February 4, 2023

Durangobagel

Art requires creative

Omani artists take part in Khaleej exhibition tracing the evolution of visual art in GCC

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Prominent Omani artists will present their works at the landmark autumn exhibition by NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, which will have participation from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar.

The exhibition titled Khaleej Modern: Pioneers and Collectives in the Arabian Peninsula, 1941-2008, seeks to document the 20th-century modern art movements in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, collectively known in Arabic as the “Khaleej.”

Curated by art historian Dr Aisha Stoby, artists from Oman such as Anwar Sonya, Rabha Mahmoud and The Circle group, led by Hassan Meer will participate in the show, which will run from September 6 to December 11, 2022.

The first-of-its-kind exhibition is based on Stoby’s PhD research tracing the region’s ‘pre-boom era’ of the twentieth century through 2008 and examining the evolution of visual art movements as the discovery of oil began to transform the region.

Dr Stoby is an art historian and curator who has published and lectured widely on modernism in the Global South, with a particular interest in modern art movements in the Arabian Peninsula.

Stoby aims to highlight the younger generation of Omani artists who are leading the country’s lively contemporary art scene in line with the Sultanate of Oman’s Vision 2040.

She most recently taught global art theory at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. She has curated exhibitions of Omani art both locally and globally. She is the curator of the inaugural Oman Pavilion to the Venice Biennale.

It delves into the shifting understanding of public and private spaces and their relationship to national identity as expressed through art practices.

The line-up of events at the show includes an eclectic mix of live musical, cinematic and dance performances, as well as art exhibitions that defy traditional categorisation.

According to Stoby, many of the works in this exhibition will be on view for the first time in decades, and it is a genuine privilege and honour to have been invited to bring this work to a wider audience.

“Enhanced by the presence of rare and archival material, Khaleej Modern creates a space and offers resources for learning and re-understanding our own histories. More broadly, we hope the exhibition will contribute to wider regional and global understandings of modern visual art”, she said.

This project responds to emerging debates around recent art narratives, towards a more nuanced and inclusive appreciation of global art histories.

“It has been incredible to be a part of this project and to see the artworks of these pioneering artists brought together for the first time”, she added.

For Khaleej Modern, Dr Stoby traces local art histories contextualised by deeply rooted traditions, the ongoing modernisation process and evolving national identities.

Foregrounding the importance of community and early art institutions, the exhibition brings to life the curator’s research on the artistic pioneers and collectives that sprang up in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, beginning with the first exhibition of Kuwait’s Al Mubarakiya School in 1941.

While Oman’s participation takes a considerable step in bringing Omani art to international audiences, Stoby’s curatorial approach focuses on the historical presence of conceptual art in Oman, particularly the work of the local artist collective The Circle.

Saudi Arabia’s modern art community began as early as 1938 with Mohammed Racim (1911-1974) in Jeddah, and some of the artists in the exhibition include Mounirah Mosly, Safeya Binzagr, Abdulhalim al Radwi and Abdullah al Shaikh.

The Saudi House of Fine Arts in Riyadh, meanwhile, included to works by Mohammed al Saleem and Abdulrahman Alsoliman.

By the 1950s, Bahrainʼs Manama Group had formed (Abdulkarim al Orrayed, Nasser al Yousif and Ahmed Qassim al Sunni).

In a recent interview with Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, referring to Oman’s participation in Venice Biennale, she said as a researcher for the region, she has always felt that the Gulf has suffered from marginalisation.

“I felt that the Middle East is often overlooked, and the Gulf is often overlooked within the Middle East. Even more so than that, I was really happy that Oman was given some attention”.

Commenting on the exhibition, Executive Director of The NYUAD Art Gallery and University Chief Curator Maya Allison said, “An exhibition like this is quite rare, a kind of opening salvo and call to action, offering new vistas on art history and art practice in this region”.

Rather than a definitive survey, this project sets us on a journey to explore the under-studied — and, for some people, unknown — the emergence of modern art in the Arabian Peninsula over the last century.

“It is a profound honour that Dr Stoby will present her original research with us, in this exhibition that was many years in the making. I thank her for partnering with us for this crucial, path-breaking project”, he added.

For the first time in the 128-year history of the International Biennale of Arts in Venice, the Sultanate of Oman presented a national pavilion, “Destined Imaginaries.” The debut show featured five artists representing three decades of the country’s modern and contemporary art scene.

Concerning the artists, Stoby said, “these artists who have been so prolific and have long-standing careers and really deserve to have the attention that they have gotten from Venice, including from the international art world”.

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