Why are regional art shows so tricky to curate? The Japan Times

REGIONAL ART SHOWS JAPAN ARAB CONTEMPORARY ART

As highlighted in an article published in The Japan Times in December 2011, the decision of Japanese curators Kenichi Kondo and Fumio Nanjo to bring contemporary Arab art to Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum also brought with it a number of curatorial challenges, among them, how to define the “Arab world”.

Tarek Al-Ghoussein, ‘Untitled 23’ (D Series), 2008, digital print. The works of this Palestinian artist are expected to be on display in "Contemporary Art from the Arab World" at Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum from 16 June through to 28 October 2012.

Tarek Al-Ghoussein, 'Untitled 23' (D Series), 2008, digital print. The works of this Palestinian artist are expected to be on display in "Contemporary Art from the Arab World", at Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum from 16 June through to 28 October 2012.

West Asian art comes to Japan

New art from the West Asian region is attracting the attention of those in art world power cities like London and New York, and those in know in Tokyo want to see art from the region in local museums, too. As a result, the first exhibition of its kind ever to be arranged in Japan, called “Contemporary Art from the Arab World“, is scheduled to be held at Mori Art Museum in Tokyo from 16 June through to 28 October 2012.

According to The Japan Times feature, the decision to hold an exhibition of contemporary Arab art was problematic for Kondo and Nanjo, Associate Curator and Director of the Mori Art Museum, respectively.

Curating an exhibition or [set of works] from a particular region is never easy, but the Mori’s attempt to create a show of Arab art – a project that began in summer last year, long before the emergence of the Arab Spring – presented a unique set of challenges.

Click here to read the whole article, titled “Restless Arab region presents curatorial challenge”, on The Japan Times website.

Defining the Arab region

In this increasingly globalised world, is it still necessary to put on art shows that focus on a particular region? Members of the Japanese public, explain the curators, are broadly aware of Middle Eastern region, but know little of its art scene, and Kondo believes that a regional approach is necessary in order to introduce the West Asian artists effectively to Japanese audiences and stir public interest in the exhibition. “In order to grab [the public’s] interest, you need to start with what they know,” he states.

Reem Al Ghaith, 'Dubai: What's Left of Her Land?', 2008, mixed media installation. This artist’s works are expected to be shown in "Contemporary Art from the Arab World", at Mori Art Museum in Tokyo from 16 June through to 28 October 2012.

Reem Al Ghaith, 'Dubai: What's Left of Her Land?', 2008, mixed media installation. This artist’s works are expected to be shown in "Contemporary Art from the Arab World", at Mori Art Museum in Tokyo from 16 June through to 28 October 2012.

The exhibition will present, as quoted on the Museum’s website, works by approximately thirty artists “from ten or more countries in the Arab world, those on and around the Arabian Peninsula including Iraq, the Gulf countries, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan [and] Egypt.” In order to choose the artists for this five-month-long exhibition survey, several research trips to countries in the West Asian region were initiated. Catalogues of important cultural events in Middle Eastern and European countries, such as the Sharjah Biennial, the Istanbul Biennial and the Venice Biennale, were studied by the curators as part of their search.

Need for local experts

A show like “Contemporary Art from the Arab World” requires of its curators an extensive knowledge of the current art climate in the region in focus, and not just its artists, but its art scholars and other professionals, too. “Of course, I studied the history and politics of the region, but it is equally important to use existing networks of specialists there,” Kondo explains. Connections with West Asian art experts, such as Sheikha Hoor Al-Qasimi, the president of the Sharjah Biennial, proved particularly valuable during visits to countries like Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia where security can be an issue, either with regard to obtaining visas or navigating violent conflict.

As stated in the curatorial notes for the exhibition,

This exhibition will not subscribe to the commonly held, negative stereotype of the Arab world as a realm of terrorism, conflicts, religious fundamentalism and so on. Instead, through the diverse creative expression of the region’ s own artists, it will depict the people of the Arab world as they are, in real time.

LP/KN

Related Topics: museum shows, Tokyo art events, curatorial practice

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