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Arab art at Frieze London 2016: What is the Mideast putting on show?

Four galleries from the Arab world have made their way to Frieze London 2016, where over 1,000 works of art will go on show and sale

Saffiya Ansari

Published: Updated:

One of the world’s major contemporary art fairs opened its doors in London on Thursday and with more than 160 international galleries taking part, the event is set to boost Middle Eastern art on the world stage.

Four galleries from the Arab world have made their way to Frieze London 2016, where over 1,000 works of art will go on show and sale, but in amongst the dozens of galleries from New York, London and Rio de Janeiro, is the relative lack of Arab representation a cause for concern?

“To be accepted to a fair like Frieze is prefaced with a rigorous application process and impressing a diverse selection committee,” Nadine Khoury of the Dubai-based Green Art Gallery told Al Arabiya English.

The gallery, which is showcasing a series of works by New York-based Palestinian artist Shadi Habib Allah this year, “works all year round to ensure [their] artists are recognized internationally within major institutions, publications, biennials and other fairs” in order to land a coveted booth at Frieze London.

Shadi Habib Allah’s “A Defective Wave Shields Disparate Topographies” at the Green Art Gallery booth. (Saffiya Ansari/ Al Arabiya English)
Shadi Habib Allah’s “A Defective Wave Shields Disparate Topographies” at the Green Art Gallery booth. (Saffiya Ansari/ Al Arabiya English)

“We are now starting to see more Mideast representation at fairs, and this will hopefully increase in the years to come,” she added.

Green Art Gallery’s solo booth will showcase Allah’s work titled “A Defective Wave Shields Disparate Topographies” which is based on the Bedouins of the Sinai Peninsula, an Arab semi-nomadic ethnic group who reside in Egypt’s Sinai.

“Allah’s practice traverses installation, video and sculpture, in order to examine the structural and material circulations of objects, people, histories and the economy,” Khoury explained of the coagulation of wires connecting a phone to an adapter that is Allah’s work.

“The aim of attending such fairs is to raise the profile of the artist by introducing their art practice to curators, collectors, and press outside of their usual region, whilst at the same time trying to sell their art,” referencing why it is important for international audiences to see Allah’s work.

For its part, Cairo’s Gypsum Gallery is exhibiting work by Egyptian artist Mahmoud Khaled who is putting on an unconventional piece of performance art.

“Khaled’s performative intervention starts from the question: what is the ‘new art’ of today? He uses an iconic piece produced in 1991 by Felix Gonzalez-Torres called Untitled (Go-go Dancing Platform), where for five minutes each day, an unscheduled and unannounced dancer clad in silver lamé shorts, ascends a lighted platform to dance to music of his own choosing, played through earphones so only the dancer could hear,” gallery owner Aleya Hamza told Al Arabiya English.

“In Khaled’s iteration, the dancer looks the same but he is not dancing. As he moves around the platform, he is struggling to think about his own existence as an art object demanding a new form of art.”

Artist Sophia al Maria’s “Sisters I” at the The Third Line gallery booth. (Saffiya Ansari/ Al Arabiya English)
Artist Sophia al Maria’s “Sisters I” at the The Third Line gallery booth. (Saffiya Ansari/ Al Arabiya English)

Crossing the Red Sea back to the UAE, Dubai-based The Third Line art gallery is putting on a multi-artist, all women, show.

Of note is Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian who, at 92-years-old, is still going strong and producing stunning works of art.

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian’s work is on show at the The Third Line gallery booth. (Saffiya Ansari/ Al Arabiya English)
Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian’s work is on show at the The Third Line gallery booth. (Saffiya Ansari/ Al Arabiya English)

Travel northwards and you will reach Beirut, capital of Lebanon and home to the Sfeir-Semler gallery which has put on an impressive array of artists at the fair.

Perhaps the most notable is their charming showcase of Lebanese-American artist Etel Adnan’s work. The large canvases drew onlookers with their squares and bubbles of chalky shades which stem from the artist’s fascination with the beauty and attraction of color.

An untitled piece by Etel Adnan at the Sfeir-Semler gallery gallery booth. (Saffiya Ansari/ Al Arabiya English)
An untitled piece by Etel Adnan at the Sfeir-Semler gallery gallery booth. (Saffiya Ansari/ Al Arabiya English)

Although a mere four galleries from the Middle East may be nothing to write home about, the participation of regional galleries at Frieze London is growing and commendable.

“Frieze London is a very dynamic fair with a very diverse representation of artists from across the world… it is perhaps this dynamism that really makes it a wonderful fair to attend and be a part of, especially when showing art from the Middle East,” The Third Line’s Saira Ansari told Al Arabiya English.

Frieze London, which was established in 2003, takes place each October in Regent’s Park, London.