The title of the exhibition is a bit of a misnomer; marking 25 years of the Institut du Monde Arabe, it shows a vivid cross-section of the very latest work coming out of the Arab world rather than a summing up of the last quarter century. Curating works by 40 artists to explore all the variety and complexity of visions from Tangiers to Kuwait is a task the IMA is uniquely qualified to do – and the results, while uneven, as a whole produce an intensely dynamic, intelligent and enlightened picture of contemporary artistic engagement in the Arab world.
The works dealing with themes that are most often associated with the Arab world are the least successful; Arwa Abouon’s rainbow of women in burqas, Khaled Hafez’s clumsy coffins battered by a soundtrack of violence, a single-take video of a man in traditional dress gazing out over an empty desert. What stand out are the works that investigate concepts of memory, identity, place, exile and liminality – thoughtful and creative, they are also often playful, irreverent and funny. Mahmud Obaidi’s ‘Fair Skies 2011’ includes a series of vending machines for ‘quality products for a worry-free travel and a better world’ (hair dye and skin lightener), designed for men like him who need ‘not to pass for a terrorist in the eyes of American airport authorities’. Maha Malluh’s ‘Barcoding I’ and ‘II’ are mischievous airport scanner views of the interiors of travellers' suitcases. Safaa Errus has recreated all 22 flags of Arab countries in white pearls; Abdulnasser Gharem’s giant stamp closes the exhibition with a last defiant flourish. Aimed at Saudi Arabia’s tortuous bureaucracy, its base reads ‘Have a bit of commitment – Insh’allah’.
Fear and confusion are here – anger, too. There are messy sweeps of red paint across Whaeeda Malullah’s response to the 2011 Bahrain demonstrations, an uncomfortable multi-screen portrait of Algeria’s assassinated leader Mohamed Boudiaf in Ammar Bouras’s film ‘Tag’out’, and the accusing rows of glass bottles containing sand from the graves of American soldiers buried in Tunisia in Nadia Kaabi-Linke’s ‘Tunisian Americans’. But mostly, there’s a relentless drive to communicate, to find alternatives, to hold dialogue, and to challenge official structures at home and abroad.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Thursday, 10am-6pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am-7pm.