Dubai’s Ayyam Gallery holds Abdulnasser Gharem’s first solo show in the Gulf region since 2010.
Ayyam Gallery in Dubai is holding Saudi Arabian artist Abdulnasser Gharem’s solo exhibition from 17 March to 30 April 2014. Entitled “Al Shawa”, the show explores symbols, images and events in the recent history of the Islamic world and proposes a new awakening for the contemporary Middle East.
The intolerance of “Al Shawa”
The exhibition title “Al Shawa” (The Awakening) refers to the Al Shawa movement of the 1970s and early 1980s, which dominated public and university life in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and across the Middle East. The movement focused on a restrictive version of Islam as dictated by the “Shawiin” and challenged anyone who stood against its beliefs, including Shi’aas and Sufis.
Abdulnasser Gharem (b. 1973) was only a child when Al Shawa started to gain ground in schools. He recalls how everything started to change, from the shorter uniforms to the best grades given to the students that participated in the Al Shawa association.
In his artist statement, Gharem recounts how Al Shawa “began to shape the identity and growth of the students,” and the artist “eventually felt that they were trying to change my spiritual genes and I became an unintended victim.”
The artist goes on to mention how movements like Al Shawa attracted anyone who felt marginalised by society or came from places that were suffering from social brittleness and found in those movements a way to improve their lives.
A call for a new awakening
Through this exhibition, Gharem explores those times and proposes a new kind of awakening for the contemporary Middle East. This awakening must be facilitated through creativity, dialogue, exchange of knowledge, discourse on art and education, and an attitude of tolerance.
In the artist’s own words,
I attempted in this exhibition to magnify all that (…), hoping to launch a request for the restoration of the real Islam, which believes in pluralism and diversity, and together is committed against extremism.
The works in the exhibition include new large-scale stamp paintings and silkscreens from the series Stamps and Men at Work, which are a combination of images of conflict with images of public works and maintenance, encouraging audiences to think about the interfaith conflicts that increasingly plague the Middle East.
A seminal work in the show is Hemisphere (2014), one of the two largest stamp paintings created by the artist – along with Camouflage (2014). Hemisphere represents an ancient warrior’s helmet juxtaposed with the green dome of a mosque.
The colour green refers to the grandeur of the Muslim world and the peace that the Islamic faith stands for. The reference to conflict – the helmet – points to the recent elements that are averse to a peaceful Islamic environment.
Pause (2014) relates to the events of 9/11. In an interview with NPR, the artist explains that the title refers to the moment of shock felt globally after the attacks, when “the whole world was like someone pushed that button: pause.” He also mentions that most of the 19 men aboard the plane were Saudi Arabian and some went to school with him, but inexplicably chose the path of religious extremism.
Moujaz (The Stamp) (2012) is a stamp that brings forth references to the complexities of the bureaucratic processes in an Islamic state.
About the artist
Gharem’s conceptual work challenges the perception of art in his native Saudi Arabia. Working in a variety of media, including photography, video, performance and sculpture, the artist examines the nature of life in the modern day and often constructs a social critique. Gharem co-founded Edge of Arabia, a nonprofit platform for art education and international exposure for Saudi Arabian artists. The artist also founded the artist-run nonprofit initiative Amen Art Foundation for emerging Saudi artists.
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
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