Over the past few decades, the Middle East and North Africa have experienced immense political, ideological, and sociological changes. In 2010, the world watched as the Tunisian Revolution became the “Arab Spring.” With the use of social media, activists and protestors organized protests, resisted their governments, and made the world aware of crimes against humanity. In the art world, recent years have brought an unprecedented number of exhibitions devoted to Islamic art and art of the “Arab World and Iran” or the “Middle East.” Museum initiatives, collectors, foundations, and art fairs have also led to new patronage and audiences for Middle Eastern art and have stimulated the increased international interest in art of the Middle East and North Africa.
Borrowing its title from a line in the poem “A Lesson in Drawing” by Syrian writer Nizar Qabbani, “The Shapes of Birds” showcases the work of contemporary artists from, or with roots in, the Middle East and North Africa. Working in a wide array of media—sculpture, installation, video, photography, painting, and illustration—the artists in this show both embrace older artistic traditions while exploring new media, ideas, and technologies. As a title, “Shapes of Birds” evokes Qabbani’s poem about memory, loss, disconnection, and creativity. It also speaks to the broader themes of migration—the migration of people and ideas. Though from different countries, and with different stories, the artists in this exhibition create works that deal with identity, history, tradition, memory, and renewal.
Participating artists include: Adel Abidin, Dana Al Jouder, Samira Alikhanzadeh, Zeina Barakeh, Gohar Dashti, Minoo Emami, Shadi Ghadirian, Mohamad Hafez, Arghavan Khosravi, Basim Magdy, Rania Matar, Azita Moradkhani, Youssef Nabil, Saman Sajasi, Larissa Sansour, Hadieh Shafie, Patricia Sarrafian Ward among others.
The Newport Art Museum is grateful to U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management for their support of the fall exhibitions.
Mohamad Hafez, Baggage Series #4, Plaster, paint, antique suitcase, found objects, rigid foam, 30 x 30 x 48 inches, Courtesy of the artist.
Arghavan Khosravi, Let Me Hold You Tight, 2017, Acrylic and inkjet print (of scanned images of an Iranian bank note) on paper, 41 x 21 inches, Courtesy of the artist.