From our friends at REORIENT, today we bring you author Nur Shkembi’s thoughts on subversive practices in the Guggenheim’s exhibition of Contemporary Middle Eastern and North African Art, But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise. Shkembi states, “This notion of art as a subversive practice is not new; however, redefining the material itself as the place from which ideas are ‘smuggled in’ is certainly compelling.” But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise is on view at the Guggenheim Museum in New York through October 15, 2016. This article was originally published on August 30, 2016.
It was an uncomfortably hot and typical Brisbane afternoon as I made my way across the concrete courtyard from the Gallery of Modern Art to its big sister, the Queensland Art Gallery. There is something rather exciting about the potential of Middle Eastern art in Australasia, although its relative invisibility has been something problematic; the Asia Pacific Triennial is one of the few large-scale exhibitions in the southern hemisphere featuring artists from the Arab world, Turkey, Iran, and Southeast Asia. Entering the gallery, I was still slightly agitated from the humidity, and as I moved forward through the much cooler interior and the sparse, slowly moving crowd, my senses suddenly awakened. It was an unexpectedly frantic space, every single inch of it: The floors, walls, and ceiling were smothered in a full-scale re-creation of Rokni Haerizadeh’s studio in Dubai, which he shares with his brother, Ramin, and their friend Hesam Rahmanian. The entire first gallery, in fact, was dedicated to their collaborative installation, All the Rivers Run into the Sea. Over./Copy. Yet, the Sea Is not Full. Over.
The exhibition arguably contained everything one would expect from the Haerizadehs and Rahmanian. After examining each piece, I was left wondering what the vastly Anglo-Saxon audience made of the highly political and otherworldly spectacle. My presence in the installation as a pseudo-Arab/Middle Eastern/you-must-be-somewhere-from-the-East person created a strange friction as passersby asked, ‘Can you read that?’, or, ‘Does that offend you?’ Standing in my hijab, I was a lone figure suddenly cast as a translator, oracle–miracle–in a physical space where everything surely meant something political, or was at least a push back against the fanatical or oppressive.