“Terms and Conditions” apply: Arab art in Singapore – picture feast



Arab contemporary art has its first outing in Southeast Asia as Singapore and the Gulf get friendly.

As Singapore builds economical, political, and cultural ties with the Gulf States, a major museum show of Arab art comes to town. Emirati, Egyptian, Lebanese and Palestinian artists feature in Singapore Art Museum’s group show “Terms and Conditions”, from 28 June to 8 September 2013. 

Raed Yassin, 'China', 2012, Porcelain Vases, Variable dimensions, Abraaj Group Art Prize Collection. Image courtesy of Singapore Art Museum

Raed Yassin, ‘China’, 2012, porcelain vases, variable dimensions. Abraaj Group Art Prize Collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

“Terms and Conditions” heralds increasing closeness

The Singapore Art Museum (SAM) is host to the first exhibition of Arab art in Southeast Asia. Titled “Terms and Conditions“, the show is organised with UAE-based Barjeel Art Foundation and guest curated by Mandy Merzaban, Curator and Collections Manager of the Barjeel Art Foundation. The show comes at a time when commercial and cultural ties are developing between the two regions.

Akram Zaatari, 'Untitled (Nabih Awada’s Letters from Family and Friends)', 2007, Colour photograph, 49 x 40 cm, Barjeel Art Foundation Collection. Image courtesy of Singapore Art Museum

Akram Zaatari, ‘Untitled (Nabih Awada’s Letters from Family and Friends)’, 2007, colour photograph, 49 x 40 cm. Barjeel Art Foundation Collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

What is “Arab art”? And what is an “Arab artist”?

According to SAM’s website, “‘Terms & Conditions’ presents an open-ended debate into how history and social realities are represented, with an emphasis on the Arab world.” The curatorial statement goes on to explain that defining Arab art is difficult, as Arab artists have diverse and multiple identities. Like Merzaban, who is Egyptian and was raised in Canada, many Arab artists work across various cultural and geographical contexts. One example is artist Mona Hatoum, who was born in Beirut, Lebanon, to Palestinian parents and currently lives and works in London and Berlin.

Adel Abidin, 'Three Love Songs' 2010, Three Channel Video installation 8 min 41 sec, Artist Collection. Image courtesy of Singapore Art Museum

Adel Abidin, ‘Three Love Songs’ 2010, three channel video installation, 8 min 41 sec. Artist collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Adel Abdessemed, 'Fatalité' 2011, 7 hand-blown Murano glass microphones, Variable dimensions, Peggy Scott & David Teplitzky Collection. Image courtesy of Singapore Art Museum

Adel Abdessemed, ‘Fatalité’ 2011, 7 hand-blown Murano glass microphones, variable dimensions. Peggy Scott & David Teplitzky Collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

The exhibition includes key works from the Barjeel Art Foundation, the Abraaj Group Art Prize CollectionMathaf: Arab Museum of Modern ArtCité Nationale de l’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Immigration, and private collections.

“Terms and Conditions” artists

Besides Mona Hatoum, other artists in the exhibition include:

Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige, 'The Lebanese Rocket Society – A Carpet', 2012, Handmade rug and documents, 277 x 138 cm, Barjeel Art Foundation Collection. Image courtesy of Singapore Art Museum

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, ‘The Lebanese Rocket Society – A Carpet’, 2012, handmade rug and documents, 277 x 138 cm. Barjeel Art Foundation Collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Mona Hatoum, 'Plotting Table', 1998, Wood, MDF, UV lights and fluorescent paint, 81 x 262.5 x 144 cm, Barjeel Art Foundation Collection. Image courtesy of Singapore Art Museum

Mona Hatoum, ‘Plotting Table’, 1998, wood, MDF, UV lights and fluorescent paint, 81 x 262.5 x 144 cm. Barjeel Art Foundation Collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Strong economic ties

A 13 June 2013 article in online business publication AMEinfo states that in the past five years trade between Singapore and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has strengthened tremendously. In addition, tourism between Singapore and the United Arab Emirates has steadily increased.

Raafat Ishak, 'Nomination for the Presidency of the new Egypt', 2012, Acrylic on MDF, 480 x 150 x 200 cm, Barjeel Art Foundation Collection. Image courtesy of Singapore Art Museum

Raafat Ishak, ‘Nomination for the Presidency of the new Egypt’, 2012, acrylic on MDF, 480 x 150 x 200 cm. Barjeel Art Foundation Collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

In early June, the UAE’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed visited Singapore and met with President Tony Tan Keng Yam to discuss the further development of trade relations between the two countries.

AMEinfo states:

As a result of these solidified ties across various economic and social sectors, the arts and culture scene between the two nations has also flourished. Various government agencies have worked cohesively to develop the art scene and host contemporary works from the Middle East.

Hassan Sharif, 'Cow Belly' 2010, Steel, copper and aluminium, 160 x 385 x 100 cm, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art Collection. Image courtesy of Singapore Art Museum

Hassan Sharif, ‘Cow Belly’, 2010, steel, copper and aluminium, 160 x 385 x 100 cm. Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art Collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Arab art and the Singapore connection

Even though “Terms and Conditions” is the first Arab art exhibition in Singapore, it is not the first Arab-Singapore collaboration. Beirut Art Fair ME.NA.SA.ART will officially launch its new edition in November 2014 as the Singapore Art Fair ME.NA.SA.ART at the Suntec Building in Singapore.

Sharif Waked, 'To Be Continued…', 2009, Single Channel Digital Video, 41 min 33 sec, Edition 5/5. Barjeel Art Foundation Collection. Image courtesy of Singapore Art Museum

Sharif Waked, ‘To Be Continued…’, 2009, single channel digital video, 41 min 33 sec, edition 5/5. Barjeel Art Foundation Collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Cofounder and Artistic Director of Beirut’s ME.NA.SA.ART Pascal Odille describes how fair organisers are creating a new art platform in Singapore in an interview with Lebanon’s The Daily Star. Asked if there is interest in Middle East and North African art in Asia, he is quoted as saying,

Yes. But I don’t think China has a big interest in Middle Eastern art. But Indonesia and Malaysia do, for cultural reasons as well. We live in countries in which religious diversity is important and situations are very similar [in the Middle East and South Asia].

Moataz Nasr, 'Elshaab', 2012, 25 ceramic characters, 27 x 6 x 10 cm each, Barjeel Art Foundation Collection. Image courtesy of Singapore Art Museum

Moataz Nasr, ‘Elshaab’, 2012, 25 ceramic characters, 27 x 6 x 10 cm each. Barjeel Art Foundation Collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Odille goes on to explain why organisers chose Singapore for their MENA fair.

It has always been in the logic of development of our project. Since its beginning, it is called Beirut Art Fair MENASA Art, so we are defending a specific art, which is the one of the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. For a while we thought about Maghreb, but the situation in there wasn’t developed enough. And their art is not abundant [enough] to create a fair. But in Asia, the situation is different. It is a strong market, extremely interesting with new curators and an artistic, dynamic creativity. It is in that same reflection of MENASA that we decided to turn to South Asia. It was following our project.

Huda Lutfi, 'Democracy is Coming', 2008, Acrylic and collage on paper, 37 x 45 cm, Barjeel Art Foundation Collection. Image courtesy of Singapore Art Museum

Huda Lutfi, ‘Democracy is Coming’, 2008, acrylic and collage on paper, 37 x 45 cm. Barjeel Art Foundation Collection. Image courtesy of Singapore Art Museum.

Susan Kendzulak

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Related Topics: Middle Eastern art, promoting art, museum shows, Arab artists

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