Artistic dialogue, a provocation?

Yesterday was the opening of the first event of the FORUM for new arab art this year. I launched the FORUM in 2012 as a platform for showing art produced in different Arab countries and by artists of Arab origin living elsewhere. The project is multidisciplinary and seeks to follow up on new discussions arising among artists and to show work by artists who are not necessarily visible on the international biennial circuit. Studying the selection of artists shown on the biennials, one could easily get the idea that there are only 30-40 artists working in the entire Arab region, whereby I do not mean to say, that those artists frequently presented do not produce work of high interest. My point is merely that there are so many other artists that merit greater visibility and I would certainly wish that more among my curator colleagues were more interested in doing profound research among artist communities instead of relying on the selection of their colleagues for their own shows. The ever polemic Jerry Saltz said 2009 about the globalized art scene of the 2000s to the German art magazine “Monopol”: “It’s a shame that it is always the same 23 professional, international curators who curated the same 123 artists into their exhibitions. Therefore, the exhibitions all looked the same”.

The full interview is to be found here (in German):


It was to give more visibility to a greater variety of artistic production in and from the Arab world that the FORUM was launched. Since then, we have presented two group exhibitions (Alien Body in December 2012, Re-Touch in September 2013), a performance event (If I Perform) with Younes Atbane that developed out of a residency where Younes and I worked together in Italy in August 2013 and the Video Dialogues (Aus-Land in June 2013 and Traced Patterns now, in May 2014). More information on these different events can be found on the blog of the venue, Art-Lab Berlin:

The original festival model with exhibition and parallel screening program soon gave way to a model of smaller events presented throughout the year, as this allows us to be more flexible and better follow and react to new developments.

The Video Dialogue Traced Patterns presents two videos, Jerusalem HD (2007) by Syrian artist and film maker Ammar Al-Beik and Urban Scene XI: Last Station (2009) by Swedish artist Ninia Sverdrup. It is a premiere in the sense that it is the first event where we open up the FORUM for an artistic dialogue between an artist from the Arab world and an artist from another region. More events of this kind are planned for the future. The event was well received from our audience, but some also seemed slightly taken aback by the concept. Apparently it is still provocative to show Non-Western art on an entirely equal footing with European art. And in a sense, it is still rarely seen. The past 15 years have seen a proliferation of events with a geographical focus showing “Arab art” or “Middle Eastern” art. And as I mentioned above, a selected handful of Middle Eastern artist regularly show on the international circuit. But these shows are still overwhelmingly dominated by Western art, the globalization of the art scene notwithstanding. So, there is still a clear hierarchy. The other artists are invited into the exclusive club of the international art scene.

AmmarAlBeik_JerusalemHD_WebAmmar Al-Beik: Jerusalem HD





The FORUM events work the other way around. Instead of being an event where we invite a few Arab artist to show together with European artists, these (or artists from other regions) are invited to show their work with artists from the Arab world. There is no hierarchy; each artist, each work is given the same space. It is interesting, that this still seems to provoke members of the audience. But it has also shown us that we are doing something right, that we ARE in fact, opening up some necessary discussions.

NiniaSverdrup_LastStation_WebNinia Sverdrup: Urban Scene XI: Last Station (2009)


About zakharifblog

Art historian and curator, living and working between Berlin and Geneva. Formerly based in Damascus.
This entry was posted in Artistic dialogue, contemporary Arab art, Contemporary art, Curating, Exhibition, Video and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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