Fertile Crescent: A Checklist of Signature Images by Each Artist

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Bernstein Gallery, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University

NEGAR AHKAMI, Hot and Crusty, 2011, Acrylic and glitter on gessoed panel 36 x 48 in. (91.4 x 121.9 cm)
Photo credit: Emma Cleary, Courtesy of the Leila Heller Gallery, New York, and the artist

Negar Ahkami explains that her paintings are narratives based on the conflict she experiences between her Iranian heritage and her transnational geographic existence. She was born in Baltimore, but is assumed by everyone she meets to have an Iranian identity. Her paintings include references to Persian culture, both historical and contemporary; to the condition of women; and to the transnational experience. They are often set in a metaphorical sea. Her edifices melt into the sea, and her skies are filled with Islamic patterns. Her human figures are small in the immensity of the sea, which becomes a signifier for the shifting culture that occurs in the transnationalism that exists today. Another aspect of Ahkami’s work that she talks about, is her disengagement from religion. Mosques sink into the ocean and disintegrate, perhaps a visual image for the loosening of religious restrictions in a secular world.


Arts Council of Princeton,Taplin Gallery, Paul Robeson Center, Princeton, NJ

SHIVA AHMADI Oil Barrel #9,2009, Oil on steel, 34 1/2 x 23 1/2 x 23 1/2 in. (87.6 x 60 x 60 cm), Collection of Howard and Maryam Newman, Courtesy of the Leila Heller Gallery, New York

Shiva Ahmadi paints on oil barrel drums. She references Iranian cultural history in an ironic commentary on the oil that underlies the economies and politics not just of Iran, but of the world.


Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University

JANANNE AL-ANI Production stills from Shadow Sites I, 2010, Digitized super 16mm film, 14:20 minutes, Photo credit: Adrian Warren, Courtesy of Rose Issa Projects, London, and the artist

Foucault famously exposed the power of surveil-lance in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Using a Foucaultian tactic, Jananne Al-Ani displaces the Orientalist paradigm of the lifeless desert in her video Shadow Sites I (2010). Through aerial photography, the patterns of ancient cities that lie beneath the sand become visible, revealing the rich history of the desert as holding the remains of great ancient civilizations, rather than the barren wasteland equated in the Western imagination with a belittling view of the Middle East.


Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University

FATIMA AL QADIRI AND KHALID AL GHARABALLI Stills from Mendeel Um A7mad (NxIxSxM), 2012, HD video, 15:28 minutes, Courtesy of the artists

Fatima Al Qadiri satirizes Kuwaiti gender attitudes and the influence of Western consumer standards on Kuwaiti values through the video Mendeel Um A7mad (NxIxSxM) (2012), in which four young transvestite men impersonate wealthy Kuwaiti matrons. The four men/women sit in an elaborate ballroom, parodying the Kuwaiti equivalent of the “McMansions” built in the United States during the economic boom of the last years of the twentieth century and the first years of the twenty-first. They are participating in the daily ritual of drinking tea before lunch, separate from the men, who have their own ritual space. Reminiscent of reality television, they gossip about family, friends, and their daily activities. Every now and then, they rise from their chairs to take a tissue from a giant tissue box in the middle of the ballroom, mocking the Kuwaiti middle-class obsession with cleanliness.


Arts Council of Princeton,Taplin Gallery, Paul Robeson Center Princeton, NJ

MONIRA AL QADIRI, The Tragedy of Self (series 3), 2009, 2012, Photographs with paint and gold leaf on canvas, 47 1/2 x 51 1/8 in. (120 x 130 cm); each 15 3/4 x 13 3/4 in. (40 x 35 cm), Courtesy of the artist

In her complex works which mimic Byzantine icons, Monira Al Qadiri challenges the patriarchal dominance of heterosexuality as the norm in both East and West as well as art historical narratives and narratives of dress, through self portraits in which she assumes the role of a man, moustached and wearing garb that simultaneously can be interpreted as a chador or a monk’s robe.


Arts Council of Princeton,Taplin Gallery, Paul Robeson Center

REZA FARKHONDEH AND GHADA AMER , The Gardens Next Door-D, 2010, Mixed media on paper , 43 3/4 x 77 1/2 in. (111.1 x 196.9 cm), Courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York

The most sexually explicit works in the exhibition are those by Ghada Amer and her collaborator, Reza Farkhondeh. In their drawings of women derived from pornographic publications, the sexually engaged fig-ures contrast with images of Middle East women wearing hijabs, chadors, and burkas—the types of representations that usually appear in the Western media. Their images are ambiguous. Fulfilling the concept of unavailable intersections, they can be interpreted as critiquing Orientalist stereotypes, ques-tioning religiously inspired Muslim restrictions on women’s dress, or perhaps flouting the separation between high art and pornography. Amer’s collaborator, Reza Farkhondeh, is a male. Amer says that their collaboration was “post-feminist,” in that neither dominates the other: another unavailable intersection. The two artists work on canvases and drawings simultaneously. Amer sets down the female figures; Farkhondeh covers them with lush flowers and foliage; Amer then embroiders over the layers to finish off the work.


Bernstein Gallery, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University

ZEINA BARAKEH Action + ChangeNow (chapter one), 2008; Scenarios of Return (chapter two), 2012, from the series And Then . . . , 2008–ongoing, Video animation stills, Duration variable, Courtesy of the artist

And Then . . . (2008–ongoing) is a serialized work of video animation. Chapter 1, Now, depicts rival battalions in Beirut as individual cells that merge, disperse, dance, and attack. Chapter 2, Scenarios of Return, visits the British Mandate of Palestine. Barakeh’s avatar manifests itself in Jaffa, where her father was born, to fight the British and reverse history.


Bernstein Gallery, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University
Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University

OFRI CNAANI Terre Promise from the twenty-part series Oriental Landscapes, 2007–08 Ink and spray paint on Mylar, 18 x 24 in. (45.7 x 61 cm) Courtesy of the Andrea Meislin Gallery, New York, and the artist

Bernstein Gallery, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University

In this series of drawings Cnaani deconstructs the various images of “Palestine” throughout the 20th century.

OFRI CNAANI, Still from The Sota Project, 2011, Video installation, 22 minutes, Courtesy of the artist

Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University

Ofri Cnaani’s Sota Project (2011), derived from the Talmud, narrates the story of Sota, a wife accused of adultery, who is required to undergo a trial in which she must drink a poison. If she is pure, she will survive. But if she is guilty, her abdomen will explode, cast out the adulterous fetus, and she will die. She goes to her sister, who takes her place and survives. But in the end, Sota does die when her sister kisses her—the poison is still on her lips. Sota dies from sisterly love. Her sister then commits adultery, herself—with Sota’s husband. As we considered this story from outside the region, it seemed to reflect the ambiguity surrounding Israel itself, another example of unavailable intersections.


Arts Council of Princeton,Taplin Gallery, Paul Robeson Center, Princeton, NJ

NEZAKET EKICI, Still from Lifting a Secret, 2009, Performance at the Claire Oliver Gallery, New York, Courtesy of the Claire Oliver Gallery, New York, and the artist

In her performance, Turkish artist, Nezaket Ekici reads aloud from her adolescent diary in which she expresses her feelings about the marriage which her father has arranged. As she describes the situation, she becomes more and more angry. While she has been speaking, she is also drinking a cup of coffee. Her anger erupts violently when she flings the liquid in her cup at the wall. As the coffee drips down the wall, it reveals words from her diary which she wrote on the wall with petroleum jelly before beginning the performance. She refills her cup over and over again, slopping the coffee against the walls until her words have emerged across the entire surface.
Ekici will be performing this piece on Thursday, October 4 at the Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton University


Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University

DIANA EL JEIROUDI, Still from Dolls: A Woman from Damascus, 2007–08, Film, 53 minutes, Written and directed by the artist; co-produced with the Danish film company Final Cut, In Arabic and English, with English, French, and Danish subtitles

Diana El Jeiroudi critiques the status of women in Syria by comparing the Fulla doll (the Syrian version of American Barbie) and the marketing statements that accompany it with a middle class young wife/mother in Damascus and the social/religious values that shape her life. El Jeiroudi says that the Fulla doll which comes in a box wrapped in cellophane is a metaphor for this young woman’s restricted life.


Princeton University Art Museum
Bernstein Gallery, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University

PARASTOU FOROUHAR, Ashura Butterfly from the seven-part series Butterfly, 2010, Digital print on photo paper, 39 3/8 x 39 3/8 in. (100 x 100 cm), Courtesy of the RH Gallery, New York

Princeton University Art Museum

The butterfly is an iconographic element in the work of Parastou Forouhar. In a series of digital prints, Forouhar uses outline figures of bound and gagged nude women in a repetitive wall paper design to create patterns on the wings of butterflies. The butterflies fill the space of the canvas in confrontation with the viewer, like a shield protecting the women who make up their bodies. The identification of woman as butterfly suggests a fragility that simultaneously is heroic. Parastou’s parents were assassinated in 1998. Her mother’s first name in Farsi is Parveneh, which means butterfly. Thus these works are also an homage to her mother.

PARASTOU FOROUHAR, Swan Rider III from the four-part series Swan Rider, 2004, Digital C-print mounted on alubond, 31 1/2 x 31 1/2 in. (80 x 80 cm), Courtesy of the RH Gallery, New York, and the artist

Princeton University Art Museum

In a set of works, titled Swan Rider (2004), Forouhar based a series of photographs on the narrative of Leda and the swan. Women in black chadors are travelling on the backs of white swans that are actually not real swans, but swan boats. Forouhar lives in Germany, and these images are partly satires on the Wagnerian opera Lohengrin and German folktales, as well as commentaries on Orientalism. In Forouhar’s iconography, the story is transformed. The women are not being overpowered or controlled by the swans. Rather, it looks as if the women have tamed the swans and are riding them like horses. Like so much in this exhibition, these images can be read on many levels depending on the context of the viewer.

PARASTOU FOROUHAR, Freitag (Friday), 2003, Aludobond, Four panels, Each 66 7/8 x 33 7/8 in. (170 x 86 cm), Courtesy of the RH Gallery, New York,and the artist

Bernstein Gallery, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University

Parastou Forouhar’s Freitag (Friday) (2003) is one such example. The chador becomes a wall curtain extending over a large, flat surface. In the middle of the curtain, a hand emerges from the folds of the fabric. Depending on the political and intel-lectual context in which the image is viewed, the hand can signify the presence of the body underneath the chador, thus disrupting the Orientalist conflation of the woman with her garment. It also can be a sign of her sexuality, given the position and shape of the hand.


Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University

AYANA FRIEDMAN, Staged shot for the performance Red Freedom, 2008, Courtesy of the artist

The significance of women’s dress in relation to the construction of gender is not restricted to the consideration of the veil. Ayana Friedman’s video Red Freedom (2008) illustrates this point. A woman is clothed in an immense red dress. Its hem extends far beyond her feet and forms a train. The swirls of fabric become part of the action as she moves about. The dress becomes a signifier for women’s lives, complicated by social constructs.


Bernstein Gallery, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University

SHADI GHADIRIAN, From the series Miss Butterfly, 2011, Fifteen photographs, 27 1/2 x 39 3/8 in. (70 x 100 cm), Courtesy of the artist

The vulnerability of women emerges as a central theme in Shadi Ghadirian’s Miss Butterfly series (2001), consisting of fifteen photographs of a single woman in interior settings in which the woman is isolated. Ghadirian aims the camera shots high, to emphasize the prison-like walls of the rooms in which the woman is enclosed. Webs are visible in most of the photographs. In her description of the series, Ghadirian tells the story of a butterfly who is caught in a spider’s web. Impressed by the butterfly’s beauty, the spider tells her that if she brings him other insects, he will help her escape. The butterfly doesn’t want to betray the other insects and offers herself, instead. The spider is so moved by her courage that he ultimately allows her to escape.


Princeton University Art Museum

MONA HATOUM, Round and round, 2007, Bronze, 24 x 13 x 13 in. (61 x 33 x 33 cm), Photo credit: Bill Orcutt, Courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York

Hatoum identifies herself as a Palestinian. Her work is about the body; ordinary objects that relate to daily life; and language; and how the violent power struggle in the outside world transforms beds, chairs, tables, and light bulbs into implements of pain, torture, and isolation. Round and round (2007) is a small table, the sort of occasional table one puts in a living room next to a sofa. But on the table is a circle of soldiers who are interlocked, as if in a constant march or never-ending battle, permanently connected to one another by the barrels of their guns.


Arts Council of Princeton, Taplin Gallery, Paul Robeson Center, Princeton, NJ

HAYV KAHRAMAN, Mass Assembly (Sliding Puzzle), 2010, Oil on wooden panels, 17 1/2 x 17 1/2 x 1 5/8 in. (44.5 x 44.5 x 4 cm), Courtesy of The Third Line, Dubai; Michael and Lindsey Fournie; and the artist

Hayv Kahraman paints in a style derived from Persian miniatures, although on a much larger scale. Her elegant, sinuous depictions of women’s bodies often show women in harem-like situations. Kahraman may be critiquing the Orientalist view of Middle East women as sexual objects readying themselves for the male gaze—they are all pictured grooming themselves with combs or other grooming implements— but they can also be viewed as pleasuring each other through their sensual grooming activities.


Arts Council of Princeton, Taplin Gallery, Paul Robeson Center, Princeton, NJ

EFRAT KEDEM, Still from The Reality Show, 2012, Closed-circuit live-surveillance feed from live cameras broadcasting 24/7 from various sites in Princeton, New Jersey, to the Taplin Gallery, Arts Council of Princeton / Robeson Center for the Arts, Courtesy of the artist

Efrat Kedem interrogates surveillance in The Reality Show (2012), her installation of cameras at various street corners throughout the town of Princeton, New Jersey. Visitors to the Taplin Gallery could view the activity taking place on those street corners, through monitors placed at that gallery. When one considers the fact that Kedem is Israeli, her transfer of surveillance, which is a daily occurrence in Israel, to the placid university town of Princeton, becomes subtly ominous.


Princeton University Art Museum

SIGALIT LANDAU, Dancing for Maya (left to right, top to bottom), 2005, Three-channel video, 16:13 minutes, Courtesy of the artist

In a reference to contested borders, Sigalit Landau’s video Dancing for Maya (2005) shows two women on the beach drawing a line in the sand, a visual representation of the adage about the impermanence of drawing lines in shifting sands.


Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University
Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series Galleries, Rutgers University (solo shows)

ARIANE LITTMAN, Still from The Olive Tree, 2011, Video of performance at the Hizma checkpoint, Jerusalem, 13 minutes, Photo credit: Rina Castelnuevo, Courtesy of the artist

Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University

Ariane Littman’s Olive Tree focuses around a dead olive tree, which exists at an Israeli checkpoint. The video follows her as she wraps the olive tree in bandages. She then wraps her own feet in bandages as well, caring for the wounds in the land and on herself in a reference to contested borders.

ARIANE LITTMAN, Mehika/Erasure, 2006, Video based on performance by Ariane Littman, Hannan Abu Hussein, and Maya Yogel at Heara 10: Comments on the Israeli Acropolis, Science Museum, Jerusalem, Photo credit: Oded Antman, Courtesy of the artist

Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series Galleries, Rutgers University (solo shows)

In Mehika/Erasure, Ariane Littman’s performance and video work about contested territory, a map is screened over the artist, inscribing itself on her white dress and thereby showing how gender and political conflict are commingled. In the performance, she scrubs at the map in an attempt to erase it.


Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University

SHIRIN NESHAT, Rebellious Silence, 1994, from the eleven part series Women of Allah, 1993–97, Photo credit: Cynthia Preston, RC black-and-white print and ink, Framed: 52 x 36 1/2 in. (132.1 x 92.7 cm), Courtesy of the Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

Shirin Neshat’s series of photographs Women of Allah (1993– 97) is an early feminist intervention into the social/ political construction of Iranian women from the perspective of an Iranian woman living in exile. The photographs consist of various parts of Neshat’s own body in a chador, with Farsi text inscribed across her face, hands, or feet, often with a gun barrel placed across the image.


Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University

EBRU ÖZSEÇEN, Şerbet, 1999-2010, 16mm film installation, courtesy of TANAS, Berlin
photo credit: Uwe Walter

The film shows a stack of Burma Baklava saturated with syrup like a cascading skyscraper. Şerbet, “sugared water” in Turkish, is repeatedly re-poured to keep the dessert wet. Each application comes from what remains at the bottom of the tray after each re-pouring . . . in effect a love elixir made over and over again. Desire, companionship, falling in love . . . these are all romantic experiences humanizing the dessert, as if it were a living being. Şerbet is a precious portrait of surrender, an example of what a balanced relationship should be. The film runs from the reel on the floor, passes inside of the projector, goes up to the reels in the ceiling and falls. . . like a metaphor for the syrup, taken from the ground again and poured from the top to the bottom in an endless repetition, signifying Eternal Love.


Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University
Princeton University Art Museum

LAILA SHAWA, Refraction of Paradise, 2008, Acrylic on canvas, 39 3/8 x 39 3/8 in. (100.1 x 100.1 cm), Photo credit: Joanna Vestey, Courtesy of the artist

Princeton University Museum

Although frequently working in video and sculpture, Laila Shawa returned to painting several years ago in response to the expansion of Dubai in recent decades. At first glance, these paintings, removed from the specific Middle East context, look like contemporary versions of Arab decorative patterns. But Shawa has another goal in mind. She introduces elements, such as floral or jagged abstract shapes, that have no resolution into a formal design, and coloration that also contrasts with the traditional Arab aesthetic. Shawa characterizes her work as a critique of the large-scale construction of Dubai. She believes that the city has been erected under the influence of Western consumerism, and has no roots in Arab culture.

LAILA SHAWA, Disposable Bodies No. 3: Point of Honor, 2011, from the series The Other Side of Paradise, 2011–12, Plastic, paper, steel chain, and decommissioned hand grenade and padlock, Approx. 34 5/8 x 17 3/4 in. (88 x 45 cm), Photo credit: Jean-Louis Losi, Courtesy of the artist

Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University
In The Other Side of Paradise (2011–12), Shawa explores the motivations behind the shahida—the Arabic word for “female suicide bomber.” Shawa says, “The core of the shahida model revolves around a troubling confusion of eroticization and weaponization. In this installation, I sought to assign to each aspirant an identity and wholeness that would otherwise be denied her in the routinely horrific media reports of female suicide bombers in Gaza.”


Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series Galleries, Rutgers University (solo shows)

SHAHZIA SIKANDER, Stills from The Last Post (left to right, top to bottom), 2010, HD video animation, 10 minutes, Courtesy of the artist

Sikander has used the Middle East legacy extensively. The work with which she first became well known was based on the style of Persian miniatures. Sikander was trained as a traditional miniaturist at the National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan. She recontextualizes the tradition of Indo-Persian miniature painting by using a contemporary iconography in which she combines Hindu and Muslim images along with aspects of contemporary life.


Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series Galleries, Rutgers University (solo shows)

FATIMAH TUGGAR, At the Meat Market, 2000, Computer montage (inkjet on vinyl), 32 x 96 in. (81.3 x 243.8 cm), Courtesy of BintaZarah Studios, New York

Tuggar’s birth country, Nigeria, is the African nation with the highest percentage of Muslims. She now lives in the United States, adding another dimension to her life and work. Tuggar’s method of working reflects her multi-faceted identity. Through her art, she deconstructs the concept of a homogeneous Africa and the nostalgia associated with it. She creates collages, for instance, from photographs of black women in Muslim or tribal dress, contrasted with images of white middle-class women.


Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University

NIL YALTER, The AmbassaDRESS, 1978, Installation (Lanvin dress, video, sixteen gelatin silver prints, thirteen drawings, one monotype), Courtesy of the Galerie Hubert Winter, Vienna

Nil Yalter, who describes herself as Turkish/French, is a feminist pioneer who participated in some of the earliest feminist actions by women artists living in Paris in the 1970s. Women’s clothing figures as the central element in her installation entitled The AmbassaDRESS (1978). The focus of the installation is a white satin evening gown from the 1920s by the French designer Jeanne Lanvin. Yalter counteracts the symbolically empty dress through an installation consisting of drawings, photographs, and a video that provide a more expansive view of the life of the woman who might have worn the dress.