Unveiled: new art from the Middle East at Saatchi

Issue no2
April - May 2019
Magisch Realisme

After Charles Saatchi got kicked out of the prestigious former London Town Hall (across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament), it grew awfully quiet around his person for a long time. The only news being the devastating fire in his storehouse and the occasionally announced delays of the opening of a new Saatchi Gallery. In October 2008 Saatchi's toy museum finally reopened at the former headquarters of the Duke of York, located in ultra posh London neighbourhood Belgravia with The Revolution Continues: New Chinese Art.

January 30th saw the opening of the second exhibition in the new space: Unveiled: New Art From The Middle East, in which Saatchi continues the geographical art survey that started with Chinese contemporary art and which will also spawn shows on Indian, German, British and American art in the next few years.

In the basement of the Saatchi Gallery one of the works of The Revolution... remained behind after te show: Sun Yuan and Peng Yu's Old Person Home (2007). It's geriatric robots were apparently deemed to old and fragile to be moved...

In Unveiled… Bagdad born Saatchi turns to the artists from his area of birth: the Middle East, only to show us that his and their integration into British society and/or the Western art World seems largely complete. Unveiled… is first and foremost a show with artists well versed in the language of the international art world, instead of a show on art from the Middle East. Close to two thirds of it participants are in fact expats living and working in New York, Paris, London or Amsterdam.

Those artists who remained in their country of birth are mostly based in Teheran: painters like Rokni and Ramin Haerizedah and Ahmad Morshedloo, and others like Shadi Ghadirian, Shirin Fakhim and Barbad Golshiri.

The question ‘should I stay or should I go’ turns into a clearly visible dividing line in the show, in which those who remained give a more subtle account of the Middle East than those who left.

Most however, whether based in the Middle East or not, seem prone to adopting ‘Western’ methods and sometimes even viewpoints..

…critiquing Islam’s views on homosexuality…

…or Israel’s role in the Middle East, which takes the form of a model of an apartment building in Beirut (formerly the artist’s home) that was evacuated during the last Israeli military action in Lebanon (Spectre, Marwan Rechmaoui)…

…or as a dystopian view of the Palestine settlements on the West Bank some fifty years from now (Qalandia 2067, Wafa Hourani).

There is also a lot of quoting Western art history going on: Ahmed Alsoudani’s inspiration includes Georg Groz and Goya…

..The German Expressonists...

…Diana El-Hadid turns Breughels Tower of Babel upside down…

…Ali Banisadr took a good look at Hieronymus Bosch…

Even some Teheran Based artists seem to look at the West as much as at their own heritage: Shirin Fakhims dolls are a sharp reminder of Sarah Lucas work (Saatchi must have been reminded of his (not so) humble beginnings as a frontline arts collector).

Finally, the show wouldn’t be complete without a reworking of the Stars and Stripes of course.

All in all, In Saatchi’s view the Middle East seems to have a lot of the West in it.

Comments
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1
20 May 2009
jane birkin

Wafa hourani is shit - he is feeding western fantasies but he is not an idiot sauvant - he is just an idiot.. he also plagarizes other peoples ideas and is a woman beater and a thief. this is also his only piece of work.

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 2 — 2019