Barjeel Art Foundation @ Whitechapel

The final show in Whitechapel’s four part exhibition of contemporary art from the Middle East is probably both the most interesting and the most frustrating. Over the past year the gallery has played host to the Barjeel Art Foundation in a bid to introduce Londoners to modern and contemporary art from the Arab world.

This final installment instantly feels contemporary. Where the early shows comprised of paintings hung on dark walls, this display is white, bright and airy. However, there is a sense that the staging of this last show may have been an after thought. The viewer cannot move around the gallery easily. There is no flow, the one-room exhibition is disjointed. In the space of just one room is film, sculpture and photography cramped closely together. There is almost a fear that one might fall over and damage a valuable artwork.

Imperfect Chronology: Mapping the Contemporary II concerns itself with geography, travel and statehood. On display are many works by artist’s that have been removed from their homeland. Among the most memorable works is a large tapestry by Etel Adnan who has just had a show at Serpentine Gallery as well has a proposed crystal monument for Cairo’s Tahrir Square by Iman Issa.

My personal favourite work in this show was made up on two white doves. The birds had documents pasted onto them, which, if I recall correctly, were documents that husbands had issued their wives allowing them to travel, and did not look too dissimilar to my own customs forms from a trip I had made earlier this year to Beirut.

Also on show in this cramped space was a hovering reconstruction of a Lebanese building, with a large cactus underneath, as well as a model of a red boardroom, complete with luxurious velvet chairs.

While I think that this series of exhibitions has been wonderful, I can’t help but think that it would have had more of an impact if the four parts were shown all at once across a bigger space. It seems a great shame to me that the displays have been relegated to a space far away at the top of the gallery. Regardless, this final concluding show simply cannot be missed and I urge everyone to make a visit.

Barjeel Art Foundation Collection Imperfect Chronology – Mapping the Contemporary II is on display at Whitechapel until 8 January 2017

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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