Barjeel Art Foundation collection to go on permanent display

Kadhim Hayder.  Ten Fatigued Horses Converse with Nothing ( 1965). Courtesy of the Barjeel Art Foundation. 

Kadhim Hayder. Ten Fatigued Horses Converse with Nothing (1965). Courtesy of the Barjeel Art Foundation. 

An exhibition of key pieces from the extensive Barjeel Art Foundation collection will go on show in Sharjah Art Museum next month after the space in Maraya Art Centre closes. After almost a decade of more than thirty local and international exhibitions and several large loans to mainstream art institutions around the world, the Barjeel Art Foundation collection will take a respite from a revolving calendar but crucially will remain open to scholars and enthusiasts, maintaining its initial purpose - to make art from the Arab world part of the public conversation .

“The exhibition will be a landmark for scholars and researchers in the field of Arab modernism by making accessible key artists from the collection for the next five years. Visibility is such an essential part of not only allowing researchers the opportunity to do their work but also opens up the possibility for those who are unfamiliar to encounter and learn about artists who are essential to understanding the region’s art history,” says Mandy Merzaban, Barjeel's founding curator.

Dia Azzawi.  A Wolf Howls: Memories of a Poet (1968).  Courtesy of the Barjeel Art Foundation.

Dia Azzawi. A Wolf Howls: Memories of a Poet (1968). Courtesy of the Barjeel Art Foundation.

Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, Barjeel's founder announced in January that he would be taking a break from the international and domestic exhibitions that his foundation has been hosting for the past eight years and would be focusing on personal research and scholarship. At the same event, he also announced one of Barjeel's most recent aquisitions. A Wolf Howls: Memories of a Poet by Dia Azzawi. It is a work based on a poem by Muzaffar Al Nawab called "Hassan Shammus". 

This exhibition will feature this 1968 painting as well as several important works from across many decades, geographies and contexts. The show, the first permanent display of a collection of Arab art in the UAE, is being guest curated by Salwa Mikdadi, a prominent professor of art history at New York University, Abu Dhabi. Mikdadi says: "I am looking forward to curating this exhibition which will present artworks from 1885 to the late 1980s. The selection is limited only by the space and not restricted by a curatorial theme or a chronological historical timeline. My intention is to make it as accessible as possible, taking care to include as many techniques and styles of art that were produced during the 100 years of art production.  While the collection has a historic and aesthetic significance; it also reflects the passion of its collector Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi who can recount the history of each artwork, the context of its production, and how it relates to other works of the same period. Al Qassemi is one of the most knowledgeable collectors and a credible resource on the region’s art."

Ibrahim El Salahi. The Last Sound, 1964. Courtesy of the Barjeel Art Foundation.

Ibrahim El Salahi. The Last Sound, 1964. Courtesy of the Barjeel Art Foundation.

Citing the need for increased critical and theoretical analysis of modern art from the Arab world outside of merely understand social and political context, Karim Sultan, the foundation's director said that this exhibition is a vital next step for the evolution of this vast and comprehensive collection. "When looking regionally and internationally, we realised a lack of permanent or long-term displays of modern art from the region, presented historically or thematically. Yet we are at a point where scholarship, curatorial interest, and the market are simultaneously focusing on modernist works. The display aims at responding to the need to have a collection that can begin to address both academic interest as well as allow a local public to engage with historical works in an accessible manner," he says.

Merzaban echoes these sentiments when she says that the work the Barjeel team has done over the past nine years has at times, felt like activism where they have had argue the importance of presenting the Arab region’s modern art history in the context of global modernism. "In recent years we have been trying to fill in chronological gaps in the collection; transforming it from a primarily contemporary collection to one that considers the enormous creative output of the early 20th century to present. Looking at the history of the Arab region through this creative output, has been an essential part of the foundation’s journey over the past nine years. Although Barjeel’s encyclopaedic collection is not exhaustive, the exhibition will give visitors a chance to encounter numerous works of historical significance and hopefully spark further interest and curiosity. There is still so much that needs to be done, and we hope our contribution inspires other initiatives to share collections with the wider public.”

  • The Barjeel Art Foundation Collection exhibition is set to open on May 12 at Sharjah Art Museum