Defining the Narrative. 

It is vital to understand that contemporary art from the Middle East and art by Arab artists does not translate into art about the Middle East. Arab contemporary art is a way of expression, where the artists reflect on their individual self. 

From the fanatical savage, to the exotic, to the naïve and oppressed, treated as one homogenous entity, the Middle East and its people have often been distorted historically and continue to be distorted, repeatedly reduced to detrimental generalisations. Although many exhibitions that focus on Arab art internationally aim to encourage dialogue, such attached generalisations make it difficult to foster dialogue when discussions take place.

The first question is, are audiences ready to listen? While dialogue is a two-way stream, it has proven Arab artists still feel marginalised due to constantly having to defend themselves, their assumed identity, their country or assumed country of origin among other topics that generally do not have any association with them as individuals. 

Should Arab artists be spokespersons for the region? The short answer is no. While representation is a key theme among artists and dialogue is a key aim among curators, there has to be a meeting point in which cross cultural dialogue can be fostered without the exhaustion of defending one’s self and without the assumption the Middle East is one entity with only one lived experience. 

What is the solution? The solution is to listen to their voices, read their statements before jumping to conclusions and view each artist as an individual.

Emerging artists are now creating work that narrates their own lived experiences, where they challenge, question and consciously manoeuvre dialogue surrounding issues and triumphs that face each one of them. The artists in this exhibition are now taking control of their own representations rejecting the ideas that have been pushed onto them. Unapologetically exploring themes of religion, displacement, language but on the other hand exploring themselves as artists and as humans first of all. 

 Merging Geographical space. 

While Arab artists are often grouped and defined by their ethnicity rather than their work, there is still a need for such segregation due to the art world often being one of inaccessibility to minority artists. In order to occupy spaces as Arab artists, the artists often need to collectively unite. 

Arab artists are categorised according to race and geopolitical location amongst other categories and we very rarely see exhibitions that merge polar opposites of the generalised views of the Arab region. We tend to always see one side being of “oil, construction and privilege” or “war, violence and displacement.” It must be asked, why one story is often only accepted and the other rejected or even skewed to fit a certain narrative? 

Across borders, international opportunities have often grouped Arab artists based on such terms and can be damaging to the way in which future Arab based exhibitions or publications are portrayed or how artists are selected. This does not mean Arab based platforms or even Arab-based festivals are inclusive in their selection of artists or exempt from portraying a narrowed view of Arab artists or the region. Often disguised as spaces of inclusivity, they too can often exclude artists that do not fall in line with their own narrative of the Middle East. While censorship is undeniable within the region, it must also be recognised when Arab artists are faced with international opportunities and their works being censored or completely changed. which continues to take place.

To make a point that either side can create work expressing their lived realities without competition and without resentment, both of which is usually implied or even encouraged amongst galleries, curators and artists. While the exhibition aims to be non-political, this could be defined as a political move in which both sides of the spectrum is grouped purposely to make a point. In the selection of artists, it was vital in bringing both spectrums together. 

While some artists may want to focus on the politics or war of their country with every right to do so, another artist from the very same country may want to focus on an optimistic future of it. This selection embraces both sides. The idea of the unity in the Middle East within art Is a far stretch but the idea of acceptance of either story on the spectrum is integral in allowing Arab artists to move forward. For now, the selection embraces the collective of Arab artists spanning from Syria to Palestine, America to Europe and hybrids to the Gulf. 

 Rejection of Exclusivity and the rise of Accessibility. 

The art world has often been an inaccessible space for minority artists, whether it being of silenced women artists or of artists of colour barely occupying museum walls, it is a place of privilege and politics. Emerging artists around the world find it difficult to exhibit or gain exposure, in similar light to Arab artists.

The occupation of both online and offline spaces by emerging Arab artists has flourished rapidly in the last few years, with collectives and platforms nurturing, mentoring and supporting emerging creatives. It is important to distinguish the use of the words “artists” and “creatives”. The use of ‘creatives’ is to create an accessible space where those who may not necessarily be ‘artists’ according to their definition or that of the art world, however they are still creatives who produce visual, relevant and interesting work. 

Emerging artists and creatives do not just want to be passive exhibitors but want to reclaim their own voices and narratives. With so many progressive ideas, innovative work and thought provoking dialogues, they have still not been given their due recognition. The significance of creating such spaces allows us to encourage and accept alternative methods of creativity from the rise of phone art to the engineer who creates at midnight. 

Our selection of artists and creatives bends the rules that are often enforced when selecting artists. We reject the idea of exclusivity but embrace the rise of accessible spaces. for all, no matter their background or position in the art sphere. The importance of these spaces is vital to the growth of the emerging art scene in the region and beyond, more specifically Arab artists no matter where they are geographically or artistically. 


Written for the Transition publication opening, presented by Reconnecting Arts.

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