Signs: Contemporary Arab Art is a groundbreaking exhibition offering a rare glimpse into the Arab art world. The first of its kind in New York, this exhibition presents the work of seven influential artists from various countries in the Middle East. Curated by noted art historian and curator Karin von Roques, the exhibition explores the role of traditional Islamic calligraphy and symbols in the contemporary Arab consciousness. Grappling with aesthetic philosophy, mysticism, tradition, and issues of everyday survival and existence, all seven artists challenge convention and create new visual language.
Once the cradle of ancient civilization, the Middle East has a compelling artistic history. For centuries, the written word has played a defining role in Islamic visual culture— a legacy that persists even today. Working with different media, including paint on canvas, collage, ink on paper, wood and gold leaf, these artists take traditional Arabic script and symbols as their point of departure. Qatari artist Yousef Ahmad distills Arabic letters into abstract shapes and gestural marks that sweep across dream-like mixed-media surfaces. Syrian artist Khaled Al-Saa'i is inspired by poetry and Sufi philosophy, and paints spacious landscapes in which words float, overlap and follow their own particular rhythm. Offering a nuanced view of the culture of the Middle East, these innovative artists create complex contemporary works that draw on the spiritual depth of ancient Islamic art.
Rather than singling out Arab culture as "other," this exhibition aims to further intercultural dialogue between the Arab world and the West. Having studied and lived in the Middle East over the past decade, exhibition curator Karin von Roques has an intimate and unique understanding of the region and its artists. She throws into relief the wide range of work emerging from the contemporary Middle East, bringing its seminal artists to an international audience. Gallery director Sundaram Tagore says, "This exhibition was developed with the prime motivation being connoisseurship rather than the more expected issues of religion or politics. I believe connoisseurship will be the defining factor in the post-recession art world."