The Alphabet That Can Do Anything
The New York Times, February 20, 2020

By Will Heinrich

There’s something thrilling about the extreme flexibility of the Arabic alphabet. The graphic simplicity of its swoops, loops and dots means that it can be made to look like almost anything, from a rearing horse to a pixelated television screen.

Arab states have been increasingly visible on the international art scene in the last few years, pouring wealth into auction houses and building museums like they’re going out of style. But the art of their own larger cultural sphere still hasn’t gotten its fair share of all that new attention — at least not in New York.

It’s too big a topic to cover in a single show, but you’ll find an exciting introduction in “Taking Shape: Abstraction From the Arab World, 1950s-1980s” at Grey Art Gallery at New York University. Focusing on the tumultuous few decades of decolonization and nation-building, the curators Suheyla Takesh, of the Barjeel Art Foundation in the United Arab Emirates, and Lynn Gumpert of the Grey have brought together 90-odd prints and paintings by Arab, Berber, Jewish and other artists from Algeria to Iraq.

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