Subversion @Cornerhouse

New and recent contemporary Middle Eastern art exploring and rethinking modern Arab identity.

By Matthew Tyas | 12 December 2011

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Subversion exhibition image

Marwa Arsanios · Sherif El-Azma · Wafaa Bilal · Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige · Khaled Hafez · Emily Jacir · Larissa Sansour · Tarzan and Arab · Sharif Waked · Akram Zaatari

Cornerhouse is delighted to announce Subversion, a unique group show of new and recent contemporary Middle Eastern art which explores and rethinks modern Arab identity.

Twelve emerging and established artists use autobiographical narratives amalgamated with fiction, popular culture and subversive parody, to express the dichotomies they face as they perform multiple roles in a society which is frequently represented to the outside world in a contorted and mediated manner.
Spanning an array of techniques including installation, video, photography and sculpture, the artists collectively illustrate fragments of the distorted imagination that often preoccupies the Arab world, uncovering the contrasts of existence in a disputed political region. But instead of conforming, they approach the various masks they are expected to wear with a sense of humour whilst referencing to the duplicitous performances of their everyday life.

Emerging Gaza artists and filmmakers Tarzan and Arab will present their award- winning Gazawood project (2010), including short film Colourful Journey and a series of striking cinema poster pastiches of imaginary movies from different genres (illustrated above left). Originating from a region that has not had a functioning cinema since the 1980s and heavily relies on satellite TV and illegal DVD copies, the works on display strongly reflect the twins’ interest in and passion for film.

In A Space Exodus (2009), Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour adapts a segment of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, providing it with new, Middle Eastern context. The film follows the artist on a surreal journey through the universe echoing Kubrick’s thematic concerns for human evolution, progress and technology. In her film, however, Sansour posits the idea of a first Palestinian in space, and, referencing Armstrong’s moon landing, interprets this theoretical gesture as ‘a small step for a Palestinian, a giant leap for mankind’. Originally developed as part of the A Space Exodus installation, Subversion will also feature Sansour’s Palestinauts (2010) (illustrated above right).

Akram Zaatari’s How I Love You (2001) is a study of sexuality among gay men in Lebanon. A couple and three individuals talk about their sex lives, about commitments and failures, their passions and love in a society where homosexuality is still taboo and punished by imprisonment. Using light to produce a white veil that obstructs the viewer, the speakers are unidentifiable. Unlike the conventional veil masking subjects on news channels and documentaries, Zaatari’s glistening light makes these subjects seem like mystical, untouchable creatures, subverting conventional documentary techniques.