Contemporary Art in the Middle East – a first book survey


Provocative works by 45 artists have been assembled into a stunning survey of the contemporary art of 17 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Art Radar delves into Contemporary Art in the Middle East.

Contemporary Art in the Middle East book

Artworld: Contemporary Art in the Middle East, book

As noted in the foreword to Artworld: Contemporary Art in the Middle East “geographical proximity does not necessarily translate into cultural homogeneity” but the editors nevertheless challenged themselves to – and succeeded in – presenting works coherently.  To give some sense of the scale of the challenge, we noted styles as diverse as the conceptual art of Mona Hatoum, pop photography by Shirin Aliabadi, portraiture by Shirin Neshat and minimalist calligraphy of Golnaz Fathi.

Shirin Aliabadi Miss Hybrid III 2006

Shirin Aliabadi, Miss Hybrid III, 2006, Lambda Print, 149x118cms

Not meant to be definitive, this survey instead suggests subtle themes and distinctions and is intended as a basis for further discussion.

Almost half of the artists in the book are women and there is a mix of works by artists who practise locally and diaspora artists such as Mona Hatoum and Shirin Neshat who are based in New York and London respectively.

Shirin Neshat Identified 1995

Shirin Neshat, Identified, 1995, black and white RC print and ink 36x28cms

Visually works in the books are also carefully grouped. Monochromatic and minimalist styles are laid next to one another, layered and calligraphic works are grouped as are colourful works and those with echoing shapes.

Just flipping through the book, it is striking how many of the works use simple shapes and many figurative or conceptual works look like abstract images.

Barbad Golshiri Where Spirit and Semen Met 2008

Barbad Golshiri ,Where Spirit and Semen Met , 2008, 230x74cms

Groups of works about mobility, mapping and partition merge with groups concerned with war and destruction, which flow into others that study exile and memory then displacement in the urban environment.

For example, Hrair Sarkissian’s photography depicts architectural structures often abandoned and uncannily empty.

Hrair Sarkissian Untitled Unfinished Series 2007

Hrair Sarkissian, Untitled, Unfinished Series , 2007, C-print, 100x150cms

Essays and extras in Artworld

Along with a series of essays and a useful bibliography, the book contains interviews with:

  • editor of Bidoun magazine Negar Azimi;
  • curator Rose Issa;
  • curator Andrew Rento;
  • Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts Director Wijdan Ali;
  • Abraaj Capital Art Prize Chair Savita Apte;
  • Art Dubai director John Martin; and
  • editors of NAFAS art magazine Gerhard Haupt and Pat Binder.

How to buy Artworld: Contemporary Art in the Middle East

This book is available on Amazon. Click here to buy Contemporary Art in the Middle East in the Art Radar Amazon  Store. (Disclaimer: We receive a small commission if you use this link.)


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