Steve Sabella: Independence


28 October – 6 December 2014

Meem Gallery is pleased to present Independence, a body of photographic works realized in 2013 by artist Steve Sabella. Born in Jerusalem, Palestine, Sabella often considers the plight and struggle of the Palestinian people in their fight for independence in his work. Sabella is well known globally for his abstracted style, showcased in series such as In Exile (2008), Euphoria (2010), Beyond Euphoria (2011) and Metamorphosis (2012). In Independence, we see a departure from collage, a prolific method in his work, and also the introduction of figures for the first time in some years. These figures hang in darkness, perhaps in outer space or the deep sea—yet in no place and no time—seemingly peaceful but unsettled. The bodies’ fractured bones and distortions can be seen, as if through an x-ray. Are the tangled and entwined figures helping or hindering one another? The expansive darkness and dismembered bodies present ambiguous and polarizing reflections: utopia vs. dystopia, internal vs. external, and suspension vs. catharsis. As Hubertus von Amelunxen writes in the forthcoming monograph on Sabella’s work, ‘In Sabella’s more recent work Independence (2013), there is a pictorial state of uncertainty that abandons the coordinates of space and therefore of history.’

Independence at Meem Gallery closes the cycle of four solo exhibitions of Sabella’s work this year; including Fragments at Berloni Gallery, Layers at Contemporary Art Platform Kuwait, and Archaeology of the Future at The International Center for Photography Scavi Scaligeri. These interconnected exhibitions mark a new approach in the presentation of the works of Steve Sabella, whereby the artist creates different constellations of his work, bringing forth new readings and interpretations, in a process that decodes the visual palimpsest at the heart of his oeuvre.

In addition to the exhibition, Meem will produce a supporting exhibition catalogue featuring an interview with Sabella by Madeline Yale Preston (independent curator and PhD candidate at Chelsea College of Arts, London). There will also be a monograph launch on 26 October, from 7 – 10pm, to coincide with the opening of the exhibition; of Steve Sabella - Photography 1997-2014, published by Hatje Cantz in collaboration with the Akademie der Künste Berlin, with texts by Hubertus von Amelunxen and Kamal Boullata.


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Dia Azzawi: Selected Works 1964-1973


11 – 20 October 2014

Meem Gallery is pleased to announce the display of Iraqi artist Dia Azzawi’s work at this year’s Frieze Masters. The exhibition is dedicated to the earlier works of the artist who is regarded as one of the pioneers of modern Arab art. Ten paintings from the period of 1964–1973 have been selected for Meem’s booth, displaying the artist’s creative output in the years when he was still a resident in his birthplace Baghdad, prior to his relocation to London in 1976.

Works such as Crying Wolf  (1968) showcase Azzawi’s early style and references to Mesopotamian visual culture, demonstrating how he created an aesthetic that is rooted in tradition and modernity. This is the result of both Azzawi’s academic background in archaeology and his commitment to forging an artistic identity specific to modern Iraqi art. Memories (1973) and Human States (1976) demonstrate Azzawi’s expressive use of colour, a trademark of his artistic output, which he uses to invoke personal experience and memory. Utilizing abstraction to explore his subject, Azzawi simplifies human forms and figures into an arrangement of shape and colour. Earthy tones and organic shapes heighten the viewer’s sense of Iraq’s heritage while the disjointed forms allow us to reflect on the state of Iraq’s more recent history.


Born in Baghdad in 1939, Dia Azzawi’s oeuvre comprises over forty years of work displaying the remarkable creativity of an incredibly versatile artist.  Defined by its powerful visual impact and brilliant colour, Azzawi’s art covers a range of subjects executed in a variety of media: painting, sculpture, prints, drawings, and book art (dafatir).  He lives and works in London but continues to derive inspiration from his homeland, Iraq. 

With exhibitions of his work held worldwide, his art features in the collections of museums and institutions including the British Museum, Tate Modern and Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Museums of Modern Art in Baghdad, Damascus and Tunis; Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha; Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman; Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah; Institut du Monde Arabe, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and Colas Foundation, Paris; Harba Collection, Iraq and Italy; Gulbenkian Collection, Barcelona; Kinda Foundation, Saudi Arabia; Una Foundation, Casablanca; Arab Monetary Fund, Abu Dhabi; Development Fund, Kuwait; Jeddah International Airport; Saudi Bank and United Bank of Kuwait, London; Library of Congress and The World Bank, Washington D.C.

Azzawi started his artistic career in 1964, after graduating from the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad and completing a degree in archaeology from Baghdad University in 1962.  His studies of ancient civilizations and Iraqi heritage had a profound impact on his art, and a key objective in the early formation of his artistic style was to link the visual culture of the past to the present.

In 1969, Azzawi formed the New Vision Group (al-Ru’yya al-Jadidah), uniting fellow artists ideologically and culturally as opposed to stylistically.  The group’s manifesto, Towards a New Vision, highlighted an association between art and revolution, and sought to transcend the notion of a ‘local style’—coined by the Baghdad Modern Art Group—by broadening the parameters of local culture to include the entire Arab world.  The group held their final exhibition in 1972. 

Through his involvement with the New Vision Group Azzawi found inspiration in contemporary subjects and issues, particularly the plight of the Palestinians.  His shift from themes of antiquity and legend to that of pain, death, and conflict altered his stylistic approach to painting significantly. These works lacked the vivid colour and ornamentation of earlier images and, instead, utilized bold outlines, attention to detail, and improvisational techniques. 

Arabic script, literature and poetry have also featured in Azzawi’s work.  However, he did not use text as the central motif of his images as he considered it to be, ‘part of the group of elements of which the painting is composed.’ Similarly, his incorporation of literature and poetry does not result in a visual narrative of the text, but simply alludes to its literary content, which acts as the initial source of inspiration. More recently, Azzawi stopped using Arabic script altogether, stating that he ‘found that this kind of work became less challenging, and lately we can notice how it has become part of market demand rather than the source of creative and inspiring work.’

Azzawi’s move to London, in 1976, led him to rediscover book art.  Having researched the collection of Islamic manuscripts housed in the British Library, he affirms that the art of the book is the truest art form of the Arab world, even more so than painting, and encourages artists of the region to draw inspiration from, and reinterpret, this tradition.

In 2012, Azzawi’s monumental work Sabra Shatila (1983), created in response to the 1982 massacre of civilians in Beirut’s Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps during the Lebanese civil war,was unveiled at London’s Tate Modern in Facing History: Dia Al-Azzawi and Leon Golub.

Exhibition Catalogue

A catalogue will be produced in conjunction with the Frieze Master’s exhibition. The publication will include essays by Professor Nada Shabout (author of Modern Arab: Formation of Arab Aesthetics, UPF, 2007) and Saleem al-Bahloly (PhD candidate at the University of Berkeley) and colour plates of the works exhibited.  

 Download Exhibition Catalogue

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Waseem Marzouki


16 September – 18 October 2014

Meem Gallery is pleased to present The Firm, Syrian artist Waseem Marzouki’s first solo exhibition at the gallery and in the United Arab Emirates. Displaying video art and a series of seventeen mixed media on paper and canvas works that take on the appearance of blueprints, Marzouki examines systems of power, be it political or cultural, that have played an integral role in the recent tensions, upheavals and bloodshed within the Arab world. This is manifested in the artist’s careful delineation of power plants, key elements in each composition, which are used to construct weapons and tanks for warfare. Here, each power plant represents individual units of power that form a collective group, or power system, that is integral to the destruction of innocent communities living within zones of combat. The series also reflects on the recent Arab Springs and the way in which these events made collaborative and individual systems of power more apparent. The technical approach to drawing Marzouki employs also reflects the dispassionate nature of military planning which encompasses a ‘network of inescapable supply chains and logistics.’ Within each composition, Marzouki incorporates other codes and references such as English and Arabic script (from an ancient book on the Beit al-Maal), tiger-skin patterns, diagrams and dimensions of weapons and wooden spades. In Untitled 10, the wooden spade is the central focus of the work, transforming into a globe of the world, shifting these networks of power from the region to the world at large.


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Kamal Boullata : Bilqis


12 May – 31 July 2014

Transparency and spatial ambiguity are the subjects of a series of large paintings whose title Bilqis is borrowed from the Arabic name of the queen of Sheba. According to the Qur’anic legend, upon entering the court of King Solomon, Bilqis mistaking its glass floor for a sheet of water lifted up her skirt to avoid getting it wet. Over the centuries, glass floors, fountains and ceramic walls alluding to glistening surfaces touched by water were combined to become the aesthetic hallmark of all palatial buildings in the Islamic world. In the process, symmetries and spatial ambiguity in visual perception was to foster the evolution of geometric abstraction in Islamic art.

The series composed of 15 geometrically abstract acrylic paintings on canvas, was conceived to be displayed in the form of 5 triptychs. In each triptych, vertical and diagonal lines intersect at variable angles to create a horizontal composition. The rhythmic sequence of forms is set in accordance with a geometric formula of proportions originally evolved in tenth century Baghdad. The transparent layers of free-flowing brushstrokes are sharply delineated by the precision of hard-edged painting. The contrasting combination recalls the words of Novalis, ‘Chaos in a work of art should shimmer through the veil of order.’ The issuing contrast of overlapping forms stirs a sense of movement punctuated by intermittent flashes of light. Contrary to a perspectival illusion of space, foreground and background become interchangeable. Seeming symmetries and refractions are perceived through the interweaving of polygons and triangles whose correspondence recalls ambiguities intrinsic to geometric arabesques.


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Mahmoud Obaidi: The Replacement


11 March – 1 May 2014

Meem Gallery is pleased to present Mahmoud Obaidi’s first solo exhibition in the United Arab Emirates, The Replacement, which explores the subject of political propaganda through different modes of communication and imagery. The exhibition presents over thirty works that span a range of media including sculpture, silkscreen prints and video art.

In 2003, a storage container was discovered in an unknown location in the Middle East. Stored inside were numerous boxes that held the political campaign material (believed to date from 1979 to 1983) of a now unknown man. The contents caught the eye of an art collector based in North America, who purchased the collection in an agreement that prevented him from displaying the items publicly until 2014. Last year, through a mutual friend, the collector contacted Mahmoud Obaidi so they could collaborate on an exhibition project that would recreate many of the items uncovered in 2003. The Replacement is the result of this collaboration.

With his head held high, the seemingly indomitable figure of this political ‘leader’ is repeatedly reproduced by Obaidi in campaign posters, postage stamps, banknotes and press coverage. In one work, his head is presented in a roundel, reminiscent of the ancient Roman tradition, under which foliage and a bright sun shines over a modern city. Here, he takes on an almost god-like status, reigning over and protecting his people and nation. Through this imagery, Obaidi reflects on the way in which visual material can be used to manipulate the masses in an individual’s quest for power and authority. With regard to his artistic practice, Obaidi notes that ‘Information is bigger and more important than the object and the intellectual product is the whole process.’

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Charity Exhibition: Save the Children. Emergency Appeal. Children of Gaza.


27 January -6 February 2014  

Meem Gallery is pleased to present the Children of Gaza exhibition. In 2009 three international photographers with the support of Save the Children entered Gaza. For nearly two weeks the award winning photographers, Anthony Dawton, Jim McFarlane and Giuseppe Aquili photographed children and their families, victims of the Israeli incursion of 27 December 2008. The images are extraordinary. They tell of what happened and the damage done, physically and psychologically but they also tell of a people, particularly the children, bright, intelligent and full of hope. 

The exhibition is as dramatic in its presentation as the images themselves are. It comprises of twenty-one black and white photographic art works each 1.5 x 1 metres. Included in the exhibition are eighteen original pieces, inspired by the photographic images, from the renowned artist Dia Azzawi. His images provide a vivid and colourful contrast to the imposing monochrome images of Aquili, Dawton and McFarlane. The digital manipulations represent a new path in the work of his oeuvre.

The exhibition hopes to define the process in which art can bring understanding to seemingly intractable political conflict as well as to highlight the terrible consequences long and short term of such conflicts. Proceeds from the exhibition will go to Save the Children projects in Gaza, particularly its outstanding work with conflict traumatized children. The exhibition should be considered as an installation and the event itself a 'happening'.


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