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Title: SHIRAZEH HOUSHIARY Author(s): Donald Kuspit Source: Artforum International. 38.3 (Nov. 1999): p142. Document Type: Article Full Text:

On entering Shirazeh Houshiary’s show, one saw what appeared to be a group of monochromes–some black, some white, and all square–installed in contrasting groups of large and small works. As one drew nearer to several of the paintings, however, one began to discern the presence of Arabic texts (actually Sufist chants), meticulously transcribed onto the canvas in graphite or pigment, where they proliferate like coral. These inscriptions are clearly legible when examined up close (the fact that they are incomprehensible to most Western readers only adds to their exoticism), and evoke Muslim iconography. From any distance, the work seems to illustrate perfectly Robert Motherwell’s observation that abstract painting is a form of mysticism. But just as important, Houshiary has produced convincing monochrome field paintings that refine and intensify “post-painterly abstraction” to uncanny new perceptual effect.

Kenneth Noland seems a particular, if oblique, influence on Houshiary, as suggested by the circular imagery in a number of works–in Luminous darkness, 1998, the center is marked by a yellowish bull’s-eye–and by the highly nuanced surface. Even more crucially, at least from my point of view, Houshiary’s paintings are unabashedly aesthetic, indeed beautiful. Under the auspices of religious idealism, these works become formally ideal. Like abstraction, beauty has also been thought to have mystical import, that is, regarded as a mode of transcendence and self-recovery. Houshiary’s works restore spiritual feeling to abstract painting, which, under Greenberg’s ministrations, had become mindlessly materialistic. As titles such as Brittle Moment, Presence, and Veil indicate, Houshiary’s canvases seem to “picture” a perceptual epiphany–the moment that spirit becomes manifest and one realizes that there is a center to existence and to one’s being.

Houshiary’s titles make clear as well that she is in pursuit of what has traditionally been called the sublime; for her, beauty is its surface. The physical experience of approaching her paintings, then, is in effect a spiritual experience, that is, a process of initiation and revelation. From a distance they look like blank slates; as one gets closer one sees the more or less clear mandala-like, peculiarly dense form embedded in their seemingly amorphous surface; and up close one discovers the intricate, excited, minute detail. The emerging center comes to represent the ritualized concentration necessary for inner illumination. Equally important, from a purely painting point of view, Houshiary’s works show a patient perfectionism that seems increasingly rare today, and thus all the more admirable.

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–Donald Kuspit

Source Citation Kuspit, Donald. “SHIRAZEH HOUSHIARY.” Artforum International 38.3 (1999): 142. Academic OneFile. Web. 17 Jan. 2012.

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Contemporary Art in the Middle East

s t e p h a n i e c o t e l a t a n n e r

T he United Arab Emirates are now a centre of cultural activity as coun- tries invest billions of dollars to

compete in the race to become the cultural hub of the Middle East. Abu Dhabi’s plan is to construct branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums on Saadiyat Island, and the city is responsible for promoting Art Paris Abu Dhabi Fair. Dubai boasts 50 galleries, hosted its inaugural art fair, Art Dubai, and has welcomed auction houses Christie’s and Bonhams. Sharjah is host- ing its ninth Biennial in March 2009, once again offering a space large enough to encompass blockbuster-sized exhibitions.

Qatar’s largest city, Doha, opened an Islamic art museum, designed by I M Pei (Louvre Pyramid, Paris 1989; Bank of China Tower, Hong Kong 1989) in late 2008 and is home to Sotheby’s first international sales series in the Middle East. In January 2009, the recently opened Beirut Art Centre, designed by Lebanese-based archi- tect Raed Abillama, held its first show, Closer, which consisted of internationally recognised artists who are from the region. Tehran is increasingly becoming the hot-

spot for galleries and Iran is the one country that is generating a lot of interest in collecting terms. Its broad buyer demo- graphic includes international buyers as well as Iranians, and works by Iranian artists are dominating auction sales.

Challenged by the global financial crisis, which is triggering a decline in the price of oil, and the close proximity to nations of military and political instability, transforming themselves into cultural and artistic meccas is an enormous under- taking for Middle East countries; if they can pull it off, it will be an accomplish- ment of unprecedented proportions.

Short of travelling to the Middle East to find out what has the art world stirring, the recent exhibition Unveiled: New Art From the Middle East at London’s Saatchi Gallery was the next best thing. Saatchi got it right by combining a diverse selection of artists, regions and cultures. Themes ranged from the effects of the 2006 Israeli attacks in Beirut, as depicted by artist Marwan Rechmaoui’s replicated abandoned apart- ment building, to a typical Iranian wed- ding painted by Rokni Haerizadeh. Saatchi

has a knack for throwing it all together and letting the art speak for itself.

The works on display fell into three categories, addressing violence, gender, faith or tradition. Tehran-based photogra- pher Shadi Gahdirian investigates the position of women in Iran by replacing their faces with ordinary domestic objects such as cheese graters, irons and sieves, while Ramin Haerizadah appears semi- naked, dressed in women’s clothing in a series of photographs, ‘Men of Allah’, in which he mocks anti-feminist attitudes and female oppression. Lending an extra- ordinary political punch to these works is the fact that both artists are creating these contentious works at home in Iran.

Berlin-based Iraqi artist Ahmed Alsou- dani tackles the harsh subjects of suicide bombings and torture in his painting, We Die Out of Hand, referencing the horrors of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay with his violent brush strokes that depict hooded figures in a chaotic battle scene. Palestinian artist

KaderAttia,Ghost,2007.Courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery,London ^ KaderAttia,2009.

r 2009 the authors. journal compilation r 2009 bpl/aah volume 16 issue 4 november 2009 The ArtBook 15

Wafa Hourani’s installation, Qalandia 2067, named after a refugee camp near Ramallah, next to the notorious Qalandia Israeli checkpoint, is depicted in a series of five models. Hourani’s miniature refugee camp, including an Israeli nightclub, is a post-war prediction of Qalandia, 100 years after the 1967 war. Hourani told BBC TV’s ‘News- night Review’ that he feels ‘responsible somehow to work and present the image of Palestine for the world . . . I believe in art and I believe it is more strong than any weapon’.

What at first glance appears to be a roomful of baked potatoes, is, upon closer inspection, rows of kneeling aluminium foil figures representing Muslim women at prayer. Ghost by Paris-based Algerian artist Kader Attia, is an appropriate name for this

installation since the foil figures are hollow inside, leaving the bodies and expressions of the women to the viewer’s imagination.

New York-based Syrian artist Diana Al- Hadid’s abstract sculpture, Self Melt, draws on Islamic art traditions by using geometric forms intended to encourage contempla- tion of God’s infinite wisdom. Hadid’s work explores the correlation between spirituality and science. Her large upside- down sculptures are getting worldwide attention. In the January issue of ARTnews Hadid was featured as an ‘Artist to Watch’.

Fewer than half the 21 artists featured in the show currently reside in the Middle East. The majority live in key artistic hubs, such as Paris, Berlin or New York, which begs the question, is there any harm in lumping

them all together? Historically, the spread of Islam homogenised the region spanning from North Africa to Iran, including the Persian Gulf, Levant and Turkey. The effects of post-colonialism as well as the region’s current relationship with the West are necessary considerations for establishing a dialogue about the characteristic differences of individual Middle East countries.

In his keynote speech at Tate’s January conference, ‘Infrastructures and Ideas’, geographer David Elliot surmised that the term ‘Middle East’ is an alternative to the Western geographical conceptions of ‘Arab’ and ‘Islamic’. Cultural diversity was the central theme throughout the sympo- sium. On the academic side, Iraqi art historian, Nada Shabout, argued for the establishment of a relevant discourse and methodology within which to discuss artistic and cultural developments in the Middle East. Artistically speaking, Western influences on style, technique and media are undeniably evident in the work exhib- ited in ‘Unveiled’ and ultimately unavoid- able, as the majority of the participating artists live transnational lifestyles.

Commercially speaking, Henry Ho- ward-Sneyd, Deputy Chairman of Sothe- by’s Europe and Asia revealed that:

In the last three years Sotheby’s has seen a 2% increase in Mideast buyers in sales worldwide, which is indicative of a growing interest in the Mideast throughout different fields. One of the approaches that we have taken in Doha is to bring forth a selection of art with the hope that we are helping to make the Middle East become part of the international scene. One of the interesting things is that when you put Mideast contemporary together with artists like Warhol or Hirst it all works incredibly well together. It is not about just selling Middle Eastern art but about creating a potential international art center.

Charles Saatchi’s purchases are sure to enhance artists’ careers as well as the Middle East art market in general. Auction prices for many Middle East artists are skyrocket- ing and the cultural development in the region will create new jobs for curators and conservators, a rich market for dealers and auction houses and unexplored territory for artists. Perhaps the most inspiring aspect of the emerging Middle East art market is the idea that, through the creation of art and its international accessibility, we can establish a better understanding of our cultural, social and political differences and so forge stronger relationships, not just with the Middle East but also with rest of the world.

stephanie cotela tanner

Art historian and writer, London

Ramin Haerizadeh,MenofAllah (04,2008). Courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery,London ^ Ramin Haerizadeh, 2009.

Rokni Haerizadeh,TypicalIranianWedding (left panel), (2008).Courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London ^ Rokni Haerizadeh, 2009.

16 The ArtBook volume 16 issue 4 november 2009 r 2009 the authors. journal compilation r 2009 bpl/aah


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