by Anna Freedman, video by MONA // Nov. 4, 2011
In 2003, Steven Stappleton, a British artist, joined forces with Saudi Arabian artists Ahmed Mater and Abdulnasser Gharem to create Edge of Arabia, a a multi-faceted platform for presenting contemporary Arab art to Europe, America, the Middle East and Asia. Having begun in the Al-Miftaha Arts Village in Abha, Saudia Arabia, this grassroots initiative quickly spread to become a powerful voice in the international art world.
Edge of Arabia’s inaugural exhibition was hosted in 2008 at the SOAS Brunei Gallery in London. In 2010, the group began a world tour, starting in Berlin at the Vinyl Factory Gallery during the 6th Berlin Biennale. This marked Germany’s first exhibition of contemporary Saudi Arabian art. They showed an increasing international presence with further exhibitions in Istanbul, as part of the European Capital of Culture, and and at the U.A.E.’s 2011 Art Dubai and Sharjah Biennale.
This year, Edge of Arabia produced the first ever Pan-Arab show at the 54th Venice Biennale, ‘The Future of a Promise’. In this video, Berlin Art Link follows Kate Busby, with Edge of Arabia, as she takes us on a brief tour of the exhibition. Much of the work seeks to express ideas that are largely repressed in a strictly censored society. Edge of Arabia helps to provide Arab communities with an outlet for artistic expression, at the same time informing the rest of the world about what goes on within them.
For the participating artists, hailing from Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco, Palestine, Jordan and Iraq, communication with the international community travels both ways. Many of the works themselves incorporate certain stylistic elements of contemporary western art, expressing both directly and indirectly the desire to also incorporate what are seen as western political ideals of freedom of speech and press, and equality under the law. The artists’ collective desire to promote positive change locally is made abundantly clear through each piece highlighted here. It is hoped that communicating through art helps to foster these desired changes.
“Through the artworks selected, I wanted to investigate how artists from this diverse, fragmented region have responded to the often contradictory promises that have defined our history,” says curator Lina Lazaar.
Abdelkader Benchamma, Abdulnasser Gharem, Ahmed Mater, Ahmed Alsoudani, Ayman Baalbaki, Ayman Yossri Daydban, Driss Ouadahi, Emily Jacir, Fayçal Baghriche, Jananne Al-Ani, Kader Attia, Lara Baladi, Manal Al-Dowayan, Mona Hatoum, Mounir Fatmi, Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Raafat Ishak, Taysir Batniji, Yazan Khalili, Yto Barrada, Ziad Abillama, Ziad Antar
54. Biennale di Venezia – Illusminations
Group Show: The Future of a Promise
Exhibition: June 2–Nov. 30, 2011
Magazzini del Sale, No. 262 – Dorsoduro
Fondamenta Delle Zattere, Venezia
Videographer and Editor Info
Peter Cairns is a U.S. videographer, editor and color correction specialist currently based in Berlin and New York. Charmaine Robbins is an Australian filmmaker, producer, editor and writer currently based in Berlin.