At this year's Abu Dhabi Art Fair, held in Manarat Al Saadiyat, Meem Gallery will present the second instalment of the Meem Projects exhibition and publication series: Meem Projects 2013. The two-part exhibition explores the works of eleven important modern and contemporary Middle Eastern artists, displaying paintings, sculpture and mixed-media works. The first part of the display, Modern Arab Art, exhibits key works by modern artists Dia Azzawi, Ahmed Cherkaoui, Kadhem Hayder, M'Hamed Issiakhem, Rafik El Kamel, Louay Kayyali, Fateh Moudarres and Shakir Hassan Al Said. The second part, Contemporary Arab Art, showcases commissioned works produced under the title How Do You Sleep At Night? by artists Khaled Hafez, Jeffar Khaldi and Mahmoud Obaidi.
Part 1: Modern Arab Art
Part 1 takes viewers through the decades of modern Arab art production - from the latter half of the twentieth century to the twenty-first century - starting with a painting by Syrian modern master, Louay Kayyali, titled The Ice Cream Seller, executed in 1960, displaying the artist's trademark style in a single figure portrait which demonstrates Kayyali's ongoing interest in rendering subjects relating to the experience of the common man. The exhibition also displays a striking work by Iraqi artist Kadhem Hayder, The Impenetrable Shield (1964), which presents the vividly coloured, simplified forms of a helmeted figure astride an armoured horse, a work that is part of the artist's celebrated series The Epic of the Martyr (exhibited in April 1965 at the National Museum of Modern Art in Baghdad). Another work produced in 1965, is a small oil painting, Les Miroirs Noirs VII, by Moroccan modern art 'pioneer', Ahmed Cherkaoui. This work demonstrates how during the post-colonial period artists created a dialogue between modern, abstract European art and their cultural heritage; in the case of Cherkaoui, he actively sought inspiration from the signs and symbols of his Berber heritage. Fateh Moudarres' painting, Untitled (1971), also employs a more abstract approach to painting, however, a collection of figures are still discernible. Characteristic of Moudarres' style, this work reflects the artist's interest in collective society; he arranges a collection of abstract faces vertically and horizontally, creating a grid which alludes to the uniformity of society while still retaining the individuality of each face, which he renders differently.
A rare, undated painting by Algerian artist M'hamed Issiakhem, Femme et Mur (Woman and Wall), presents an approach to painting that is more rooted in the nineteenth-century legacy of European academic painting than the other works on display. However, the artist's rendering of the subject of the woman - which frequents his oeuvre - is distinctly modern, particularly in his choice of muted tones, painterly style, and in the silent, reflective interpretation of his subject. Works executed in the 1980s include Untitled (The Wall, 1980), by Iraqi modernist and art theoretician Shakir Hassan Al Said. Al Said created a number of works during the 1970s and 1980s, which became known as the Wall series, based on the markings and writing found on the walls of Baghdad. His interest in the formal attributes of the Arabic letter (expressed in his theory of the 'One Dimension') and his focus on the materiality of his medium has been a major influence on the younger generation of Iraqi artists, known as the 'eighties generation'.
Tunisian artist Rafik El Kamel's paintings - two untitled works, one executed in 1980, the other in 1987 - are the most purely abstract works included in the exhibition. Since the 1970s, El Kamel experimented with abstraction in his rendering of semi-abstract forms; however, from the 1980s onwards the artist became actively interested in pure abstraction. Together, the two works demonstrate two distinct points in El Kamel's experiments with abstract art. The final work is the 2007 sculpture, Coloured Obelisk, by the celebrated Iraqi artist and modern art master, Dia Azzawi. Azzawi has created a number of sculptures based on the vertical form of the obelisk - including Blessed Tigris, displayed at the British Museum in 2006 - which denotes his continuing interest in wedding a modern art aesthetic to Mesopotamian visual culture.
Part 2: Contemporary Arab Art: How Do You Sleep At Night?
For Part 2, the exhibition's curator, Charles Pocock, commissioned artists Khaled Hafez, Jeffar Khaldi and Mahmoud Obaidi to produce works under the title How Do You Sleep At Night?, based on the title of John Lennon's 1971 song 'How do you Sleep?' Each artist interpreted the theme differently, for Khaldi it acts as a reference point to consider current world events, for Hafez the focus is music, and for Obaidi the title presents more political allusions.
Pocock's curatorial statement demonstrates that though there is a theme to this exhibition, it acts more as a 'thread' joining the three artists together, and audience interpretations are ultimately quite open:
Taking its title from the lyrics of John Lennon's 1971 song, this exhibition poses the question 'How do you sleep at night?' to artists and audiences producing and viewing art works in a region fraught with issues relating to conflict and censorship. Using the title more as a point of departure than a direct interpretation of the wording, the works in this exhibition aim to demonstrate how this question resonates with artists today. Each work carries within it the personal experiences and reflections of the artist and to an extent their national and cultural identities: Egyptian, Palestinian and Iraqi. However, as a body of work the visual narratives, though at times quite abstract, reflect a shared humanism. How Do You Sleep At Night? works as a thread joining three different art works together in a shared space.
In an increasingly globalized world, popular culture and music have played an important role in contemporary visual culture. Obliquely linking music and popular culture to the visual arts, this exhibition demonstrates how these sources can be used by artists to examine topical issues and shifting socio-political contexts. The aim of this exhibition is to open up a conversation between artists and viewers, providing a space in which the tumult of the region's recent uprisings and upheavals can be reconsidered.
Charles Pocock, Curatorial Statement, How Do You Sleep At Night?, July 2013