Artists Take on the Subject of Geometry in Jeddah


Adrian Esparza, Untitled (No. 01), 2014, Felt pen, pencil on paper, 38 x 46 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Taubert Contemporary Gallery.

As we've written about elsewhere on ARTPHAIRE, many of the most interesting developments in the art world are currently coming from Arab countries.

In some ways this shouldn't be surprising, as most of these countries are currently experiencing the same conditions which kickstarted the electrical storm of creativity that the West experienced in the second half of the 20th century -- youthful populations, entrenched social structures to rebel against creatively, war, social upheaval, an opening up to globalization and booming economies.

However, the scope and scale of a new show in Jeddah, "The Language of Human Consciousness" will still pleasantly surprise many western visitors. Billed as "the biggest art exhibition in the Kingdom," it includes the work of 39 artists from all over the world, responding to the theme of geometry. "Accepting its heritage as a symbol of purity, intelligence and perfection and bringing it towards a more contemporary interpretation as a language for exploring the atypical, the imperfect and the alternative."

In Saudi itself, Jeddah has an interesting relationship with contemporary art. In the 1970s, its mayor, Dr. Mohammed Said Farsi, undertook the Jeddah Beautification Project in which a large collection of sculpture, including work by Henry Moore and Ottmar Hollmann, was created for public display. Farsi is also one of the most notable collectors of 20th Century Egyptian art, with Christie's offering his unrivaled collection back in 2010 in a major sale.


Sol Lewitt. "Untitled Drawing (Ref 03)," 1988, Gouache on paper, 54 x 86 cm. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.

This new show works at a smaller scale than Dr. Farsi's grand project, but is no less creatively ambitious. Reaching back to the statement of Plato about geometry -- that even the most uneducated Greek slave's soul "must have always possessed this knowledge" -- a range of western artists including Josef Albers, Richard Deacon and Sol Lewitt have created geometric work alongside the likes of Rasheed Araeen and Dana Awartani.


Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, "Drawing 02, 2009," Felt marker, color pencil and mirror on paper, 62 x 95 cm. Courtesy of the artist and the Third Line Gallery.

There are several fascinating aspects to this show. Firstly, how a potentially cold, clinical subject can produce work as wide ranging as Sahand Hesmayan's brutal, metallic "Nail" (2012) and the delicate, technical surfaces of Monir Farmanfarmaian's "Drawing 2." (2009). And secondly, how geometry has proven significant to such different cultures in different ways -- cropping up in everything from psychedelia to op-art in the west, while reaching back into the history of mathematics, astronomy and science as a crucial part of Islam's intellectual culture. Throughout the show, patterns and links emerge between the artists, with the works unconsciously echoing each other and shapes replicating in unexpected ways.

"The Language of Human Consciousness" is on view at Athr Gallery through October 10, 2014.

--Justin Quirk is contributor to ARTPHAIRE. He is a journalist and editor based in London, England. He is editorial director of House, the Soho House Group's quarterly culture journal, and also of Victor, Hasselblad's photographic biannual. He writes features for The Guardian and Sunday Times newspapers, Wallpaper* magazine and Phaidon's Agenda site. When not working he mentors young creatives at The Cut, he writes graphic novels and curates exhibitions for the Canadian artist Nathan James.