Record sales at Christie's recently opened Dubai auction house and a veritable village of Middle Eastern pavilions at this year's Venice Biennale confirm it: Middle Eastern art is on the rise. But what do general audiences know about it? A current show in Paris hopes to address any preconceptions with work by emerging artists that exudes modernity and vigor.
Visitors to "Golden Gates" won't find any Orientalist exotica among the installations, paintings and other pieces by 18 contemporary artists from across the Middle East and Iran. In fact, "I refuse to work with artists that deal in exoticism" is the proud boast of the show's creator Daniela da Prato. Too often, she says, the market shapes nascent art movements to meet Western tastes (the Chinese avant-garde is a case in point). "Golden Gates," she says, features emerging artists that have "not yet been contaminated by the art market."
Piquant truths about consumerism or the human condition, and inspiration drawn from ancient iconography or found objects, unite the displays. Iranian artist Nazgol Ansarinia inscribes sofreh (traditional tablecloths) with the fluctuating prices of daily foodstuffs sold by Tehran street peddlers, making a trenchant comment about Iran's punishing inflation. Egyptian artist Huda Lutfi applies images of Egyptian pop divas to a triptych of female torsos, reminiscent of Gaultier perfume bottles, raising issues of gender politics and societal roles. "Being trapped in certain roles is a universal cultural phenomenon," she says. But how wonderful to have it expressed in such fresh, unexpected quarters.
"Golden Gates" is being held at 46 Rue de Sévigné until Nov. 13.