First major exhibition of LACMA's Middle Eastern contemporary art collection opens Feb. 1

  • LOS ANGELES, California
  • /
  • January 08, 2015

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Nasser Al Salem, God is Alive, He Shall Not Die (blue), 2012 Neon in infinity box. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Purchased with funds by the Al-Ammar Family
Shirin Neshat (Iran, Qazvin, active United States, New York, New York City, born 1957), Speechless, 1996, Photograph, Gelatin silver print and ink. Purchased with funds provided by Jamie McCourt through the 2012 Collectors Committee.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents Islamic Art Now: Contemporary Art of the Middle East, opening Feb. 1, 2015, the first major exhibition of LACMA's holdings of Middle Eastern contemporary art—the largest such institutional collection in the United States

In recent years, the parameters of Islamic art have expanded to include contemporary works by artists from or with roots in the Middle East. Drawing inspiration from their own cultural traditions, these artists use techniques and incorporate imagery and ideas from earlier periods. LACMA has only recently begun to acquire such work within the context of its holdings of Islamic art, understanding that the ultimate success and relevance of this collection lies in building creative links between the past, present, and future. Islamic Art Now marks the first major installation of LACMA’s collection of contemporary art of the Middle East.

As the first of a two-part program, this exhibition features approximately 25 works by artists from Iran and the Arab world, including Shirin Neshat, Susan Hefuna, Lalla Essaydi, Mitra Tabrizian, Mona Hatoum, Hassan Hajjaj, Wafaa Bilal, Barbad Golshiri, and Youssef Nabil, among others.

Highlights from Islamic Art Now: Contemporary Art of the Middle East include:

Shirin Neshat, Speechless, 1996
Shirin Neshat is perhaps the best-known artist of the Iranian diaspora following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Born in Qazvin, she left Iran in 1974 at the age of 16 to study in the United States. Neshat returned to Iran in 1990, and much of what she saw and experienced informed her first major body of work, the photographic series Women of Allah. The series is comprised of black-and-white images of chador-clad women, often the artist herself, covered with text in black ink, and frequently focusing on different body parts—face, feet, hands, eyes. Neshat has noted the recurrence of four symbolic elements in this series: veil, gun, text, and gaze. She intends these images to contradict a western notion of Muslim women as diminished and desexualized by the veil and disempowered by their faith.

Abdullah Al Saab, Technology Killed Reality, 2013
Al Saab studied interior design, began designing clothes in 2008, and most recently has turned his creative interest to conceptual design and photography in the series Boundaries in which he incorporates his own line of clothes and explores his interest in merging art and fashion. The series, as exemplified by the photographs Ayb (Shame) and Technology Killed Reality, depicts life in Kuwait for the 20-something generation caught between sophisticated technology and unbridled consumerism and religious tradition and social conservatism.

Wafaa Bilal, Chair, 2013
Wafaa Bilal is an assistant professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, who fled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1991. Known internationally for his provocative performative and interactive works, Bilal came to the attention of a wider audience in 2010 when he had a camera surgically implanted in the back of his head. Entitled 3rdi, Bilal transmitted images to the web 24/7 in part as a statement on surveillance, the mundane, and the things left behind. His latest series—Ashes— depicts in photographs his handmade miniature reconstructions of media images that document buildings destroyed in the Iraq war (2003–13); the models are covered with ashes, including human ashes. These powerful photographs capture and reflect Bilal’s own reactions to the war as an exiled Iraqi who witnessed the devastation from the relative safety of America.

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