rtistic director Massimiliano Gioni and the curatorial staff of the New Museum have organized an extraordinary exhibition to mull over. Its title was appropriated from the 1976 Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin, and Anne-Marie Miéville film, Here and Elsewhere, that began as a pro-Palestinian documentary, and like the film, it became an inquiry into the ethics and truthfulness of images as agents of political activism. With more than 45 artists from over 15 Arab countries, it filled the museum and provided an engrossing, if daunting, mix of social consciousness, emotional resonance, and visual gratification.
Many artists here had never shown in New York, although they are known in Europe and elsewhere. Some of the more recognizable were Etel Adnan, Kader Attia, Yto Barrada, Susan Hefuna, Wael Shawky, and Akram Zaatari. The show’s demographics spanned a range of birth dates from 1923 to 1983, and surprisingly, roughly a third of the artists were women. At the entrance and in the lobby, consumerism and affluence were the themes of the collective GCC and the Saudi artist Ahmed Mater. GCC was represented by an enormous photograph of a dazzlingly opulent Abu Dhabi hotel, and Mater by cell-phone videos of Mecca being transformed into a kind of gilded pilgrimage theme park.
Most of the art focused on more desperate wanderings and more explosive transformations. Two such works were Moroccan artist Bouchra Khalili’s video projections narrating the illegal migration of émigrés to Europe, and Kuwaiti artist Basma Alsharif’s very moving video We Began by Measuring Distance (2009), referring specifically to the constantly shifting territory between Jerusalem and Gaza. Giving dimension, nuance, and humanity to this entangled area of the world, what started as a survey became something rarer: a revelation.
A version of this story originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 110.