The Middle East Institute (MEI) Arts and Culture Center Presents Converging Lines: Tracing the Artistic Lineage of the Arab Diaspora in the US

By Editorial Team on September 13, 2021
Jacqueline Salloum, REMEMBERING THE FUTURE, 2017, Giclée print on archival Hahnemühle Photo Rag Satin, 43.5 x 43.5 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
On view: September 13-November 17

The Middle East Institute (MEI) Arts and Culture Center is proud to mark MEI’s 75th anniversary with the exhibition Converging Lines: Tracing the Artistic Lineage of the Arab Diaspora in the U.S. opening to the public Monday, September 13, 2021 at the MEI Art Gallery at 1763 N Street NW, Washington DC.

Seventeen diverse artists spanning multiple generations are represented in the show. Anchored by an illustration from Kahlil Gibran, a leading member of the early 20th century Arab-American arts community, Converging Lines: Tracing the Artistic Lineage of the Arab Diaspora in the U.S. explores some of the aesthetic threads that connect a community of shape-shifting artists whose contributions to American art have gone largely unrecognized.

Curated by Maymanah Farhat, the exhibit pairs pioneering artists like Etel Adnan, whose upcoming Guggenheim survey reflects her critical renown, with a younger generation of mid-career and emerging artists.  Their work and practices are linked by shared thematics like displacement, exile, memory formation, changing identities, and the state of in-betweenness that often accompanies migration. Many of the exhibition’s works allude to the complexities of the Arab diasporic experience, including experiences of invisibility, alienation, and intergenerational trauma. From mystical, symbolist drawings to disorientating mixed-media objects, the featured works range from reflections of longing and introspection to calls for new ways of seeing and cultural rebellion.

“Artists identifying with the Arab diaspora in the U.S. are rarely recognized as forming a vibrant artistic community that has long been contributing to American art. This exhibition seeks to offer a template for new scholarship and to encourage support for the crucial work of these artists. At the same time, Converging Lines is curated with a broader audience in mind with the hope that curators and scholars will begin to look at this community as part of the larger narrative of American art history,” says curator Maymanah Farhat.

“We are presenting artists as diverse as Sudanese-born modernist Mohamed Omar Khalil alongside a younger generation of Arab-American artists working with pop and conceptual art, like Guggenheim photography fellow Sama Alshaibi. What links these artists is not only their aesthetic strength but the ways in which their hybrid experiences and identities have informed the often very political thematics they explore through their practice,” said Kate Seelye, Vice President for Arts and Culture at MEI.

Lyne Sneige MEI’s director of the Arts and Culture Center added, “Despite the turmoil in the Middle East, the arts are a deep source of pride for the Arab diaspora, providing a different lens on the region – one which reveals the beauty, humanity and sophistication of a region that has long been stereotyped by the West.”

Featured artists include: Etel Adnan, Sama Alshaibi, Zeina Barakeh, Kamal Boullata, Huguette Caland, Yasmine Diaz, Dahlia Elsayed, Kahlil Gibran, Sherin Guirguis, Helen Khal, John Halaka, Jackie Milad, Mohammed Omar Khalil, Zeinab Saab, Jacqueline Reem Salloum, Nazar Yahya, and Helen Zughaib.

About the Middle East Institute’s Arts and Culture Center

The center facilitates cross-cultural understanding through exhibitions and cultural programming, including panel talks, film screenings, readings and performances that underscore the role of the arts in the Middle East. Founded in September 2019, the MEI Art Gallery serves as the Center’s anchor. It promotes the work of Middle Eastern artists by exhibiting socially engaged art from the region and serves as a platform for diverse communities to begin a cross cultural dialogue around the power of the arts to transcend difference and to drive social change globally. Our gallery is D.C. ‘s only dedicated to contemporary and modern art from the Middle East.

The Middle East Institute was founded in 1946 to promote knowledge and understanding of the region among U.S. citizens and to advance ties between the peoples of the two regions. Alongside our Arts and Culture Center, MEI also houses a Policy Institute, a source for non-partisan expert analysis seeking solutions to the region’s most challenging issues, and an Education Center, offering classes, academic resources, and professional development services to foster regional understanding. Our centers reflect our dedication to promoting understanding of the region through a wider lens.

The show opens to the public on Monday, September 13 and is up through November 17, 2021. It can be visited via timed appointments at the MEI Art Gallery at 1763 N Street NW, Washington, DC 20036 and online. For more information visit: www.mei.edu/arts-culture . Join the conversation with @meiartsculture on Twitter and @middleeastinst on Instagram using the hashtag #MEIArtGallery.