Okay, pop quiz: how much do you know about the Arab Art World? Actually, scrap that: how much do you really know about Arab nations at all? If you have some vague notion that people ‘over there’ like fighting each other and have impressive moustaches then you’re not alone. Syria, Libya, Somalia… These are all countries prone to myths and stereotypes. And is it any wonder? Day in, day out, we are bombarded with death, explosions and kidnappings via every medium imaginable. What doesn’t get free press, however, is the creativity born out of conflict – as well as the fact that large proportions of these countries are relatively trouble-free ie. people go about their daily lives just like you and me.
In the first exhibition of its kind in Japan, Arab Express sets out to tackle the misconceptions that many of us (including me) hold about the Middle East. As you would expect, religion, politics, customs and traditions all weave their way throughout the collection – and while some pieces do try too hard to be political statements (relying too heavily on playing the whole ‘Arab’ card) it’s an exhibition that shows that even if the bureaucracies of many of these countries may be stagnant, their emerging art scenes are anything but.
With branches of the Louvre and the Guggenheim being built in Abu Dhabi, you can’t help but think that the Middle East is simply using art a bit like oil: as a sign of its growing economic power. Whatever the case may be, there’s no denying that it is art – not news stories – that will help promote a better understanding of Arab identity and culture in years to come.
Hassan Meer – Wedding Memories, 2008
Atfal Ahdath – Take me to this place: I want to do the memories, 2010-11
Sadik Kwaish Alfraji – The House that My Father Built, (once upon a time), 2010
Adel Abidin – I’m Sorry, 2008
Arab Express: The Latest Art From the Arab World runs at the Mori Art Museum until 28 October. You can find out more about the exhibition, and the exhibits, here.