Celebrate the contribution of Arab-American artists to culture

HELSINKI: Two years after being forced to close due to pandemic restrictions, Helsinki’s Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art has reopened in Finland’s capital with a newly renovated interior and a sprawling exhibition that takes up all five floors of the building.

“ARS22 — Living Encounters” brings together contemporary visual arts, performances and films from local and international artists in a large-scale exhibition that will run until October 16, 2022.

ARS, a series of major international exhibitions of contemporary art, was first conceived in 1961 and held at the Ateneum museum in Helsinki. ARS22 is the 14th exhibition in the series and the 10th to be held at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. In total, the exhibitions welcomed more than one million visitors and featured works by around 600 artists or groups.

Since its opening 61 years ago, the gallery has addressed major issues around the world, and this year’s edition continues the tradition.

In addition to the 15 commissions produced exclusively for the exhibition, works by 55 artists from 26 countries, including Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Australia and Mexico, explore the exhibition’s themes of coexistence, our relationship with the world and the challenges facing the planet and humanity. .

Michael Rakowitz, “The Ballad of Special Ops Cody” (2017). Provided

“The idea behind ARS22 was to build an entity where multiple voices would coexist together. To create a museum as a platform for encounters, we curated an exhibition where many stories, instead of a linear storyline, would exist,” said said Piia Oksanen, who curated the exhibit alongside museum director Leevi Haapala, chief exhibit curator Joao Laia, and a team including her twin sister Satu Oksanen, Saara Hacklin, Kati Kivinen, Patrik Nyberg, Jonna Strandberg and Jari -Pekka Vanhala.

“That’s why invitations were sent out to artists from different backgrounds, from different geographies, working with a variety of media,” she said.

According to Oksanen, “there is a growing interest in artists from the Arab world”.

Several artists from the Middle East have been invited to participate in ARS22, including Kholod Hawash, a self-taught textile artist from Iraq; Farah Al-Qasimi, an Emirati visual artist; Michael Rakowitz, an Iraqi-American multidisciplinary artist; and Slavs and Tatars, a collective of anonymous artists founded in 2006 by a Polish-Iranian duo.

Al-Qasimi told Arab News that “it’s always great to be able to show your work in new environments. The show-investigations are fascinating for the dialogues they offer between artists who work in different ways.

The Abu Dhabi-born artist is known for her color-saturated photographs, many of which are displayed on the second floor of the museum.

Farah Al-Qasimi, ‘Khaleeji Dance’ (2020). Provided

Al-Qasimi’s artwork, which features images of a woman watching an anime on her iPhone, butterflies sitting on a slice of orange and an injured falcon being treated in a hospital, was brought to the exhibition by chief curator Laia, who invited the artist for a studio visit while she was in quarantine last November.

“You have to attend the works one by one,” Al-Qasimi said.

NADA Artadia Prize winner is known for her seductive portraits illustrating materialism and gender relations in the United Arab Emirates.

“The work in the exhibition is part of my research into ideas of paradise in contemporary culture; specifically, in religion and in the leisure and entertainment industries,” she said.

“There are references to the little ways people try to embody their own versions of idealism in everyday life, through shopping, nature or worship. It’s joyful, but also a little critical at times.

The second floor of the museum also exhibits works of the Slavic and Tatar art collective.

This year’s edition of the exhibition is the first to include works from previous exhibitions.

“We are delighted that our work will be included in the first iteration to include works from decades past, given that Slaves and Tatars was designed, in part, to counter the amnesiac focus on the new, the present, the current “, the artists mentioned.

The group installed a carpeted seating area that is a cross between a rahle, a reading desk for religious texts, and the takht, a space to sit and converse in traditional teahouses. Titled ‘PrayWay’, the installation also references flying carpets from Middle Eastern fairy tales such as ‘Aladdin’ and an example of the group’s interactive work – a space to sit, chat and connect with others .

Slavs and Tatars, “Mother tongues and paternal throats” (2012). Provided

Next to the silk and wool rug is a five-meter-high hanging rug titled “Mother Tongues, Father Throats” which depicts a diagram of the mouth showing which parts are responsible for pronouncing the letters of the Arabic alphabet. In the middle (the throat), the artists have added the Hebrew and Cyrillic equivalents of the Arabic “kha” and “qaf”, which are not present in the Western language, and mark a clear boundary between East and West.

“We are interested in redeeming the other organs of language, be it the throat or the nose, often overshadowed by the tongue,” the art collective said. “Alphabets are eminently political vehicles. We tend to imagine them innocent, but Latin, Cyrillic and Arabic each accompanied the imperial projects.

Meanwhile, two floors above hang colorful patchwork quilts by Hawash, born in Basra, now based in Helsinki and known for her hand-sewn textile pieces using a traditional Iraqi technique.

The artist taught herself to sew after watching her mother make patchwork quilts by hand-sewing scraps of discarded fabric.

According to Hawash, sanctions against Iraq at the time meant that textiles and fabrics were in short supply, so Iraqis had to use old clothes and materials taken from home to sew their “jodaleia”, the Arabic term designating traditional handmade Iraqi quilts.

Three of his outstanding works occupy the fourth floor of the museum.

Kholod Hawash, ‘Wild Song’ (2021). Provided

Hawash and her husband, Saddam Jumaily, an Iraqi painter and sculptor, sought refuge in Amman from persecution before settling in Finland with the help of Artists at Risk. Exiled artists were the first residents of AR-ICORN Safe Haven Helsinki.

“I’ve been threatened multiple times for not wearing a hijab,” Hawash said, standing next to a quilt depicting a woman cutting her hair.

“In our culture, many women cut their hair as a form of resistance and a way to distance themselves from the ‘weaker sex’,” she said.

In addition to being beautiful, Hawash’s textiles deal with political decadence, social and economic justice, refugee and migration issues, religious freedom, and other humanitarian issues.

She also draws inspiration from Iraqi folklore, with figures of goats, fish, birds and horses featuring in her embroidered work.

“It’s relevant to look outside the western world and recognize how intertwined histories and current concerns are,” Oksanen said of the decision to include artists and works from the Middle East in the series. exposure.

Indeed, there is an endless supply of sophisticated and thought-provoking works from the Arab world and it is time dedicated spaces were made available to them.

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