Saatchi show unveils vibrant Middle East art scene

Thu Jan 29, 2009 7:45am EST
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - Lurid figures of Iranian prostitutes and images of semi-naked men posing provocatively are among works at a new London exhibition of Middle Eastern art that may test the tolerance of some.

British collector Charles Saatchi has filled his new gallery with over 80 paintings, sculptures and installations from the Middle East representing a vibrant art scene that he hopes will challenge people's assumptions about the region.

The works, gathered over the last four years by the Baghdad-born impresario, touch on sensitive topics. They depict the horror of conflicts past and present, explore suppressed sexuality and examine a woman's place in the Muslim world.

The 19 artists in "Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East," which runs at the Saatchi Gallery from Friday until May 6, are from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Ramallah and beyond. Some still live in their native countries while others have emigrated to the West.

"Our sense of the Middle East is so dominated by reports of war, the tensions and the troubles," said Rebecca Wilson, the gallery's head of development.

"But over the last two to three years many galleries have been opening in Tehran and Beirut. There are flourishing artistic communities we are not really hearing about."

One of the most striking works on display is "Ghost" by French-Algerian artist Kader Attia, comprising more than 200 life-sized figures of Muslim women in hijabs bowing in prayer, each made out of aluminum foil.

Only when the visitor reaches the far end of the gallery and looks back does it become clear that the forms are empty shells.   Continued...

<p>A staff member views an untitled painting by Ahmad Morshedloo at The Saatchi Gallery in west London January 28, 2009. The painting forms part of a forthcoming exhibition entitled New Art From The Middle East. REUTERS/Toby Melville</p>