From Abu Dhabi to Tehran, from Baghdad to Damascus, artists, galleries, auction houses and museums are altering the landscape, philosophies, and economic possibilities of the region. In Qatar, I.M. Pei’s Museum of Islamic Art rises from its own private island in Doha, perhaps the world-renowned architect’s most spectacular design in a career spanning more than 60 years – and the first of a series of museums built under the auspices of Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani’s Qatar Museum Authority, all of which will be designed by world-renowned architects from across the globe. (Jean Nouvel’s National Museum of Qatar and its surrounding 1.2 million square foot park are tentatively scheduled to open by 2014.) And of course there are, too, the UAE branches of Western museums, like the Guggenheim, the Louvre, and others – assuming, that is, that the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim, which is now facing tremendous controversy over alleged human rights violations in the treatment of foreign laborers at the site, actually gets built.
Many credit the auction houses with starting the region’s boom: Christie’s and Sotheby’s began holding sales in the UAE in 2006 and 2008 (respectively), taking advantage of the region’s enormous wealth and growing competition with the West. But it’s arguably the artists who have made the biggest difference, with works that shatter the taboos of Islamist governments and conservative Islamic thought. Iranian artists in particular have busted open the seams of their repressive society with works that denounce the plight of women in the Muslim world, or expose the homophobia pervasive in a land where homosexuality is a capital offense, but sex-change operations, paid for by the state, are commonplace. Unwilling to remain silent, artists across the region have expressed the unspeakable in works that verge on the subversive, remaining cryptic enough to circumvent the censors, yet articulate enough that the power of their truths resonate across the world. As one press release for an upcoming exhibition of works by Behrang Samadzadeghan at XVA Gallery, Dubai, expressed it, these artists offer up the “unsavory marriage of violence and beauty served on canvases.” And they are being noticed.
The economic impact of all this has not gone unremarked by the larger public. From 2006 to 2008, according to the European Fine Art Foundation report, “Globalization and the Art Market,” Iranian and Arab art prices increased 260 percent, with works soaring past the $2 million mark. Art fairs in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the Sharjah Biennale (which last week fired its director for having included what the government determined was an “blasphemous” work – unidentified officially, but believed to be one by Algerian artist Mustapha Benfodil ) and galleries such as the Green Gallery, Silk Road, and others have gained a solid international reputation – not to mention healthy financial profiles. Other galleries, particularly Tehran’s Aaran Gallery, have created partnerships with US art dealers to exhibit their artists’ works with considerable success.
So have these events helped to set off the recent political upheavals? It’s a question I’ll be exploring in future posts, but for now, let’s say only that I suspect there’s a connection. Or at least, in the words of Ayad Alkadhi, an Iraqi artist now living in New York, “I sure do hope that art has inspired people to act. If so, then art has served its true calling.”
Via Forbes (blog)