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A Century in Flux: Highlights from the Barjeel Art Foundation features a selection of artworks by Arab artists from one of the largest and most diverse private collections of art in the Arab world. A Century in Flux: Highlights from the Barjeel Art Foundation reflects the collector Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi’s interest in the ways that Arab artists have responded to historical events and to their corresponding impact on human life over the course of a tumultuous century.
In contrast with focused temporary shows, this long-term installation offers the chance for repeated visits and for comparative study of the styles, techniques, and themes of artworks that have shaped art practices in Arab countries for more than a century. The exhibition is not intended as a survey and does not follow a specific theme, it also excludes works on paper for conservation reasons.
The exhibition centres on artworks considered “signposts” in the region’s art dating from 1885 to 1985. Often referred to as modern, the art was also inspired by Islamic and other traditions from the Arab world, including calligraphy, which predate the modern period. The artists featured here include pioneering members of pivotal art movements, such as the Cairo-based Surrealist collective Art et Liberté Group, Baghdad’s Ar-ruwwād (The Pioneers), Damascus Group of Ten, and the Casablanca Group. Together with lesser-known artists, these groups were among the first artists to study abroad, established art academies in Cairo, Casablanca, Damascus, and Baghdad, and mentor the second and third generation of artists in the Arab world.
The art on view was collected from a historical period characterized by art that reflected optimism, modernization, and national aspirations. These artists were, in the words of Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, “ … independent, avant-garde, with purpose and conviction, in a world that remains a region in flux.” As a way of acknowledging this sense of historical and artistic continuity, a limited selection of artworks from the contemporary collection resonate with the earlier artworks, drawing attention to commonalities and differences that mark this century. The artworks from both periods affirm the generosity of a collector whose passion for Arab art and his knowledge of its history brought these works into the public sphere.
© Text: Salwa Mikdadi and Barjeel Art Foundation