An exhibition showcasing the Arab diaspora in the US opens in Washington DC

Monitoring Desk

The Middle East Institute (MEI) Art Gallery’s Converging Lines show pays homage to the contributions of Arab-Americans and US-based Arab artists’ work to American art.

Curator Maymanah Farhat says that artists belonging to the Arab diaspora in the United States are “rarely recognized as forming a vibrant artistic community that has long been contributing to American art.”

In order to put things right, the Middle East Institute (MEI) Art Gallery in Washington, DC is holding an exhibition called Converging Lines: Tracing the Artistic Lineage of the Arab Diaspora in the US starting online on September 10 and open to in-person visits starting September 13, 2021. 

The group exhibition aims to reveal the history of Arab-Americans while “identifying the aesthetic threads that connect a diverse, multigenerational group of artists, thus offering a template for future scholarship.”

Farhat adds that “At the same time, Converging Lines is curated with a broader audience in mind with the hope that curators and scholars will begin to look at this community as part of the larger narrative of American art history.”

Zeina Barekeh, Holy Land (Limitations on the Power of the Occupying Power)
Zeina Barekeh, Holy Land (Limitations on the Power of the Occupying Power) (Courtesy of the Middle East Institute)

A theme that is very significant to US-based Arab artists and Arab-American artists is migration, as many have had to leave their homes in the Middle East or are first-generation Americans, children of immigrants who have made a home in the US. The MEI website points out that the process of migration often leads to “the state of in-betweenness.”

The news release refers to the combined impact of multigenerational artists in the show, whose works “allude to the complexities of the Arab diasporic experience,” including experiences of “invisibility, alienation, and intergenerational trauma. From mystical, symbolist drawings to disorientating mixed-media objects, the featured works range from reflections of longing and introspection to calls for new ways of seeing and cultural rebellion.”

The exhibition features, among others, the work of Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese-American writer, poet and visual artist who is hailed as “a member of the earliest known Arab-American creative community.”

According to the introductory text, the multi-artist exhibition “explores how artists have used concepts like third spaces, community building, hybridity, and memory formation in works that allude to the complexities of migration, including invisibility, alienation, intergenerational trauma, and changing identities.”

Etel Adnan, Planete 8
Etel Adnan, Planete 8 (Courtesy of the Middle East Institute)

Also in the exhibition are works by 96-year-old “pioneering artist” Etel Adnan, whose retrospective in Istanbul was a great hit and who has an exhibition coming up at the Guggenheim Museum in New York; Sama Alshaibi, a conceptual artist who is Professor and Co-Chair of the Photography, Video and Imaging program at the University of Arizona, Tucson; Zeina Barakeh, a multidisciplinary artist based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Nazar Yahya, Homage to Twombly, Pink
Nazar Yahya, Homage to Twombly, Pink (Courtesy of the Middle East Institute)

Among others are the late Jerusalem-born Kamal Boullata who was an artist, writer and art historian, the late daughter of Lebanon’s first post-independence president Huguette Caland who started her art career when she was 39 years old; first generation Yemeni-American and multidisciplinary artist who uses mixed media collage, immersive installation and video, Yasmine Nasser Diaz; US-born Dahlia Elsayed who specialises in paintings, collages and installations.

There are more accomplished names like LA-based artist, Sherin Guirguis who uses site, text, and “marginalized and contested histories, in particular those of women”; John Halaka, who produces art for the sake of people in the areas of drawing, painting, photography and oral history, the late Lebanese painter Helen Khal, Sudan-born painter and printmaker Mohammed Omar Khalil, “whose work, spanning over fifty years, has influenced two generations of Middle East artists”.

Helen Zughaib, Circle Home/Beit
Helen Zughaib, Circle Home/Beit (Courtesy of the Middle East Institute)

Others featured in the exhibition are US-born Egyptian-Honduran artist Jackie Milad, who produces mixed-media abstract drawings and collages; multimedia artist, printmaker and book artist Zeinab Saab who is the youngest artist in the exhibition at the age of 31; Jacqueline Reem Salloum, “an artist and filmmaker whose pop-infused work draws on her Palestinian and Syrian roots”; Nazar Yahya, who relocated his family first to Amman then to Houston Texas because of the Iraq War; and Lebanon-born painter Helen Zughaib.

Courtesy: TRT World

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