Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s
Brooklyn Rail, February 2020

By Sahar Khraibani

In the spring of 1964, the Beirut-based, pan-Arab cultural journal Hiwar featured a portfolio of abstract paintings made between 1959 to 1964 by Egyptian artist Fouad Kamel. The journal, which was established two years prior by the poet Tawfiq Sayigh, often featured formally experimental art that diverged from the more politically committed art that dominated other Arab cultural journals. To preface the feature, Hiwar published Kamel’s experimental text on abstract painting, titled “Meaninglessness Within and Without.” In it, Kamel espouses a belief in being “unbounded by measures of reason and logic, merging movement and energy with the tremors of solid matter,” and “shedding descriptive observation and visual knowledge.”

It is, perhaps, with this spirit that the work in Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s, currently on view at the Grey Art Gallery, can be approached. At its core, the exhibition asks a fundamental question, as explained in the introductory text: “How do we study abstraction across different contexts, and what modes of analysis do we use?”

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