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Taking Shape: New Perspectives on Arab Abstraction, A Zoom Webinar Series

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ArteEast, is pleased to co-sponsor
Taking Shape: New Perspectives on Arab Abstraction
A Zoom Webinar Series
Co-organized by
NYU’s Grey Art Gallery and Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies

Kamal Boullata, Al-Zahir-al-Batin (The Manifest, The Hidden), 1983, Silkscreen, 65.5 × 40 cm. Image courtesy of Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah.

Session 1: The Barjeel Art Foundation and Taking Shape
Thursday, May 28, 12:00 pm EDT
Register

Session 2: Arab Abstraction and Arabic Letterforms
Thursday, June 4, 6:00 pm EDT
Register

Session 3: Modern Art in Algeria and Egypt
Thursday, June 18, 6:00 pm EDT
Register

Until the late 1960s, 20th-century art from the Middle East and North Africa was greatly understudied. Yet by the turn of the millennium, scholars, museum curators, and collectors were actively engaged in creating a global art history. Among questions to be considered are: Why did modern artists from these regions choose to create nonfigurative works? How can we approach Arab abstraction without falling back on borrowed methodologies?

Session 1: The Barjeel Art Foundation and Taking Shape
Thursday, May 28, 12:00 pm EDT
Register

Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation, will discuss this independent, UAE–based initiative, which he established in 2009 to study, preserve, and exhibit modern art from the Arab world, and to foster critical conversations about regional modernisms. Suheyla Takesh, a curator at Barjeel and co-curator of Taking Shape, will discuss her role in organizing the exhibition, framing her investigation of modernism’s development in mid-20th century North Africa and West Asia within today’s rethinking of the canon of abstract art. Moderated by Lynn Gumpert, director of NYU’s Grey Art Gallery and co-curator of the exhibition.

Session 2: Arab Abstraction and Arabic Letterforms
Thursday, June 4, 6:00 pm EDT
Register

Iftikhar Dadi, Associate Professor of History of Art, Cornell University, and Nada Shabout, Professor of Art History, University of North Texas, will explore how the artists in Taking Shape “reterritorialized” the Arabic alphabet and made its aesthetic more accessible to the larger world, not only in detaching Arabic letterforms from Islamic calligraphy and religious history but also in liberating them from their semantic functions. In stripping Arabic letters of their former meanings, artists enabled them to signal modern (pan-)Arab identity and the decolonization of culture. Moderated by Pepe Karmel, Associate Professor of Art History, New York University.

Session 3: Modern Art in Algeria and Egypt
Thursday, June 18, 6:00 pm EDT
Register

Between the 1950s and the 1980s, Arab countries were transformed through decolonization, the rise of nationalism, socialism, rapid industrialization, and wars and mass migrations. At the same time, artists were revitalizing their practices, finding inspiration in Arabic calligraphy, geometry and mathematics, and local topographies. Hannah Feldman, Associate Professor of Art History, Northwestern, will focus on abstract art in Algeria; and Alex Dika Seggerman, Assistant Professor of Islamic Art History, Rutgers University–Newark, on figurative art in Egypt. Moderated by Sarah-Neel Smith, Assistant Professor of Art History, Theory, and Criticism, Maryland Institute College of Art.

Taking Shape: New Perspectives on Arab Abstraction, A Zoom Webinar Series is being recorded and will be made available captioned on the Grey Art Gallery’s website at a future date.

Co-organized by NYU’s Grey Art Gallery and Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, and co-sponsored by ArteEast. Offered in conjunction with the exhibition Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s, on view at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery in early 2020.

The Grey Art Gallery is temporarily closed. To view the current exhibition online, Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s-1980s, go to the Grey Art Gallery website for a complete collection of images as well as the checklist and exhibit labels along with related content.

You can read ArteEast’s interview with Suheyla Takesh, co-curator of Taking Shape and curator at the Barjeel Art Foundation, on ArteEast’s website.

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