Today was the last day of the Edge of Arabia exhibition which I was keen to see. Hosted at the Brunei Gallery at SOAS, the exhibition showcased the work of 17 Saudi artists.
Edge of Arabia - Contemporary Art from Saudi Arabia
The art of the Middle East has long been interesting to me, though with this exhibition the dangerous word "contemporary" had crept into the precis. Just how contemporary, I wondered as I arrived?!
The works were hit and miss - some I felt were rubbish - a wall filled with wooden boards scratched and doodled upon, some sculpture. Others were beautiful and inspiring, including some large colourful impressionist and patterned art. The highlight for me was the collection of prints by Shadia and Raja Alem, each with a paragraph of verse in Arabic, French and English opposite an illustrated figure related to the text.
Shadia and Raja Alem's Work
Ataa Al Riyadh
In the same building there were also two other exhibitions:
A People's Migration - The Bakhtiari Kuch
A photography exhibition put together by Caroline Mawer of the nomadic Bakhtiari tribes of SW Iran. The Bakhtiari were especially politically important during the Constitutional Revolution – successfully invading Tehran in 1909. Just before that, in 1908, the first find of Middle East oil was in their tribal areas.
The exhibition brings together rarely seen early images exploring the Bakhtiari and the regions they inhabit, the families of the Khans and tribal life. It includes some of the personal image collections of the Bakhtiari Khans, as well as the British Petroleum archives.
Traditionally, twice a year, the nomadic Bakhtiari tribe spend weeks trekking kuch (their traditional migration) with their flocks and families from their winter to their summer pastures. This ancient way of life is now vanishing fast and may soon disappear forever. More and more Bakhtiari are leaving the mountains altogether; whilst those who do remain use trucks or tractors to transport their animals and the family belongings.
Objects of Instruction:
Treasures of the School of Oriental and African Studies
A small room behind the Edge of Arabia exhibition hosts the Foyle Collection, i.e. some of SOAS' treasures from their archives, presumably on a rolling basis.
To be honest, this was more interesting to me than the main exhibition - priceless and beautiful objects from Africa and Asia, albeit rather poorly labelled and explained.
British Political Cartoon Gallery
A surprise gallery on Store Street, and a pound entry which you get back if you buy anything in the shop. The gallery was divided up into several exhibitions, including Extremism in Cartoons, the British Political Cartoon of the Year, and of particular interest:
Tory Blues: A Cartoon History of the Conservative Party
21 October 2008 to 17 January 2009
To be honest my memories of pre-Thatcher Tory party are somewhat hazy, probably because I hadn't been born! Incidentally there's a Brown Review coming up soon, so watch their site!
Some things never change (click for larger):
By Sir Osbert Lancaster, 1961
Almost next door..
New London Architecture Building
Another wander-in exhibition, this about London, design, and Boris' London Plan, dealing with long-term strategy for the capital.
Jia Jia Wang at Alexandre Pollazzon.
Alexandre Pollazzon is a single room gallery just off Tottenham Court Road which I initially walked straight past, distracted by the adjacent Wenlock Arms! Jia Jia Wang was born in China but educated here, and in this exhibition draws on and blends Chinese traditional landscape painting with colourful computer games.
The pictures are simple but engaging - they'd be wonderful in a child's bedroom, leaving lots to the imagination but still bringing one to a fantastic dreamy colourful world on enormous canvasses.
30 Years of Solitude at Asia House
Asia House is an interesting place, sitting just off Portland Place on New Cavendish Street. It seems to be a sort of British Council in reverse - aiming to foster relations cultural and otherwise between Asia and the UK. It also has a nice little little eaterie, Café t, with nibbles a plenty.
The exhibition, 30 Years of Solitude, highlights a selection of work by female Iran artists who still live and work in Iran. The exhibition focuses on the feelings of anxiety, isolation and the sense of loss that Iranian society has experienced in the last 30 years.
Be Colourful, Shadi Ghadirian 2006
One exhibit was a video of a rural chap shrimp fishing. Half an hour of nothingness. Not especially interesting! The point was also made that some of the subjects of the photos were not identified as it is still illegal to show female head hair in public in Iran.
Abstracts, Maryam Kia, 2005
If anything I enjoyed this more than Edge of Arabia. Some of the works were beautiful, particularly the "Be Colourful" tetraptych.
Overall a marvellous weekend afternoon of art, despite the miserable weather, and all for a couple of pounds. Who says art has to be expensive? Just avoid those populist blockbusters, especially 11 quid for Annie Leibovitz at the NPG!