An Exploration of Modern Arab Art

An Exploration of Modern Arab Art

Arab art has a rich and diverse history, despite its being relatively under-appreciated on the global scene. Much like its global counterparts, Arab art has reflected the cultural, political, and social changes of the Arab World over the course of centuries. From calligraphy to abstract expressionism, the development of modern Arab art has been shaped by a complex mix of influences, including religion, politics, and global trends. In this entry, we explore how Arab art continues to evolve into the contemporary era, inspiring and challenging artists, collectors, and audiences alike.

A (Very) Brief History of Arab Art

In order to understand the origins of Modern Art within the Arabian context, it is important to understand the history of of Arab art in general. The history of Arab art as we know it can be traced back to the Islamic Golden Age. The Golden Age (which spanned the seventh to the thirteenth centuries) was when the Islamic Empire was at its peak, which gave way to a flourishing of the arts. During this era, calligraphy was the dominant form of artistic expression. This reflected the importance of the written word in Islamic culture, and the spread of the religion. Calligraphers were therefore highly regarded as their works were commissioned for religious texts. They were also commission for architectural and decorative purposes.

Colonialism and The Emergence of Modern Arab Art

Starting in the 19th and into the early 20th centuries, the colonial presence of European powers in the region exerted its influence on many aspects of daily lives, commerce, and eventually arts and culture. Modern art in a general sphere refers to art produced in the late 19th century and up until the 1970s.

Despite the emergence of modern Arab art during this period, it is important to keep in mind that modern Arab art is more of a stylistic movement than a periodic one. The genres that emerged during the modern era included Impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism. As such, European artistic techniques and styles were introduced and adopted by Arabs, leading to a fusion of traditional Arab art forms with modern Western styles. This period also saw the rise of local art schools and institutions. This aspect by which communities were built around modern Arab art played an important role in promoting and shaping modern Arab art.

The Post-Colonial Evolution of Modern Arab Art

After World War II, a new generation of Arab artists emerged, one that was inspired by global trends in modern art. It would be negligent to ignore the impact of nationalism and the rise of independence movements in the Arab world following the withdrawal of colonial forces after World War II. These two sociopolitical shifts had a profound impact on the development of modern Arab art. This is reflected in how many artists sought to express their cultural identity and assert their independence from colonial influence through their work.

One of the most important movements in modern Arab art is the Baghdad School of Art, which was established in the 1950s and 60s. This movement was characterized by a desire to create a new and distinctly Arab form of modern art. This iconic style blended traditional techniques with contemporary styles. Artists from the Baghdad School, such as Dia Azzawi, were inspired by the region's rich cultural heritage. They sought to create a unique visual language that reflected the cultural identity of the Arab world.


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The Era of Globalization and The Birth of Contemporary Arab Art

In the late 20th century, Arab artists became increasingly engaged with the increasingly globalized international art scene. Arab artists, galleries and institutions started participating in exhibitions and biennials all around the world. This exposure helped to raise the profile of Arab art and has led to a greater appreciation of its significance and value whereby Arab art is featured in revered art fairs, exhibitions, and auctions. Today, artists from the Arab world, its diaspora, and those inspired by the rich history and beauty of the region continue to push the boundaries of contemporary art, using a wide range of mediums and techniques to express their ideas and perspectives.

The Significance of Modern and Contemporary Art on the Arab World

The significance of modern Arab art lies in its ability to reflect the cultural, political, and social complexities of the Arab world. Through their work, Arab artists have explored themes of identity, nationalism, and cultural heritage. They have also explored social and political issues such as war, oppression, and human rights. As a result, modern and contemporary Arab art have become powerful tools for dialogue and understanding, helping to bridge cultural divides and promote cross-cultural exchange.

Furthermore, modern Arab art has also played a significant role in the cultural economy of the region. Arab artists have been able to build successful careers and make a significant contribution to the cultural and economic development of the region thanks to the growth of the number of art collectors, artists, galleries, and art fairs across the Middle East, West Asia, and North Africa. Additionally, there is always credit that is due to the increasing interest in Arab art among collectors and institutions around the world.

In conclusion, the history and significance of Arab art as we’ve known it in the modern and contemporary movements is rooted in a rich and complex tapestry of stories. These stories reflects the cultural, political, and social changes of the Arab world over the course of centuries. From its roots in the Islamic Golden Age to its contemporary expression of the cultural identity of the Arab world, even as it enters a highly-digitized era, modern Arab art continues to inspire and challenge artists, collectors, and audiences alike. Whether exploring the complexities of the political and social landscape or celebrating the cultural heritage of the region, the modern Arab art movement in particular remains a powerful expression of the rich cultural and artistic traditions of the Arab world and how viewpoints and lives shifted post-colonization.

Interested in experiencing a curated selection of Modern Arab Art? Check out the Modern Masters Collection.

Written by: Abdulah Al-Ghoul

Abdulah Al-Ghoul, Founder and Curator at Marsoum Art Collective

Abdulah Al-Ghoul is a digital marketing director, consultant, and strategist with a background in several industries including hospitality and fine arts.

Abdulah founded the Marsoum Art Collective in 2018 when he was based out of Vancouver, BC, Canada. He is currently based out of Toronto, ON, Canada.

Learn more about Abdulah here.



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