The Best Of What’s Going On In MENA

Hazem Harb Showcases Modern Geometric Art Patterns

Athr Gallery hosted ‘Al Baseera,’ a unique combination of Islamic geometric patterns and modern art by Hazem Harb. It is the artist’s first solo exhibition at the gallery. Harb is well-known in the world of art due to his revolutionary work and thoughts. The exhibition comprises 20 unique pieces of abstract acrylic art work and ran until July 1,2014. The significant body of work was completed over the last 18 months. The three-dimensional paintings are the artist’s first interpretation of Islamic geometric patterns. Squares, rectangles and a combination of shapes are mounted in multiple layers over the base canvas or painted directly in bright acrylic colors. “We can no longer cut ourselves off as we become more intertwined and interdependent. Art work has more influence than any military task forces or political delegations have. For centuries, art has been an excellent way of presenting culture, tradition, lifestyle, understanding of thinking and is a rich form of inspiration,” said Adnan Z. Manjal, business developer at Athr Gallery.  Harb has a contemporary approach to Islamic geometry. “He is completely dissecting, it’s a very conceptual work comprising different layers of oil paints, using one canvas on top of another to create a 3D effect. His work is quite complex and mostly deals with borders and the Palestinian conflict in Gaza. This is the first time he thought of something different,” said Manjal. Most of his work is influenced by modern artists such as Piet Mondrian and Amadea Franstella. “It is not necessary that there is a specific message in the paintings. It’s more like a study of Islamic geometry in contemporary art,” he said.  He said Salwa Mikdadi, an art historian, said that Harb has an exceptional gift for utilizing colors to evoke a sense of loss and turmoil. The title of the series Al Baseera is derived from the Arabic word ‘basar’ which means looking as well as seeing through something, whether an object, an event or an idea. In the exhibition, Harb invites the viewer to look deeply and reflectively, to admire ‘art for art’s sake’ to immerse oneself in the series of paintings that celebrate the aesthetics of geometry. Here, there are no overarching themes of suffering. In contrast to works that explore human conditions of loss and oppression, in Al Baseera, the visitor transcends the present to engage in a contemplative Sufi interpretation of geometrical abstraction. In several pieces, Harb reverts to his ongoing exploration of vertical shapes, which in this series take a less somber presence than in the work ‘I can Imagine You Without Your Home’ (2012) where they reference walls that separate and isolate. In Al Baseera the column shapes are topped with geometric designs and superimposed with a series of horizontal and diagonal lines either in white or in blue suggestive of Sol LeWitt’s influence on Harb’s work. As if he intentionally disguised them. Within the span of one month (April 2014), Harb’s work was presented at Durham’s University Orientalist Museums, at Dubai Art Fair “Live Art Window” where he painted a four-meter long mural in a public space at Jumeirah Beach Residence and at FotoFest 2014 in Houston. All three exhibitions epitomize Harb’s determination to excel, to question and to create new experiences through his art. His oeuvre grounded in the human condition leaves us pondering the cruelty of man, the futility of war, the consequences of apartheid and the cruelty of isolation in refugee camps of migrants in Europe or the people of Gaza living as refugees in their own country. Since Harb left Gaza in 2004 his art was influenced by his loss and by being forced to live away from his home. In the last five years, he has worked incessantly producing a large body of works that ranges from video art, to photography, paintings and sculpture, his work focused on this separation. According to Harb, “Al Baseera is a journey to challenge myself to seek a deeper understanding of Islamic art and its dialogue with abstraction.” The outcome is this outstanding exhibition that offers a rich visual experience.  The artist born in 1980 in Gaza, currently lives in Rome, Italy and Dubai. In 2004, Harb enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome and graduated from The European Institute of Design in 2009. In 2011, Harb was awarded a residency at The Delfina Foundation, which was supported by the A.M. Qattan Foundation; which awarded him the Young Artist of The Year award in 2008. His series ‘Beyond Memory’ has been acquired by The British Museum, UK in 2013. Harb has participated in numerous international exhibitions, which include ‘Made by War’ at the National Ethnographic and Pre-historical Museum Luigi Pigorini, Rome, Italy (2007) and most recently in Sphere 6 at Galleria Continua’s Le Moulin in 2013, a group show that coincided with five solo shows by Etel Adnan, Ai Weiwei, Anish Kapoor, Michelangelo Pistoletto and Sophie Whettnall.