The Middle Eastern artists showing at Art Basel: from Etel Adnan to Afra Al Dhaheri

A selection of artists from the region will showcase work at the prestigious Swiss fair, which runs until Sunday

'Third Family' (2011) by Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian is on display as part of the show Art Unlimited at Art Basel 2021. EPA
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Art Basel returns in both physical and digital formats this year, allowing audiences to experience the fair up close in Switzerland or from the comfort of homes across the world.

The 2021 event features major presentations from regional galleries, while Middle Eastern artists are increasingly visible among established and emerging galleries in Europe, the US and South Africa.

Here are some of the regional artists showing at this year's fair.

Etel Adnan

Lebanese artist Etel Adnan’s monumental new work Le Soleil Toujours has been touted as a highlight of Art Basel's VIP preview. The vibrantly coloured six-metre-long mural, composed of 136 hand-painted tiles, is presented by Germany's Sfeir-Semler Gallery in the fair’s Unlimited section.

Adnan is better known for her smaller paintings and drawings. This work, estimated to sell for between $300,000 and $400,000, is a rare deviation intended to be enjoyed by a wider public, rather than in closed private spaces.

In addition, Paris’s Galerie Lelong will present new works by Adnan, including a wool tapestry, as part of a group show at the fair's main section.

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian

The Third Family (2011), a large-scale composition by the late Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, is presented by New York’s James Cohan Gallery in the fair’s Unlimited section.

Over six decades, the Iranian artist developed her own abstract compositions using traditional craft techniques of mirror mosaics and reverse-glass painting. Her kaleidoscopic works explore Sufi mysticism and geometry, fused with the 20th-century abstract art movement she was exposed to while studying and working in New York in the post-war decades.

In this series of eight paintings, the artist reveals how rigorous structure and endless repetition can be the source of infinite possibilities. The series is on sale for $3.2 million.

Michael Rakowitz

Berlin’s Barbara Wien gallery is showing three large-scale panels from Michael Rakowitz’s series Room G, Northwest Palace of Nimrud (2019).

The panels consist of collages reconstructing ancient reliefs from the archaeological site of Nimrud, in northern Iraq, using packaging from Middle Eastern foodstuffs and bilingual newspapers that the artist found in shops run by Chicago’s Arab community. The series was first shown at his solo exhibition at Sweden's Malmo Konsthall in 2019.

It is part of a larger project, The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist, addressing the Iraq war and the destruction of ancient Iraqi artefacts, which the American artist of Iraqi descent has been working on since 2006. The panels range from $25,000 to $75,000.

Afra Al Dhaheri

Dubai’s Green Art Gallery is showing new work by Emirati artist Afra Dhaheri at the June Art Fair, a collateral event coinciding with Art Basel.

Al Dhaheri is part of a new generation of young female artists from the UAE. Her tactile sculptures combine contrasting materials such as rope, concrete, plastic tubes, wood and ceramics. Through this, she explores embodied recollections and notions of identity, as well as poetic renditions of time, space and absence.

Green Art Gallery will also show new works by Iranian artist Nazgol Ansarinia, exploring the abandoned private swimming pools of Tehran, which were built in the 1960s and left empty as a result of the revolution in 1979.

Vartan Avakian

Emerging from the August 4 port explosion and Lebanon’s economic crisis, Beirut’s Marfa’ gallery will present a solo show by Vartan Avakian, specially commissioned for the fair.

The booth exhibition, entitled A Sign For Things to Come, is based on the neon signs that are slowly fading from Beirut’s city life, owing to power shortages and closing businesses.

The work reflects on the uncertainty of the current crisis and is part of the artist’s long-standing exploration into archaeological artefacts and fossilisation.

Hayv Kahraman

London’s Pilar Corrias Gallery will present new works by Iraqi-born, Kurdish-American artist Hayv Kahraman. Draped by Antibody (2021) is part of the artist’s explorations into the Islamic and Japanese decorative arts to create contemporary panels on wood addressing social issues.

The artist was shortlisted for the V&A Museum’s Jameel Prize in 2018.

Lawrence Abu Hamdan

An early sound installation by the Turner Prize-winning artist will be presented by Sfeir-Semler at the fair’s Unlimited section.

The Whole Truth (2012) addresses the use of voice analysis as a lie-detection method by border agencies all over the world. The work is part of the artist’s larger investigations intersecting sound art and forensic research to uncover difficult truths about topics such as Europe’s migrant policies and the realities of a Syrian prison. The sale price ranges from $50,000 to $75,000.

American-Qatari artist Sophia Al Maria will also screen a new film with London’s Project Native Informant, Johannesburg’s Goodman Gallery will present works by Egyptian artist Ghada Amer and Iranian-American photographer Shirin Neshat, and sculptures by Lebanese artist Simone Fattal will be shown in group presentations by Kauffman Repetto and Karma International.

Art Basel runs until Sunday, September 26

Updated: March 28, 2023, 1:30 PM