Arabesque: new art from the Middle East: continued

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Ramin Haerizadeh (Iran)

Ramin Haerizadeh, contemporary Persian art
© Ramin Haerizadeh

The elder brother of painter Rokni Haerizadeh, (previous page) Ramin is a highly accomplished digital artist whose work explores the notion of boundary and freedom in art, identity and politics.

Many of his images are manipulated in order to replicate themselves in mirror-like reflections. The divisions thus created - alternate aspects of a single reality - are a simple statement of duality, but one that resonates with the notion of fissure, contradiction and opposition.

Ramin Haerizadeh, Islamic contemporary art
© Ramin Haerizadeh

Other pieces, such as the Men of Allah series (left), are far more complex, endlessly distorted, reflected and re-assembled into richly decorative works. In these images, boundaries are dissolved rather than visually asserted, with the subjects (in fact, the artist himself) morphed into near-abstractions and dissonant body shapes.

The distinctly painterly quality of these works combined with high degrees of ornamentation prompts comparison with Persian miniatures or 18th Century Qajar art.

 

Ramin Haerizadeh, contemporary Iranian photography
© Ramin Haerizadeh

Political comment is often implicit in Haerizadeh's work, but the series Bad Hijab (left) directly addresses the issue of Iran's enforced public dress codes.

The photographs depict women being accosted by female police for 'bad hijab' - improper adherence to Islamic standards of dress.

The artist's face has been superimposed onto his subjects almost as if assuming their identities, an act which renders the images absurd, even darkly comic, despite the gravity of the content.

Haerizadeh's intervention is urgent and unsettling. Perhaps he seeks to highlight similar problems faced by artists whose work is considered inappropriate, or simply assert his own watchful presence.

Whatever his intention, he again depicts a schism, a cultural and legal boundary that is simultaneously being asserted and contested.

 

Sabhan Adam (Syria)

Sabhan Adam, contemporary Arabic art
© Sabhan Adam

Singular and disconcerting, Sabhan Adam's paintings, drawings and mixed media works pulse with raw, almost malignant energy.

Studies in the imagination, they draw from a wide array of Arabic and western influences, and frequently shift in style and composition with exploratory, almost manic urgency.

In Adam's portraits in particular, the grotesque cavorts with the exotic: a recent series of works (left) collages his figures' clothing in fabrics, sequins and intricate beadwork as extravagant counterpoint to mutated faces and bodies.

Sabhan Adam, Middle Eastern art
© Sabhan Adam

This is the stuff of fairytales, fable and nightmare, a vision that's simultaneously stark, disturbing and comic.

Adam is self-taught and his work remains highly individual, vibrant with the compelling energy and idiosyncracy of the true outsider artist.

 

Lamya Gargash (UAE)

Lamya Gargash, current Arabic art
© Lamya Gargash

Born in Dubai in 1982, this young photographer and film-maker has attracted considerable attention since completing her Masters at London's Central Saint Martin's in June 2007.

Like many of the artists featured here, culture and identity are prominent themes in her practice, although one of her most recent projects, Presence, 2007, approaches these from an unusual perspective.

Photographing abandoned domestic interiors in Dubai, Gargash provides a palpable sense of their former inhabitants as well as insights into the uniqueness of Dubai itself.

Lamya Gargash, contemporary Middle Eastern art and photography
© Lamya Gargash

The city's huge wealth and rapid growth has contributed to a culture focused on renewal and development in which many aspects of the past are dispensable. This includes homes, which are frequently traded in for newer, more modern dwellings, the unwanted, dated fittings and furnishings simply left behind.

In this respect, Dubai abounds with ghostly spaces that are more than ordinarily marked by visible signs of departed human presence.

Some of Gargash's photographed interiors have long been abandoned and fallen into disrepair, others have very recently been vacated.

Yet the images in Presence evoke a strong sense of identity and expression without, of course, ever focusing on individuals at all.

In addition, they provide a snapshot of Emirati lifestyles and social history in a city that has little time for looking backwards; documents of a recent past that may soon disappear in turn.

 
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