Still from Marwa Arsanios, Have You Ever Killed a Bear? Or Becoming Jamila, 2014

The “Here and Elsewhere” exhibition at the New Museum begins on July 16 and runs until 28 September. This exhibition of contemporary art from and about the Arab world brings together forty-five artists.

      The exhibition borrows its title from a 1976 film-essay by French directors Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin, and Anne-Marie Miéville. Their film, Ici et ailleurs [Here and Elsewhere], was initially conceived as a pro-Palestinian documentary, but evolved into a complex reflection on the ethics of representation and the status of images as instruments of political consciousness. Taking inspiration from Godard, Gorin, and Miéville’s film—which has had a strong impact on an entire generation of artists in various Arab countries—“Here and Elsewhere” pays particular attention to the position and role of the artist in the face of historical events.

However, Massimiliano Gioni, the museum’s associate director, says that “There are artists looking at conflict and wars, but we did not want to restrict this to the Arab Spring…This is not a show in which the artists are forced to illustrate historic changes.”

….Artists such as Hrair Sarkissian, Lamia Joreige, and Hassan Sharif undertake experimental approaches to archival material, rewriting personal and collective traumas, and weaving fragments both real and imagined into their work. Sarkissian’s photos of public squares in Syrian cities depict sites similar to the one where, as a child, he witnessed a criminal execution one day in the early morning.   Joreige undertakes an archaeology of Lebanon’s recent history in an ongoing work that presents a series of objects and individual testimonies that recall aspects of Lebanon’s various conflicts. Sharif, a pioneering conceptual artist in Dubai, works by accumulating surplus materials and found objects, but in contrast to the archaeological pursuits of other artists, his catalogues of manufactured goods reflect on globalized production and consumption. Ala Younis presents a visual essay, an exhibition within the exhibition, in which artworks, archival materials, and objects from popular culture are combined to analyze the representation of the Palestinian struggle within the historical context of Pan-Arabism.

This focus on the issues around  blurring the boundaries between reality, history and imagination reminds me of a panel discussion at the Tate from 2009, which examined “artists’ increasing involvement with the documentary form.” The artists who took part in that discussion were Jordanian Oraib Toukan and Lebanese Lamia Joreige. The latter is taking part in an artist talk in the Here and Elsewhere exhibition, on the first day, alongside Palestinian Khaled Jarrar* and the Charif Kiwan from the Syrian anonymous filmmaking collective Abounaddara.


As this article describes it “A sense of instability and transition pervades “Here and Elsewhere,”

Much of the feeling comes from the physical transformation of the region: Video footage by artist Ahmed Mater captures the demolition of old buildings in Saudi Arabia, and photographs by Fouad Elkoury show the remains of downtown Beirut at the end of the Lebanese civil war. Hassan Sharif’s bundled fabrics and cardboard point to the problem of rising consumerism and the growing manufacturing economy of the United Arab Emirates.

The complete list of participating artists can be found here.


*ETA: It seems Israel has barred Khaled Jarrar from travelling to the exhibition and took part via Skype.

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