08/13/2014 09:17 am ET Updated Aug 13, 2014

'Here And Elsewhere' Brings Contemporary Art From (And About) The Arab World To New York

A family of tourists pose in front of a monument, gazing into the camera as one unit. A block of white-washed apartments rise up behind a smattering of palm trees. A child lounges on a grassy knoll, paying no attention to the lens pointed at him. These scenes are familiar enough, and seem to cross cultural barriers. They belong to no country or nation in particular, and have probably been enacted in almost every region across the world.

Then you see a bell bottom-clad youth making a peace sign with one hand, holding a rifle in the other. A painted woman brandishing a firearm appears on the cover of an unrecognizable publication. A group of what appears to be protesters flock together with a guitar and a megaphone in hand, fire blazing behind them. Though the images are common to some, they are foreign to others, and only begin to bring a theme into focus. They possess hints of violence, somewhat removed from the more tranquil photographs seen before.


Marwa Arsanios, Have You Ever Killed a Bear? Or Becoming Jamila, 2013–14 (still). Video, color, sound; 28 min. Courtesy the artist

That's the beauty of the New Museum's "Here and Elsewhere" exhibition. A collection of works by contemporary artists from the Arab world, it showcases moments both banal and distinctive. From documentary photographs to abstract painting to video installations, the collection reveals the breadth of media and subject matter present in the art world of countries like Syria, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon. Whether interested in current events, global consumption or everyday life in a city, the works as a whole tease the viewer into a sense of understanding, while revealing the nuances of Middle Eastern culture largely misunderstood by outsiders.

Curated by Massimiliano Gioni and his team, the disparate collection of paintings, sculpture, video and photography by 45 artists from 15 countries steers clear of any regional categorization. While the Iranian artist Rokni Haerizadeh takes stills of broadcasts on YouTube as a point of focus, Beirut-born Mazen Kerbaj showcases his own feverish diary-like drawings. Egyptian painter Anna Boghiguian melds images of pharaohs in an abstract storm while Jerusalem-born Ali Jabri collages detached snapshots in a piece dubbed "Red Sea." The sentiments are as different as the art forms, surveying a portion of the world banded together by territory or tradition, yet capable -- like any other corner of the planet -- of producing wildly diverse imagery and aesthetic.

The rather vague title of the show, based on Jean-Luc Godard's film "Ici et Ailleurs (Here and Elsewhere)," touches on the inherent similarities between these artists and contemporary figures in other countries. It also attempts, perhaps harder than necessary, to avoid attaching any stereotypes or generalizations to the broad survey of cities and movements across the Arab world.

"'Here and Elsewhere'... evades the regionalist trap better than any show I've seen in a while," The Guardian's Jason Farago wrote following the exhibition's opening.

"After decades of postcolonial consciousness raising, we’ve grown leery of shows that lump sundry unalike cultures together," Holland Cotter remarked in The New York Times. "In reality, there’s no right way to go. But if shows like this are the only way, given the provincial nature of the New York art world, that we get to learn about what’s happening across the globe, so be it.

While the quiet name sought to sneak under the radar of controversy, tension wound its way into the New Museum anyway. Ramallah-based Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar was barred from leaving the West Bank, unable to partake in the opening days of the show. The unfortunate event further emphasized how difficult curating a show like this can be, pulling artists from far-reaching, sometimes ignored spaces under one roof. Take a peek at what "Here and Elsewhere" has to offer and let us know your thoughts on the works in the comments.

  • Fouad Elkoury -- based in Paris and Beirut
    Fouad Elkoury, Color snapshot, Place des Canons (Beirut 1982), 2014. Digital inkjet print, 15 3/4 x 23 5/8 in (40 x 60 cm). Courtesy the artist, the Third Line, Dubai, and Galerie Tanit, Munich/Beirut
  • Ali Jabri -- born in Jerusalem
    Ali Jabri, Red Sea, from the “Nasser” series, ca. 1977– 83. Collage, 7 7/8 x 5 3/4 in (20 x 14.8 cm). Courtesy Diala al Jabiri
  • Akram Zaatari -- born in Sidon, Lebanon
    Akram Zaatari, Hashem El Madani—Palestinian resistant, Studio Shehrazade, Saïda, Lebanon, 1970– 72. From “Objects of study/The archive of Shehrazade/Hashem el Madani/Studio practices,” 2006. Gelatin silver print, 11 1/2 x 11 1/2 in (29 x 29 cm). Courtesy the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Beirut/Hamburg
  • Rokni Haerizadeh -- born in Tehran, Iran
    Rokni Haerizadeh, Subversive Salami in a Ragged Briefcase, 2014. Gesso, watercolor, and ink on printed paper, 11 3/4 x 15 3/4 in (30 x 40 cm). Courtesy the artist and Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, Dubai
  • Basma Alsharif -- born in Kuwait
    Basma Alsharif, We Began By Measuring Distance, 2009 (still). Video, color, sound; 19 min. Courtesy Galerie Imane Fares, Paris
  • Wafa Hourani -- born in Hebron, Palestinian territories
    Wafa Hourani, Qalandia 2087, 2009. Mixed media installation in six parts, sound, 216 x 354 in (550 x 900 cm). Nadour Collection, Dusseldorf. Installation view: Haus der Kunst, Munich. Photo: Wilfried Petzi
  • Ziad Antar -- born in Sidon, Lebanon
    Ziad Antar, Murr Tower, Wadi Abu Jmil, Built In 1973, from the “Expired” series, 2009. Gelatin silver print, 19 3/4 x 19 3/4 in (50 x 50 cm). Courtesy the artist and Selma Feriani Gallery, London
  • Yto Barrada -- based in Tangier, Morocco
    Yto Barrada, N du mot Nation en arabe, Tanger (N of the Nation in Arabic, Tangier), 2003. Chromogenic print, 31 1/2 x 31 1/2 in (80 x 80 cm). Courtesy the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Beirut/Hamburg
  • Anna Boghiguian -- born in Cairo, Egypt
    Anna Boghiguian, Untitled, 2011. Paint and white pencil on paper, 15 3/4 X 11 3/4 in (40 x 30 cm). Courtesy the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Beirut/Hamburg
  • Fakhri El Ghezal -- born in Akouda, Tunisia
    Fakhri El Ghezal, Retour chez Abdelbasset l'encadreur 1, from the “Chokran ya siédété al raiis” series, 2011. Gelatin silver print, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4 in (14 x 21 cm). Courtesy the artist
  • Shuruq Harb -- based in Ramallah, Palestinian territories
    Shuruq Harb, The Keeper, 2011–13 (detail). Installation with video, includes photographs, wires, clips, and street sign, dimensions variable. Installation view: Darat al Funun, Amman. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Bashar Alaeddin
  • Khaled Jarrar -- based in Ramallah, Palestinian territories
    Khaled Jarrar, Infiltrators, 2012 (still). Video, color, sound; 70 min. Courtesy the artist. © Khaled Jarrar
  • Hiwa K -- born in Iraq
    Hiwa K, This Lemon Tastes of Apple, 2011 (still). Video, color, sound; 13:26 min. Courtesy the artist
  • Bouchra Khalili -- born in Casablanca, Morocco
    Bouchra Khalili, Mapping Journey #7, from “The Mapping Journey Project,” 2008–11 (still). Video, color, sound; 6 min. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Polaris, Paris
  • Ahmed Mater -- born in Abha, Saudi Arabia
    Ahmed Mater, Leaves Fall in All Seasons, 2013 (still). Video, color, sound; 35:20 min. Courtesy the artist and Athr Gallery, Jeddah
  • Abdullah Al Saadi -- born in Khorfakkan, United Arab Emirates
    Abdullah Al Saadi, Camar Cande’s Journey, 2010–11 (detail). 151 watercolour paintings, video, color, sound; 59:41 min, overall dimensions variable. Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation. Courtesy the artist. Image: Courtesy Sharjah Art Foundation
  • Hrair Sarkissian -- born in Syria
    Hrair Sarkissian, “Execution Squares,” 2008. Archival inkjet print, 23 3/4 x 30 1/2 in (60.5 x 77.4 cm). Courtesy the artist and Kalfayan Galleries, Athens/Thessaloniki
  • Mounira Al Solh -- born in Beurit
    Mounira Al Solh, Now Eat My Script, 2014 (still). Video, color, sound; 24:50 min. Courtesy the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Beirut/Hamburg

"Here and Elsewhere" is on view at the New Museum until September 28, 2014. The show was curated by Massimiliano Gioni, Artistic Director; Natalie Bell, Curatorial Associate; Gary Carrion-Murayari, Kraus Family Curator; Helga Christoffersen, Assistant Curator; and Margot Norton, Assistant Curator.