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The average of the 20th aeon was a agitated time for the 22 countries of the Arab world. It was a aeon of decolonization and industrialization, of war and mass-migration. It saw the acceleration of socialism, the all-around oil boom, and the accumulation of new nations.  

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“Because abounding of these countries were entering the apple amphitheatre as absolute nations and adolescent nation-states, one of their primary objectives was to activate defining themselves as actuality audible peoples. A acceptable way to do that is through ability and through art,” says Suheyla Takesh, a co-curator of “Taking Shape: Absorption from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s” at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery.  

As its name suggests, the appearance archive the acceleration of non-figurative art produced in—and by artists from—Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and added countries of North Africa, West Asia, and the Arab diaspora. Nearly 90 paintings, sculptures, and added works abide the exhibition’s walls and floor, all of which were taken from the accumulating of the Barjeel Art Foundation, an absolute alignment committed to Arab art amid in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Installation angel of “Taking Shape: Absorption from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s.” Photo: Nicholas Papananias, Courtesy of the Grey Art Gallery, New York University.

“Many art schools and collectives were actuality formed during this time as bodies approved to appear up with what it agency to be, say, an Iraqi artisan or an Egyptian artist,” Takesh adds. “Much of this time aeon begin artists activity aback to their bounded histories and ancestry to animate avant-garde means to actualize a new, site-specific modernism.”

Takesh, the sole babysitter at the foundation, teamed up with the Grey’s director, Lynn Gumpert, to apprehend “Taking Shape.” The aggressive affair hadn’t been tackled in detail afore and apprenticed a abundant accord of new scholarship, starting added than two-and-a-half years above-mentioned to the opening. (A ample archive edited by Gumpert and Takesh was appear alongside the exhibition.) 

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Despite the ample advance of assets required, Gumpert says, such assignment is basic now as we carbon our aggregate compassionate of addition through a global—not carefully Western—lens.

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“We all were accomplished in Western art history; there was no added art history for us to about-face to,” says the Grey director. “That’s assuredly starting to breach bottomward and there are added histories actuality written. We achievement that this appearance adds to that momentum.”

Saliba Douaihy, Untitled (c. 1960–1969). Courtesy of the Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE.

Founded about the claimed accumulating of absolutist Sooud Al Qassemi, a affiliate of the Sharjah cardinal ancestors accepted for his globe-spanning efforts announcement Arab art and culture, the Barjeel Art Foundation counts added than 1,000 artworks in its holdings. 

“We were advantageous that the anatomy of assignment was so diverse,” says Takesh. “It affected us to attending into the differing, added specific histories as able-bodied as the artists’ claimed histories and their development as individuals.”

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Indeed, a advanced array of approaches to absorption is represented in “Taking Shape,” aggressive by aggregate from mathematics, geometry, and spiritualism to Arabic calligraphy and Islamic adorning patterns. Often, academic techniques can be traced aback to bounded heritage.

Installation angel of “Taking Shape: Absorption from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s.” Photo: Nicholas Papananias, Courtesy of the Grey Art Gallery, New York University.

For instance, cuneiform was a big access for Iraqi artists, while acceptable amazigh patterns can be apparent throughout art fabricated in North Africa. For added artists represented in the exhibition, the about-face to absorption was a political gesture, advised to belie the acceptance of amusing accuracy that came with the acceleration of communism and socialism.

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The deconstruction of the Arabic alphabet is addition affair that courses throughout the show, as is the arid mural and its monochromatic pallet. 

There’s a allurement to apprehend the developments in these countries adjoin the well-charted change of absorption in Euro-American art, from Wassily Kandinsky to Picabia, Picasso, Pollack, and so on. The allegory may be ambiguous insofar as it defers to Western art as the ascendant narrative. Yet at the aforementioned time, Gumpert notes, abounding artists in the Arab apple were actual abundant acquainted of developments in avant-garde art elsewhere.  

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Etel Adnan, Autumn in Yosemite Valley (1963–1964). Courtesy of the Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE.

“One of the things we begin was that abounding of these artists themselves were acquainted of [the cross-cultural conversation] because they abounding Western-style art academies,” she explains. Abounding artists approved afflatus from both Europe and their own country’s ancestry of architecture, textiles, and added activated arts.

“It aloof so happens that a lot of their sources are already non-representational,” adds Takesh. “So the assignment that came out is what bodies accomplished in Western art history would alarm abstract, alike admitting some artists accept said that absorption as such wasn’t their goal. The ambition was authoritative assignment that was accordant to their context, which a lot of the time happened to be non-representational.”

Ultimately, “Taking Shape” shows that art history itself is abstract. It’s as adamantine to ascertain as any painting on the walls of the Grey.

“Art history brand to accomplish categories that are nice movements, one afterward and reacting to the other,” says Gumpert, “but the art itself is abundant messier.”

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Installation angel of “Taking Shape: Absorption from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s.” Photo: Nicholas Papananias, Courtesy of the Grey Art Gallery, New York University.

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“Taking Shape: Absorption from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s” is on appearance through April 4, 2020 at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery. 

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