Arabesque: new art from the Middle East: continued

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Jeffar Khaldi (Lebanon / UAE)

Middle Eastern contemporary art - Jeffar Khaldi
© Jeffar Khaldi

Jeffar Khaldi's vivid, expressionistic painting is international in style - he completed his BFA at the University of North Texas - yet at its heart lie intense reflections on the Arab world.

A powerful fusion of free-association and social comment, the visual density of Khaldi's monumental canvases reflects the complexity of his world-view.

Giving voice to the Palestinian diaspora through imagery that is both immediate - the olive tree; a burning mosque - or fleetingly suggestive, his work frequently combines reference to the intricate political scenarios of the Middle East with apprehension at the effects of technology and globalisation.

Yet unease is countered with exultation and passion; as much for the qualities of paint as his own dream-like imaginings. Drenched in the richness of history and myth, Khaldi's mindscapes invite us to accompany him on a specific journey; the exploration of "a new reality or . . . escape from one reality into another."


Jeffar Khaldi, contemporary Arabic art


Amirali Ghasemi (Iran)

Amirali Ghasemi was born in Tehran in 1980 and studied graphic design at the city's Azad University.

His accomplished work in this field has helped redefine a new generation of graphic art in his home country, although he is principally known to western audiences for photographic studies that provide a fascinating insight into contemporary Iranian society.

Amirali Ghasemi, contemporary art from Iran

His practice, like many of the Iranian artists featured here, reveals the tension between tradition and modernity, although with specific emphasis on youth culture and a questioning of established social order.

Amarali's snapshots are taken behind closed doors, depicting a hidden, relaxed aspect of Iranian life that is vivid in its informality and spontaneity.

Yet the lifestyle he portrays is vehemently opposed by Iranian conservatives, and Ghasemi chooses both to reveal and conceal, adopting the practices of censorship to disguise his subjects' identity and reflect, ironically, on the clandestine nature of the social interaction shown.

Amirali Ghasemi, contemporary Middle Eastern art

Rather than hide exposed skin and faces with the black ink that is normally used to coat offending images, however, Ghasemi adopts a pure white. Symbolic of his subjects' essential energy, it also signifies renewal and hope, a testament to the gradual development of specific social freedoms in Iran.


Nassar Mansour (Jordan)

The ancient craft of calligraphy continues to inspire Islamic artists. Arabic has a highly sacred aspect as the language and script of the Qur'an, and in addition to its spiritual significance, manifests aesthetic and symbolic qualities that western culture generally ascribes to image alone.

Nassar Mansour, contemporary Jordanian art

Methods of calligraphic production vary widely both in terms of medium and form. Standard canonical scripts developed by the great masters - kufic, thuluth, naksh, nasta'liq, diwani, maghribi - are often employed or pushed in newer directions; other artists painstakingly develop their own compositions.

Nasser Mansour is one of the most accomplished of all contemporary calligraphers. Born in Jordan, where he continues to live and work, he has lectured internationally at various university faculties dedicated to traditional Islamic arts, and in 2003 received his ijaza - a kind of calligraphy diploma - from the celebrated Turkish master Hasan Çelebi.

Although calligraphic art can pose challenges to those unable to read Arabic or appreciate its exploration of style and form, Mansour's work Kun, 2002 (above) provides even non-Arabic readers with an exquisite example of its aesthetic possibilities.

The two letter word 'kun' translates as the imperative 'be', and alludes here to the phrase in the Qur'an, "[God] says Be, and it is" (Qur'an 2:117).

Working in a minimally elegant kufic script, Mansour perfected his composition over a period of several years to obtain this final work of intense visual drama.

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