writers and thinkers from the Arab world and Iran and showcasing artworks unseen in the UK, the anniversary-year events will offer audiences an exceptional insight into overlooked aspects of the region’s rich art and culture.


For those who have never visited, the Mosaic Rooms should be on the list of places to go in London. This venue has become an internationally renowned multidisciplinary space, dedicated to art and culture of the Middle East. Its mission has been to offer alternative, nuanced perceptions of the region as a contrast to the prevalent narratives of political violence and religious ideology.

The first of the anniversary programmes will be a show entitled Arabecedaire, an exhibition of the works of Egyptian modernist painter Hamed Abdalla (1917-1985) curated by Morad Montazami, Adjunct Research Curator at the Tate Modern. As an important and influential modern painter, Abdalla’s personal archives and library that trace his real and imagined journeys across Egypt and Europe will be the focus. These are often the best means of understanding an artist’s journey and process, and offer an intimate glimpse into the workings of his creative imagination. 


Other, equally stimulating shows will follow – 6 July will see an exhibition co-curated by Mariam Elnozahy and Fiona Fox of Townhouse Cairo, featuring the work of contemporary artists such as Mona Hatoum, Susan Hefuna and Basim Magdy, right on the heels of another, from 28 September, curated by Morad Montazami – this time in a series of unseen works by Bahman Mohasses, Iran’s most famous and provocative modernist painter.

The list of upcoming events will have something on offer for everyone with an interest in the Middle East. Given that the biennale Shubbak Festival of Arab Art and Culture (whose founding, major supporter was also Mosaic Rooms’ Qattan Foundation) will not be on this summer, the Mosaic Rooms’ packed schedule of events will be a welcome substitute, and a feast of art and culture to satisfy even the most demanding of audiences. Stop by at the book shop there – always good publications to tempt the reader amongst you.

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