Abstraction through an Arab lens
Fourteen East, October 21, 2022

By Sam Freeman

Northwestern’s Block Museum opened an exhibition that explores abstraction in the Arab world. Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s-1980s incorporates artworks that reflect the diversity of countries, cultures and artists in the Arab world. It also examines the ways Arab abstraction relates to the international art scene.

Taking Shape began at NYU, where it was curated by Lynn Gumpert, the acting director of the Grey Art Gallery, and Suheyla Takesh, curator at the Barjeel Art Foundation. The exhibition circulated through several universities before making its way to Northwestern on September 22, where it remains free to the public through December 4.

Arab history is highly complex because it describes a broad geographical region extending across several countries. During the 20th century, Arab nationalism surged and militant efforts challenged Western occupation. Decolonization of the Arab world allowed artists to travel, often to Europe and the United States, where they picked up several Western modernisms. Arab abstraction emerged from the application of these observed techniques in the context of their own geopolitical and cultural experience.

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