Middle Eastern art in the spotlight as Helsinki's Kiasma museum reopens

The new exhibition, ARS22 — Living Encounters, highlights cutting-edge visual art, performances and film by artists from the region, including the UAE's Farah Al Qasimi

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Two years after being forced to close owing to pandemic restrictions in Finland, the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in Helsinki has reopened with an overhauled interior and an exhibition that sprawls across the entirety of the building’s five floors.

ARS22 — Living Encounters features cutting-edge visual art, performances and films from across the world. The exhibition runs until October 16.

It is the 14th series of major exhibitions that present the latest from the contemporary art world. The ARS exhibitions began in 1961 in the Ateneum museum in Helsinki. ARS22 is the 10th exhibition in the series to be held at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma.

It includes 15 artworks commissioned specifically for ARS22, as well as works by 55 artists from 26 countries, including the UAE and Iraq. The artworks reflect on the exhibition’s themes of coexistence and our relationship to the planet.

“The concept behind ARS22 was to build an entity where multiple voices would coexist together. To create a museum as a platform for encounters, we curated an exhibition where many narratives, instead of one linear storyline, would exist,” said Piia Oksanen, one of the show’s curators.

“This is why invitations were sent to artists from different backgrounds, from different geographical areas, working with a variety of media.”

The exhibition has a space dedicated to art from the Middle East. According to Oksanen, “there is growing interest in artists from the Arab world.”

Artists from the region invited to take part include Emirati visual artist Farah Al Qasimi, Iraqi textile artist Kholod Hawash, Iraqi-American multidisciplinary artist Michael Rakowitz and art collective Slavs and Tatars.

Farah Al Qasimi's work will be on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in Helsinki as part of ARS22 — Living Encounters. Photo: Kansallisgalleria; Finnish National Gallery; Petri Virtanen

Al Qasimi’s work features images of butterflies perched on an orange slice, a hospitalised falcon and a woman watching anime on her iPhone. The images reflect on the concept of paradise in contemporary culture, in religion, desire and the entertainment industry.

Hawash, meanwhile, is presenting vibrant patchwork quilts that depict humanitarian issues including the refugee crisis, religious freedoms and social justice.

Mother Tongues and Father Throats is a five-metre-tall carpet that depicts an illustration of an open mouth showing where certain letters of the Arabic alphabet are voiced from. The carpet was created by Slavs and Tatars and hangs by another work from the collective, titled PrayWay.

The installation merges the form of the rahle reading stand and the takht, a carpeted sitting arrangement found in traditional teahouses. The work also alludes to the magic carpets found in Middle Eastern fairy tales, such as Aladdin.

Works featured in ARS22 explore the everyday lives and dreams of individuals and communities,” the museum’s website reads. “They raise questions about our relationship with the world, with nature and history, spirituality and technology.

“The exhibition offers places for encounters and interaction. It also reminds us that individuality is ultimately always founded on the common conditions of life. The stories told by the artworks are entertaining while creating their own realities. They offer us an opportunity to think and see differently but also point out a way forward.”

Updated: April 22, 2022, 2:31 PM