Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah has added 30 recently acquired artworks to its ongoing exhibition, Memory Sews Together Events That Hadn’t Previously Met, at the Sharjah Art Museum. The pieces are among the 50 acquisitions made by the foundation over the course of 2020.
The new additions include an untitled work by Algerian artist Djamila Bent Mohamed, which features four female subjects with painted faces – blue eyelids and rouge lips – seemingly in discussion. Created in the 1970s, the work has recently been restored at the foundation.
Bent Mohamed had a revolutionary past. Born in 1933, she fought in the Algerian War of Independence, which began in the mid-1950s, and was imprisoned and tortured by the colonial French army. She went on to study art in Paris after the revolution, before returning to teach in Oran.
Another acquisition features a woman in a different setting and mood. Iraqi artist Widad Orfali’s 1963 work Woman shows a bereft female figure, rendered in angular forms, with her hands clasping her head. The figure of a man stands above her.
Orfali was born in Baghdad in 1929. After studying in Lebanon, she travelled the Arab world and Europe. In the 1960s, she exhibited her work in cities such as Bonn and Washington, DC.
Also new to the Barjeel collection is Hakim Al Akel’s The Symbolic History of Arab Joy (Arabia Felix), a work from 1994. It is the first by Al Akel obtained by the foundation, which now presents his pieces alongside fellow Yemeni artists Fouad Al Futaih and Amna Al-Nasiri. They are the first Yemeni artists from the foundation's collection to be displayed at the Sharjah Art Museum.
“Al Akel's work is particularly significant for the collection, as it presents a detailed visual account of Arab history through four eras – starting from BC, to pre-Islamic, Islamic, and the contemporary era,” says Sultan Al Qassemi, founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation, about the importance of the latest acquisition. The piece was Al Akel’s university graduation project from the Surikov Art Institute in Moscow, where he specialised in murals and completed his studies in 1997.
Al Qassemi, along with his team at the foundation, selects the works for the collection in a variety of ways, purchasing through galleries, auctions or directly from the artist.
In the case of Beirut-born Nadia Saikali’s painting, for example, he decided to acquire her work after visiting her studio. “In the fall of 2020, I visited Lebanese artist Nadia Saikali in her beautiful studio in Montmartre, Paris, where I was struck by her work,” he says.
“Nadia, who practised ballet as a young woman, told me, ‘Abstraction is like dancing on the canvas.’ We then went on to acquire two of her works from auction, as well as one from a gallery in France."
Currently, the foundation has dedicated a room at the Sharjah Art Museum for Saikali’s work.
Another highlight is a 1961 piece by Palestinian artist Abed Abdi titled Refugees, a muted painting of displaced figures trekking across a grey landscape. Abdi, who was born in Haifa, also works in graphic design and sculpture, though he is most known for his depictions of the Palestinian occupation.
In 1962, Abdi exhibited his work in Tel Aviv, making him the first Palestinian artist to showcase his work in the 1948 territories. Two years later, in 1964, he travelled to Germany to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Dresden.
Barjeel’s latest list of acquisitions also includes works by Fatma Arargi, Suad Al-Attar, Afifa Aleiby, Nasir Chaura, Adham Ismail, Mahmoud Daadouch, Hussein Shariffe, Zaha Hadid, Fouad Al Foutaih, Amna Al-Nasiri, Nabil Kanso, Fateh Moudarres, Choukri Mesli and Mohamed Kacimi
The exhibition Memory Sews Together Events That Hadn’t Previously Met looks at the sociopolitical events of the 20th century through the eyes and artworks of Arab artists. The foundation calls it a “gender-balanced” exhibition, which continues Al Qassemi’s pledge to build a collection that was equally representative of male and female artists.
The show includes more than 130 works by artists from the Arab world, as well as countries in North Africa and West Asia. It will run at the Sharjah Art Museum until 2023, with new displays introduced regularly.