Middle East Institute Art Gallery Presents Art in Isolation: Creativity in the Time of Covid-19

By East City Art Editorial Team on October 13, 2020

Thu, October 1 2020 — Wed, January 13 2021

Beirut and the People by Mansour El Habre.

October 1, 2020 – January 13, 2021

The Middle East Institute (MEI) Arts and Culture Center is proud to announce the launch of Art in Isolation: Creativity in the Time of Covid-19, its first ever exhibit solicited through an open call.

MEI issued the open call in June 2020 for art made by Middle Eastern artists in response to the global Covid-19 pandemic and received more than 200 submissions from artists from the Middle East. Working closely with MEI’s arts and culture team, DC-based curator and arts professional Laila Abdul-Hadi Jadallah chose the work of 39 emerging, mid-career and established artists and artist groups representing 16 countries from Morocco to Yemen. The result is a unique selection of painting, sculpture, photography and video that offers a glimpse into the broad perspectives of Middle Eastern artists working during this challenging moment in our shared history.

“This show gives voice to the challenges, issues, and concerns that artists from the Middle East were grappling with in lockdown,” said Kate Seelye, Vice President for Arts and Culture at the Middle East Institute. “We have been excited by the richness of the artists’ output in the face of so many obstacles.”

Multiple themes emerged in the selection. They include an emphasis on found materials given the lack of access artists had to their studios and materials; a focus on the interior world, as artists found themselves isolated inside their homes in countries where quarantines were strictly enforced; and the intersection of war and the pandemic, with several of the artists experiencing both simultaneously.

“Many of the artists featured in the show have lived through different types of forced confinements due to wars and conflict that continue to plague much of the Middle East region. It was interesting to see how their work and experiences aligned with what has become a global experience of confinement and solitude,” said Lyne Sneige, director of MEI’s Arts and Culture Center.

Highlights include works from Lebanese-American artist, Rania Matar, a recent Guggenheim Fellow, who captured portraits of friends behind glass, during socially distant visits; Iraqi-Italian artist Athar Jaber, whose marble sculpture, A Mask for Life, is part of a series of meticulously crafted gas masks he donated to the UNHCR as part of a Covid-19 fundraising initiative; DC-based Emirati artist Ebtisam Abdulaziz, whose undulating geometric shapes served as a personal diary during her weeks of isolation; and Iranian artist Firouz FarmanFarmaian, whose works, New Form I and II, organic shapes in plastic paint and acrylic marker on canvas, resemble new life forms and express a hope for a better reality after the widespread destruction of a pandemic.

“Despite the challenges they faced, the artists expressed with ingenuity and even humor universal messages of loneliness, loss, solidarity and resilience,” said curator Jadallah. “For instance Tunisian artist Ilyes Messaoudi’s colorful and colliding imagery in his work Help and Lebanese-American Helen Zughaib’s Pop Art-style painting Oh, Tareq both take a satirical stance on the chaos, class divisions, food scarcity and politics of mask wearing resulting from Covid-19.”

The exhibition also includes strong photography and video works by both emerging and established artists, including Palestinian artist and curator Jack Persekian, Moroccan-Belgian photographer Mous Lamrabat, Medina-based Saudi photographer Moath Alofi, and Turkish photographer and video artist Sinan Tuncay whose work grapples with issues of patriarchy, gender roles, and his own queer identity though the lens of life in quarantine. These artists craft visual diaries of a world simultaneously contemporary and traditional that has been forced into isolation, while examining moments of humanity, absence and resilience.

Featured artists are: Ebtisam Abdulaziz, Afraa Ahmed, Asmin Ahmed, Amer Akel, Mahmoud Alhaj, Moath Alofi, Heba Amin, Qais Assali, Sina Ata, Dahlia Abdelilah Baasher, Raafat Ballan, Melissa Chimera, Alia Damithan, Maitha Damithan, Manal Deeb, Mehdi Djelil, Fatema Al Fardan, Maysaloun Faraj, Firouz FarmanFarmaian, Mansour el Habre, Athar Jaber, Reem Al Jeally, Amina Ayman Kadous, Lena Kassicieh, Ralph Khoury, Mous Lamrabat, Carol Mansour, Rania Mattar, Ilyes Messaoudi, Jack Persekian, Jamila Rizgalla, Rami Saab, Sepideh Salehi, Sama Tari, Katya Traboulsi, Sinan Tuncay, Erhan Us, Helen Zughaib, and Afaf Zurayk.

They represent the following countries: Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria, Sudan, Tunisia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

All of the 53 works are for sale online with the majority of the proceeds going to the artists.

The show will be on view from October 1, 2020 through January 13, 2021 on the MEI website and by appointment at the MEI Art Gallery at 1763 N Street NW, Washington, DC 20007.