Faraj Abo, Untitled 1963
Faraj Abo, Untitled 1963

Samir Rafi, Man à la Chaise
Samir Rafi, Homme à la Chaise, 1953, ink, drawing and watercolor. Courtesy Ahmed Eldabaa Collection

Art fairs are not just about selling, but also about creating value. It is in this sense that That Feverish Leap into the Fierceness of Life can be seen, an exhibition organized by the latest edition of Art Dubai, curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, the duo that currently directs the Foundation Cultural Montblanc. Created from modernist works in Arab countries, the exhibition, especially as there are no works for sale, helps to create reflection and bibliography for a segment where collecting is growing and with high purchasing power.
The show brings together five groups of artists, who have been organized over five decades in five cities: Cairo (Egypt), Baghdad (Iraq), Casablanca (Morocco), Khartoum (Sudan) and Riyadh (Saudi Arabia). The title was taken from the manifesto of one of these collectives, the Baghdad Group for Modern Art, written in 1951.
In this sense, this is an important initiative of the fair, since it gives visibility to the international circuit of a rather unknown local production, as is the case of the Escola de Casa Branca. It brought together radical artists in 1966, and just three years later they exhibited in public spaces as a way of not being linked to an elite.
In Morocco, according to Toni Maraiani in the exhibition catalogue, “far from asserting itself as a school of styles, modern art has become a space for questioning and opening”. Among the highlights of this group in the exhibition are works by Mohamed Hamidi, closer to pop art and with highly erotic forms, made in the 1970s, therefore already in tune with contemporary art existing at the time. Besides him, Bachir Demnati, Mohammed Melehi and Mohammed Kacini are also seen in pop colors and shapes, but without sexual appeal.
Hamidi and his countrymen, however, are the exception in the exhibition, which actually presents a late modernism, as all groups mobilized after the 1950s, after the Second World War, when contemporary art was, in fact, beginning. Among attempts at inclusion in the modern canon, which museums and art historians are undertaking as a way of building a post-colonial global identity, the curators prefer to point out the five schools as “testimonies of diversity” against the notion of the Arab world as a “phenomenon of diversity”. monolithic".
Thus, according to Bardaouil and Fellrath, the five schools exemplify the “contradictions, antagonisms, challenges and realizations of various expressions of modernism through a long century of rigorous negotiations and creations.
In fact, without the weight of academicism, therefore without having to fight against anything, these groups take advantage of modernist freedoms of representation, in contexts of opening their own countries to the West.

Faraj Abo, Untitled 1963
Faraj Abo, Untitled 1963

Overall, when viewed against “standard” modernism, the works on display are somewhat opaque, unsurprisingly. However, the merit of the show lies precisely in giving visibility in an international context to a production that dialogues intensely with regional issues, whether in terms of forms, contents or even techniques.
This is the case of the Egyptian group, for example, which combined with the entry into modernity the discussion about art with a national character, something similar to Brazilian modernism. In the text “Towards an art that is specifically Egyptian”, signed by several members of The Contemporary Art Group, from Cairo, among them Abdelhadi El-Gazzar, they sought to reflect what would be a “national art”. For El-Gazzar this would mean: “understanding our specific problems and being able to present them with elements of the environment and a modern mentality”. In one of his paintings in the show, “The Family”, we can see how the weight of local tradition is immense, since the adults seem much bigger than the child in the painting and they carry so many symbols of the local culture that they don’t even manage to have individuality, undoubtedly a modern critique of the local condition.
Journalist Fabio Cypriano traveled to Dubai at the invitation of Art Dubai

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