From Nadim Karam's trio of stainless steel elephants to the Egyptian painter Khaled Hafez's black-and-white silhouette of a helicopter titled Second Sonata for a Tomb in Archaeological Movements, the exhibition opening at Emirates Palace tomorrow is one of the greatest collections of Arab contemporary art ever collated.
Making its Arab-world debut after it was unveiled in Paris last year to mark the 25th anniversary of L'Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA), 25 Years of Arab Creativity is something of a celebration and an attempt to summarise a vast and varied artistic landscape.
Comprising the work of 40 contemporary artists from different countries, cultures, generations and even artistic practices, the show has only one underlying theme: all the artists are of Arab origin(...)
Some of them are well known; Hafez is represented by Al Masar Gallery in Cairo and has been exhibited in prestigious international spaces such as London's Saatchi Gallery (...)
So, with such a large collection under one title, what exactly constitutes a piece of contemporary Arab art? "The show is defined by its universality," says Mona Khazindar, the director general of the IMA. "You can always see the Arab roots by the use of a sign or a colour, a letter or a landscape, but the art is universal and, aesthetically speaking, there is no link between the pieces."
The exhibition was curated by Ehab El Labban, who worked on the collection for a year, selecting the artists and their works and gathering them in what he calls a "visual adventure". In an essay written to introduce the exhibition, El Labban, who twice headed the Cairo International Biennale, addresses the difficulties of presenting the panorama of Arab contemporary art given its often opposing sensibilities. In it he also writes that he intends the show to have "educational value, and serve as a reference for researchers and historians in the years to come".