Home Ground, showcase of edgy art from the Middle East, opens at Aga Khan Museum

Contemporary art from the Middle East is pushing boundaries and testing limits in the new exhibition Home Ground, opening at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto.

Powerful art displayed at Aga Khan Museum, first-ever showcase in North America

For anyone whose exposure to Middle Eastern art has been restricted to tapestries and mosaics, Home Ground, a new show of contemporary art at Toronto's Aga Khan Museum, will be an eye-opener.

Home Ground: Contemporary Art from the Barjeel Art Foundation consists of 24 works by 12 artists, many with a political edge. The pieces include paintings, sculpture, photographs and videos that explore themes of migration, upheavals, displacement, and new beginnings. 

"It's an education for people and even for myself when I come and see these works interacting with each other," says Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, an art collector and columnist who founded the Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.

Qassemi, who became well known in the West during the Arab Spring for his political analysis and large following on Twitter, sees the collection as an extension of his social commentary.

"Artists try to propose solutions to events that are plaguing the Middle East that journalists really can't even delve into," he tells CBC News, adding that he doesn't mind any controversy that the art may inspire.

Case in point: photographs and video by Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour featured in the show. Her work Nation Estate proposes a satirical solution to the perpetual Middle East peace process with her depiction of a skyscraper that houses the entire Palestinian population, one floor per town along with various iconic landmarks.

Another work in the exhibition, by artist Khaled Jarrar, features a realistic looking sculpture of a volleyball made of concrete secretly chiselled off the separation wall in Ramallah. The artwork was motivated by conversations with children who complained that they were losing spaces to play in due to the construction of the wall.

Home Ground also includes also a pair of porcelain doves by Manal al-Dowayan. The birds have copies of travel permits from Saudi women imprinted on their wings (Female citizens in Saudi Arabia require a travel permit from a husband, father or other male legal guardian in order to travel independently).

Another striking and politicized addition is a series of paintings called Responses to an Immigration Request from One Hundred and Ninety-Four Governments by Raafat Ishak. Inspired by the Australian government's policy of turning away asylum seekers, the artist contacted 193 governments to request citizenship. He then represented in graphic form the response or lack of response he received. The 194th request he made was to a "non country, or a future country."

Home Ground opens to the public Saturday and continues through Jan. 3, 2016.

With files from Kevin Sweet


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