Armory Focus 2015 brings together art from the Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean.
The Armory Show, the leading contemporary and modern art fair in New York, has a curated section dedicated to art from a specific region each year. The 2015 Focus section features established and emerging artists from the Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean.
Armory Focus is a curated section of The Armory Show (5 to 8 March 2015), held at Pier 94 in New York. While in 2014, Focus was dedicated to China, the sixth edition will display art from MENAM (Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean) countries.
Focus: MENAM includes a selection of fifteen gallery presentations from across the globe, as well as not-for-profit institutions, site-specific projects and a dedicated symposium. Armory Focus 2015 is curated by Omar Kholeif, curator at the Whitechapel Gallery, London.
The 2015 Lead Partners are Art Jameel and Edge of Arabia, who will present the “CULTURUNNERS” project and hosting artistic collaborations and conversations to connect cultural territories between the United States and MENAM regions.
A core component of Edge of Arabia’s US tour – in partnership with Art Jameel and affiliated with MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology – CULTURUNNERS is “an artistic expedition in search of empathy across borders”. It is situated in a mobile artist studio in the form of a modified RV, using custom-built artistic technologies to map, archive and broadcast stories and voices from the Focus section of the fair and related communities across New York.
Art Radar brings you some highlights from five of this year’s Focus galleries.
Writer and critic Ari Akkermans told Art Radar that at the core of the gallery’s presentation is
the preoccupation, at the center of contemporary practices in Lebanon, with division (political and emotional, doubling of the self, geographical fissures) and the architecture of places that either have gone missing or have been destroyed.
The works on show respond to ideas of re-building and remembering conflict “in an age of re-construction against the background of globalisation and immigration.”
The pieces by Saloua Raouda Choucair (b. 1916), one of the early pioneers of Abstraction in the Arab world, represent a very specific period towards the end of the Lebanese Civil War, when Choucair experienced Beirut as divided between East and West, along the war’s green line. This division is then formally translated to the pieces as a metaphor for chaos.
The large work by self-taught artist Tanbak (b. 1954) is part of her 2014 monochrome exhibition “In Transit”, where she attempted, through materials found in Beirut, to map out from visual and emotional memory the Armenian refugee camps in north-east Beirut in the 1960s.
A Palestinian born in Kuwait and living between Amman and Beirut, Saba Innab (b. 1980) is drawn to displacement as her central theme. Innab questions the nature of space and dwelling in contemporary body politics, finding that de-territorialisation and displacement have become part of the architecture and logic of modernity itself.
Multimedia Albanian artist Adrian Paci (b. 1969) will present, among other works, a triptych entitled I suonatory del bosco, based on frames from Sergei Parajanov’s 1965 film Shadows of forgotten Ancestors. Paci selects images from videos or films not to describe their context, but rather to conceal it, creating a zone of ambiguity and giving an independent life to images.
Syrian photographer Hrair Sarkissian (b. 1974), winner of the Abraaj Group Art Prize 2013, will bring his “Execution Squares” series (2008), depicting urban life around squares that are also used for public executions in three Syrian cities – Aleppo, Lattakia and Damascus. Kalfayan Galleries explains the work:
The images conceal the fragile irony that exists between the beauty and constancy of the physical environment and the political and social realities that they obscure.
Greek artist Panos Tsagaris’ (b. 1979) works are based on a series of New York Times newspaper covers that the artist has been collecting since 2010, which feature the economic crisis and ensuing social repercussions in Greece.
Juxtaposing the transformations in Greece in the past few years with the work of an alchemist, Tsagaris worked with newspaper, lead and gold to visualise the alchemical transformation from undeveloped consciousness (lead) into fully developed consciousness (gold).
Lebanese Raed Yassin’s (b. 1979) Ruins in Space is a mixed-media installation which presents a fictional narrative based on real life material. The work centers around the imagined encounter of two legendary singers, Oum Kulthoum and Lee Nan‐Young, and at its core lies Oum Kulthoum’s popular song “Al-Atlal” (The Ruins). The project is about rewriting musical history and challenging the fragile balance between fiction and historical truth through music’s power to transcend cultural and temporal barriers.
Canto III is a solo project by New York based Iraqi-American artist Wafaa Bilal, directly inspired by a tribute – which never took place – that the members of the Ba’ath party in Iraq planned in honour of Saddam Hussein at the height of his power: to propel a golden statue in his likeness into space to orbit Earth for all eternity.
The work highlights the extremes that the personality cult of Hussain reached before his downfall. Bilal says that “this project is intended as an inquiry into homelands and frontiers.”
Egyptian artist Susan Hefuna’s (b. 1962) work is part of a new series shown at her recent solo exhibition in London, “Cairotraces” (2014). The palmwood and bronze structures, as well as the drawings, are all influenced by the streets of the Egyptian capital – a reoccurring element within her oeuvre.
Paris-based Algerian Fayçal Baghriche (b. 1972) grew up between Arab and Western culture, and the blurring of distinct cultural lenses lies at the core of his practice. Souvenir is a terrestrial globe that turns so fast it makes it impossible to distinguish continents or the demarcations that separate them from the oceans.
Lamia Joreige’s (b. 1972) video on show, Beirut, Autopsy of a City, Chapter 2, is part of her project that, in her own words, “proposes possible reconciliations between the task of the archaeologist and that of the poet, between modern images and ancient texts.”
The multi-layered image of a wide view of the harbour is an amalgam of different photographs taken at various times, each referring to a specific moment of history. This fictive representation of Beirut embodies simultaneously different periods of history – it is neither a past nor a present image, yet one reflecting a time that is non-linear.
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
Related Topics: Art fairs, Egyptian artists, Iraqi artists, Lebanese artists, Palestinian artists, Syrian artists, European artists, Emerging artists, Curators, Abstract Art, Installation, Video, Memory, Migration, War, Middle East, New York
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