Gallery visit -Whitechapel gallery – Barjeel art foundation debating modernism 11

Wednesday 2nd March 2016

Back in September when I first started to study with the open college of the arts I visited the Whitechapel gallery in London –  on show at that time was a   collection of modern art telling the history of Arabic art from 1920 until 1968. I returned today to visit the second part of the exhibition showing other works from the Barjeel art collection this time showcasing  figurative art works from 1968 until 1987. The exhibition featured a range of different artists from different cultural backgrounds from several areas including Algeria , Egypt, Syria and Iraq.

It was interesting and refreshing to see how these artists were not only influenced by their own culture but with some of the leading western art movements. Abdelkader Guermaz ( 1919-1996 Algeria ) had on show an abstract oil painting called ‘Reve ( dream) ‘ it very  much reminded me of the work of Ben Nicholson particularly the cool pastel hues of his palette.


I was drawn to a large  puzzling and untitled painting from 1970 by Abdul Qader Al Rais ( United Arab Emirates born 1951). The painting depicts four young girls , the central figure stands out as she is wearing a vivid red dress. However i was not entirely sure that the red dressed figure was a girl as the figures facial  features resembled very much a fresh faced youth?  The rest of the painting has a very cool pale palette. The expressions of the girls( or girls and boy)  almost remind  me of Christian and eastern iconology. In the Islamic faith men are not permitted to wear red so if the figure in red is actually male  he would not be wearing red? or is the artist trying to say something else ?, so I wondered whether if red  is  is only wore by women does the colour represent something significant ? The red dressed girl?/boy ? certainly seemed set apart from the other girls in their pale robes. I also wondered if the red robed figure was a Christ figure? the red representing blood and death?

Each of the figures  faces   had a mixture of different emotions – they looked puzzled, knowing , unworldly and yet innocent. The younger girls had particularly wide eyes.  I also wondered why the painting did not have a name?  There was so many unanswered questions that made the painting very intriguing.

I liked  the way the paint was applied in buttery layers. I found the painting very powerful and was drawn back to look at it several times.


Next to this painting was another powerful painting this time of three young youths entitled  ‘ three Palestinian boys’ by Marwan Kassab Bachi ( born Syria 1934). The three boys stand tall and proud their elongated necks and sketchy facial   expressions and sinewy collarbones remind me very much  of German expressionism. It’s a poignant and  emotive painting the boys underneath their haughty demeanor  look scared and very vulnerable.

‘painting of a man’ 1980 by Hassan Sharif ( United Arab Emirates born 1951) is a black and white oil painting. The painting is made up of blocks of tone in broad brushstrokes

Next to this is a large ink drawing on Bristol boards by Ibrahim El Salahi ( born Sudan 1930). Entitled ‘in the present ‘ 1987. I thought this was a puzzling narrative work, it  seems to tell a very narractive  story across the 8 attached boards. There appeared to be several elements to the work  including one part that had a geometric and

cubist influence . I really liked the way the artist used his pen marks to build up tonal values. The whole piece had a starkness about it.

Dia Azzawi ( born Iraq 1931) had four works on show painted from 1976-1980. The media is gouache and ink and they had a graphic topographic  quality to their design and in the use of colour. They were apparently  inspired by motifs and folklaw  but with a modern touch.

I really enjoyed the show and found it very thought provoking and inspiring . It was a poignant exhibition particularly considering the political situation in the Arab nations.

many thanks to the Whitechapel gallery  for  bringing such diverse art to a very diverse area of London, and allowing me to take photographs.







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