Landscapes of Arabia
From Nov 23 to Dec 4, 2021
Exhibit Opening Date
In collaboration with
Visit the Arabic version here
In conjunction with the Ninth Biennial Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium, The Environment and Ecology in Islamic Art, The Gallery at VCUarts Qatar features the exhibition Landscapes of Arabia: Camille Zakharia and Tarek Al-Ghoussein, curated by Jochen Sokoly.
Camille Zakharia and Tarek Al-Ghoussein reflect on the sense of loss and belonging through a discourse with the environments with which they interact in their works. They are both chroniclers of massive human interventions in these environments, but make no value judgements about them. These places exhibit a bizarre beauty, far removed from the romanticism with which the idea of Arabia still exists in the minds of those who only know the region from global media or fleeting visits as tourists.
A virtual roundtable conversation between the curator and the artists, moderated by VCUarts Qatar faculty Dr. Holiday Powers and Dr. Monica Merlin, will take place on Monday, 15 November 2021 at 8 am EST (Washington)/4pm AST (Doha).
By Dr. Jochen Sokoly, Dphil Mphil (Oxon) MA (London) FRAS
The exhibition, Landscapes of Arabia, takes its title from a seemingly romantic notion of a landscape that was shaped by European scholars and travelers as far back as the 18th century through the mid-20th century. To mind come the literary work of Carsten Niebuhr, a German cartographer in the service of the Royal Danish Arabia expedition (1761-67), the works of Gertrude Bell (1868-1926), and the memoirs of Wilfred Thesiger (1910-2003). Aesthetically, the views of landscapes in paintings and prints of David Roberts (1796-1864) and Edward Lear (1812-88), brought views of Arabia to a European audience hitherto more acquainted with Italy and Greece, or even India.
The notions of a serene, overbearing landscape, inhabited by noble Bedouins have persisted to the present day, albeit in altered form. Today, it is the utopian cityscapes of the Arab countries of the Gulf and their riches gained from oil exploration that spurn the global mind. Images of gigantic construction and the lure of ever flowing luxury perpetuated by the media, have brought these tiny countries to global attention, while much of the rest of the Arab world is embroiled in social, religious and economic struggles; several wars have devastated century-old communities and their livelihoods. Yet, the gleaming images of Arabia perpetuated in popular media today are only part of the story. It is here that the works of Camille Zakharia and Tarek Al-Ghoussein provide a counter balance, documenting a side of the modern Gulf states with a sense of realism rarely seen.
Camille Zakharia, a Canadian-Lebanese photographer, has documented through his work, his life’s migration from his Lebanese homeland across Europe, North America and his present home in Bahrain. Through his lens, he explores the landscapes of his journey, sometimes reconstructing them as spaces of his own memory and longing for a home, often reflecting on the people that accompanied him along the way. Most of the works in the current exhibition, selected from several series representing his time as an artist working in the Gulf since the 1990’s, are reflections on the rapid changes in both the environment and society that he has experienced in this region. They speak of massive urban development and the human response to it, the loss of traditional life styles and the quest to redefine belonging amidst massive change.
Tarek Al-Ghoussein, born in Kuwait to Palestinian exiles, spent part of his youth in the United States, Morocco, and Japan. He has worked in the United Arab Emirates for the last twenty years, where he has recorded and reflected on the massive changes taking place there. His photographs depict abandoned spaces and deteriorating buildings, and objects that are often in the process of decay and close to extinction. Al-Ghoussein examines traces of a human presence – preserving the narrative of the spaces and their former inhabitants. At the same time, he looks at his own place within these spaces and the processes of fleetingness that they represent. He explores how identity is shaped within a context of inaccessibility and loss. The works chosen for the exhibition are selected from the series Odysseus, named for the hero of Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey”. In the series, Al-Ghoussein sets out to document the 215 islands off the coast of Abu Dhabi. In his photographs, the artist is often seen interacting with the landscapes he records, sometimes creating situations full of absurdity. The process of visiting and recording the islands, often in remote locations, has been marred by bureaucracy, but Al-Ghoussein has persistently tried to return and continue documenting them, and so the story of his journey is much like that of Odysseus – about his homecoming as much as his journey.
Both artists reflect on the sense of loss and belonging through a discourse with the environments with which they interact in their works. They are both chroniclers of massive human interventions in these environments, but make no value judgements about them. These places exhibit a bizarre beauty, far removed from the romanticism with which the idea of Arabia still exists in the minds of those who only know the region from global media or fleeting visits as tourists. Within the symposium, the exhibition will create a space of discourse on the larger issues of environmental change from the perspective of two photographers who have been witnesses to monumental change in the Arabian nations of the Gulf.
Camille Zakharia graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from NSCAD University Halifax Canada in 1997 and a Bachelor of Engineering from the American University of Beirut in 1985. Using photography, photomontage and collage, Zakharia makes work about identity and displacement, reflecting his own life journey.
His work has been shown at the Venice Art and Architecture Biennales in 2010 and 2013, winning the Gold Lion with Bahrain in 2010. He also exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Canadian Museum of Civilization, FotoFest 2014, Musee du Quai Branly, Albert Kahn Museum, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Florida National Museum, Wichita Center for the Arts, Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization, Chobi Mela, Sharjah Biennale, Ithra Cultural Center and National Museum of Bahrain.
Zakharia’s works are part of the public collections at LACMA, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Victoria and Albert Museum, Musee Suisse de l’Appareil Photographique, Clarinda Carnegie Museum, Wichita Center for the Arts, Ithra Cultural Center, National Museum of Bahrain, Barjeel Art Foundation, Jameel Foundation, Dubai International Financial Center, Sh. Ebrahim Bin Mohamed Al Khalifa Center of Culture & Research, and Art Gallery at Saint Mary’s University.
Tarek Al-Ghoussein is a Professor of Visual Art and Director of the new MFA program at NYU Abu Dhabi.
His solo shows include Odysseus, The Third Line Dubai (2021) and warehouse 421, Abu Dhabi (2019); Al Sawaber, The Third Line, Dubai (2017); K Files, CAP Kuwait (2017); K Files and Sawaber Series, Nevada Museum of Art (2016); K Files, The Third Line, Dubai (2014); E Series, Kalfayan Galleries, Athens (2011); and A Retrospective: Works from 2003-2010, Sharjah Art Museum (2010).
His work has been shown in group shows including Theatre of Operations, MoMA PS1 (2019-2020); Negotiating The Future: 6th Asian Art Biennial, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (2017); The Creative Act: Performance, Process, Presence, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (2017); The 15th International Biennial of Photography and Photo-related Art, Houston (2014) ; Lost in Landscape, Museo di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, Italy (2014); Photoquai, Photography Biennial, Paris (2013); From Palestine with Hope, Art Space, London (2013); Safar/Voyage, Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver (2013) and The National Pavilion of Kuwait 55th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy (2013).
Al-Ghoussein’s works are collected by museums worldwide including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Freer Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian, the Nevada Museum of Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum, the Royal Museum of Photography in Copenhagen; the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo; the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha; the Sharjah Biennial Collection, and the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation.
Jochen Sokoly is Associate Professor of Art History of the Islamic World at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar) where he also served as Gallery Director between 2004-2011.
He has curated exhibitions on contemporary art of the Middle East and lectures on the art of the Islamic World.
He has been a research fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Aga Khan Program at Harvard. Sokoly’s research focuses on the culture of the Early Islamic caliphates, in particular on inscribed textiles within the context of court, administration and manufacture.
He is co-editor with Mary McWilliams of ‘Social Fabrics: Inscribed Textiles from Medieval Egyptian Tombs’ published by Harvard Art Museums. He has also worked on 18th century British India, particularly the botanical paintings by the Indian painter Zayn al-Din from the collection of Sanskrit scholar Sir William Jones at the Royal Asiatic Society, and plans a study of the drawings of travelers Thomas and William Daniell. Sokoly serves on the Council of the Royal Asiatic Society in London.
November 13, 2021 ― 10 to 11 AM
Qatar Foundation Art Trail Tour: Guided tour with curator Dr. Jochen Sokoly
November 15, 2021 ― 4 to 6 PM
Roundtable conversation between the curator and the artists, moderated by VCUarts Qatar faculty Dr. Holiday Powers and Dr. Monica Merlin
Sonic Jeel - Lorem lipsum
Sonic Jeel - Lorem lipsum
Artist Spotlight: Tarek Al-Ghoussein
NYU Abu Dhabi
Jamel Shabazz, 'Brooklyn in the House', Lower East Side, Manhattan, NYC, 1982, Archival inkjet print, 35.6 x 27.9 cm ©Jamel Shabazz, Galerie Bene Taschen