Nazar Yahya: Reconquista


02 November  2015 – 10 January 2016 

Meem Gallery will present a solo exhibition of new works by Texas-based, Iraqi artist Nazar Yahya. The solo exhibition, titled Reconquista, showcases works exploring Andalusian- Arab heritage, the idea of history and how it can come to be re-examined.

Meem Gallery’s central gallery will be converted into a series of spaces in order to attain a particular experience for the viewer. By grouping works together within small, intimate spaces, the viewer encounters them slowly and in a specific order designed to intrigue. Central to this exhibition is a site-specific installation that will show three key pieces in a setting that will provoke a multi-sensorial experience of sight, sound and smell. This particular installation evokes the experience of a highly sensual Andalusian hammam, transporting the audience through time. While Yahya presents us various characters and motifs of his reconstructed Andalusia, the exhibition will encourage visitors to explore, as they are directed to move around the different rooms to see the presented works in a manner that is premeditated by the artist.  

The show is both a visual and emotional experience. An exercise in bittersweet nostalgia, the exhibition is laden with intention to simultaneously be situated in the present moment as well as the past. The artist’s focus on the story of Abu Abdullah, the last Arab leader of Granada, or “Boabdil” as the Spanish have since rendered the name, carries with it the remorse of the last king as he bade farewell to his kingdom with one famous last sigh before being forced to surrender it to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492. The infamous story of the last Moorish king serves as the artist’s prompt to investigate many themes including exile, isolation, and the pain over the loss of a homeland; in addition to power rendered antiquated and impotent.

By paying homage to a significant moment in Arab history, Yahya reminds viewers of the Arab world’s literary, Islamic and scientific heritage that developed as a result of the era of scientific and philosophical enlightenment of that time period. The philosopher Ibn Rushd is depicted, as are the horses used in the various battles that took place in the fight for the conquest of Granada. Knowledge, culture and history poetically clash together. The vestiges of war and the vast culture that was brought down still remains in the conscience of Europe and the Middle East, particularly for Arabs argues Yahya. 

Yahya manipulates the themes and motifs of the historic moment, and the era of Muslim and Arab rule in Spain, to discuss key themes of his ever-expanding oeuvre of work. In visually constructing and narrating the story of Boabdil, Yahya tells the story of many Arabs who have been forced to leave their homeland, forced off or expelled due to politics and power grabs. With subtle symbolism elaborated in intricate works made with a variety of mediums on large canvases such as Irony of War and Transition, Yahya ultimately tells his own story of having left Iraq and his permanent exile in the United States within the context of a larger one.

Reconquista tells of Yahya’s struggle to retain his identity as an Arab in a world where to be Arab means to be many things, but at moments, seems most to be about loss and bittersweet history.  

Works by Yahya are now part of the permanent collections of the British Museum in London; the Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha; the Station Museum in Houston; in addition to many private art collections around the world. 

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Jeffar Khaldi: Uninhibited


15 September – 17 October 2015 

Meem Gallery will present a solo exhibition titled Uninhibited that will be featuring the work of the Dubai-based Palestinian artist Jeffar Khaldi. 

Presenting a number of oil paintings highlighting many of the artist’s key themes, including politics and its multitude of absurdities, Uninhibited is an exhibition exploring notions of power of both a political and sexual nature. Khaldi explores these concepts in an introspective manner, presenting photographic-like stills of memories and observations in compositions that juxtapose the real with the imagined.

Khaldi aims to capture the grip that the promise of sexual gratification has on the young recruits of ISIS who fight based on that promise in the afterlife; the power of seduction by money on men; hypocritical attitudes of sex and sexuality in present-day society; the politics of sex; and the relationship between sex and politics. Uninhibited seeks to prompt viewers to ultimately question their own notions on the subjects of power and sex. 

Questions about the artist’s contemporary existence and moments of isolation within the world at large are also expressed, hinting at greater questions of being that were perhaps first formulated whilst a young child during Lebanon’s civil war, and during his subsequent immigration to the United States at the age of sixteen.

New works make up this exhibition, in addition to Khaldi’s extensive pre-existing oeuvre. The show includes works such as Happy Endings, Men’s Ruin, and Maki that highlight Khaldi’s constant melding of a fantasy dream-like state with the harshness of every day reality. Uninhibited is a show that is both narrative and expository which will allow viewers to take note of the artist’s multi-layered themes, and develop an appreciation for the intricate complexity of the artist’s conceptual ideas and aesthetic style which he melds together on canvas so fluidly.

Works by Khaldi are now part of the permanent collections of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha; the Saatchi Collection, London; the Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah; and the JP Morgan Chase Collection; in addition to many private art collections around the world.  

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9 June – 6 July 2015 

Contorted bodies and searching faces reach out of Marwan’s oil paintings and etchings, seeking the viewer and inviting them in to explore the artist’s focus on his road to self-discovery. Questions of identity and contemplations of the self are encapsulated in a palette of vibrant colours, and executed in forms that emphasize the very physical nature of these highly intellectualized exercises by Marwan. Physical self-awareness can also be read in the subtle, yet unmistakable, notion of sexual agitation; and loneliness is presented as both mental and physical realities.  

A life spent in self-imposed exile did not shield Marwan from the politics of his native Syria and its emotional and mental impact on his work; nor was he immune to the repercussions of the Cold War era politics of his adopted country. As a Syrian, the identity to which Marwan protectively adheres to and repeatedly returns to in his work, the themes of political strife and war, and their devastating psychological impact can be clearly inferred in his work. His technical and aesthetic style also tells of an artist who was engaged with the questions and fast-changing artistic trends of Cold War Berlin, a city that against all odds gave birth to artists and trends that allowed it to flourish after the collapse of the Berlin Wall.  

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Dia Azzawi: Something Different: Sculpture and Tapestry


15 March – 25 April 2015 

Meem Gallery will present a solo exhibition dedicated to the sculpture and tapestries of Iraqi modern art pioneer, Dia Azzawi. Renowned for his colourfully rendered paintings, in recent years Azzawi has explored the art of sculpture more actively. Drawing on the visual culture of Mesopotamia, the martyrdom of Hussein, Arabic literature and poetry, and contemporary political issues, Azzawi’s use of various media – painting, drawing, sculpture, dafatir (book art), and tapestry – can be linked thematically. Tapestry is a new venture for the artist, a medium that is once again seeing a revival after the popularity of the tapies of European modernists such as Marc Chagall, Fernand Léger and Pablo Picasso. A key work in the exhibition, Jenin Jenin, is a reworking of early 2002 work of the same title. Hand crafted at Atelier Pinton in France, the work is brought to life through this unusual medium to create a monumental masterpiece, measuring 300 x 456 cm. This impressive work will be shown alongside two smaller, more colourful works that reflect Azzawi’s iconic style, also created as tapestries.

Azzawi’s sculpture has gained considerable renown with key works such as Oh Tigris, exhibited in the British Museum’s Word into Art (2006), and Wounded Soul, displayed at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art’s inaugural exhibition Intersections (2010). Like his paintings, Azzawi’s sculptures are often vividly coloured, although he has also produced works in monochromatic tones and white bronze. Something Different will include a collection of sculptural works which have never been exhibited, most of which that were cast in the last three years. 

Born in Baghdad in 1939, Azzawi’s art features in the collections of museums and institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, Baghdad; Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha; Museum of Modern Art, Damascus; Museum of Modern Art, Tunis; Museum of Modern Art, Amman; Kinda Foundation, Saudi Arabia; Una Foundation, Casablanca; Arab Monetary Fund, Abu Dhabi; Development Fund, Kuwait; Jeddah International Airport; British Museum, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Tate Modern, London; Saudi Bank, London; United Bank of Kuwait, London; Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris; Bibliothéque Nationale de France, Paris; Colas Foundation, Paris; Harba Collection, Iraq and Italy; Gulbenkian Collection, Barcelona; Library of Congress, Washington, DC; and The World Bank, Washington, DC.

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Faisel Laibi Sahi: Agony and Recreation


January 28 – March 3 2015

Meem Gallery is pleased to present a solo exhibition of Iraqi artist Faisel Laibi Sahi’s recent paintings for the first time at Meem Gallery.

Faisel`s œuvre spans fifty years and demonstrates the artist’s continuing commitment to the ancient, traditional, modern and contemporary culture of Iraq. His vividly coloured paintings of individuals and group portraits display ostensibly harmonious scenes of leisure, as demonstrated in his Coffee House series and portraits of fruit, textile, shoe shine and laundry vendors. In his exhibition at Meem Gallery, characters such as The Butcher and The Accordian Player  are displayed; and in the case of larger works such as The Café 2, we see a grouping of people from the community, a waiter, a general, a couple reading a newspaper.

Faisel renders the works in a stylized realism, the iconography simple and easy to decode, or so it seems. Upon closer inspection, the repetition of forms and figures throughout his work leave a sense of the satirical on the viewer; and open discussion into deeper concerns such as class structure and political hierarchies of contemporary Iraqi culture. Faisel is indeed sardonic in nature, something that is highlighted not only in his art, but can be linked also to his work with the periodical press in Iraq, and the publication of his London based satirical newspaper, Al Meirasha (1992-2002).

Other key works in the exhibition include the 1978 masterpiece Martyrs, which at 70 x 450cm is truly monumental. Unlike his later work, this particular piece evokes a somber mood is reflected in his choice of palette, greys and black hues of the crowd stand starkly against the white shrouded figure of the martyr. 

Born in Basra in 1947, Faisel studied at the Institute of Fine Arts and Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad. In 1974 he travelled to Paris to pursue his studies further at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts and Sorbonne Universités. In 1984, he moved to Florence, and after four years there in 1988 he went to Algeria to teach art. In 1991 he moved to London where he lives and works today. Since 1966, Faisel Laibi Sahi has exhibited his works internationally in the Middle East, North Africa, UK, Europe and USA.

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