This year’s Armory Show Focus edition highlights art from the Middle East, North Africa, and the Mediterranean (Armory Focus: MENAM), curated by Whitechapel Gallery’s Omar Kholeif, and presented in partnership with Edge of Arabia and Art Jameel. Fifteen galleries offer excellent and eye-catching selections, many, unsurprisingly, with a political bent. Below, we list a few good places to start.
Alexander and Bonin, New York: Mona Hatoum
Mona Hatoum is a Palestinian, Lebanese-born video and installation artist, whose work confronts the idea of home (or lack thereof) through the eyes of a Palestinian exile. Installations resembling cages or barriers, crafted from materials such as wood and steel or barbed wire and grenades, are Hatoum’s signature. Turbulence (black) (2014), a 2D circle made with glass marbles, opens up a black hole in the middle of the floor at Alexander and Bonin’s booth. From the right angle, it almost seems to levitate—an unexpectedly soothing sight.
Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai: Wafaa Bilal
For its first Armory showing, Dubai’s Lawrie Shabibi Gallery presents Canto III, a new installation by Wafaa Bilal. His kitschy white bust of Saddam Hussein exudes a terrible feeling of danger; its title is derived from a passage in Lord Byron’s “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,” a poem about the downfall of an empire thought to be indestructible. Bilal based the sculpture on a parody-worthy tribute planned by Iraq’s Ba’ath party: at the height of Hussein’s power, they sought to launch a golden stature in his likeness into space to circle Earth for eternity. Thankfully for humanity, Bilal’s work will outlive its inspiration.
Taymour Grahne, New York: Fayçal Baghriche
Though simple in design, even poker-faced art-goers were exclaiming like children over Fayçal Baghriche’s rapidly spinning Souvenir (2012). As I overheard a gallery assistant explain to one such enchanted visitor, “Yep, it’s just a regular globe, but with a motor.” Baghriche is known for playing with what a press release calls “principles of image rhetoric,” such as subtraction, inversion, or acceleration, and this work accordingly redirected more than a few conversations that entered its orbit.
Athr Gallery, Jeddah: Ahmed Mater
Ahmed Mater spelled out yet another version of the 10 Commandments with his large-scale wall installation, Cowboy Code II (2012), based on a Gene Autry song. Mimicking digital units with plastic gun cap discs, Mater compares rather than contrasts Eastern and Western codes of ethics. In his lists, Mater portrays the American cowboy as a heroic, playful, ultra-masculine youthful ideal—a “nomad of the Western sands,” as a release puts it—alongside the more sober edicts of the Prophet Muhammad.
Kalfayan Galleries, Athens: Raed Yassin
The sounds of Ruins in Space (2014), an installation by artist-slash-musician Raed Yassin, rumble throughout the entire Focus: MENAM wing via the amplifying mouth of its portrait subject. The project is a music history fanfic narrative based on real material, thereby creating realistic potential. Two legendary divas from opposite sides of the world develop a friendship, using outdated satellite transmissions to connect in space. Yassin considers space as a utopian arena, where language, location, and time are immaterial, and people are able to connect to each other regardless of time and place. Far out.
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