Lovers of contemporary art in the Middle East have a lot to choose from this November. The region's three biennials are ongoing, and new exhibitions, with a strong dose of photography, are set to open.
Biennials: The 3rd Jerusalem Biennial continues until Nov. 16, with more than a dozen exhibitions around the city. One of them, “Dreamland Never Found,” curated by Maria Wates, brings together artists born in the former Soviet Union who present interpretations, through paintings and photographs, of the new waves of immigration to Israel driven by recent political and economic events in the post-Soviet territories.
The clock is ticking for a chance to see the 15th Istanbul Biennial and satellite exhibits and activities. The doors close Nov. 12. It is worth exploring the least-known venue of this large art event — “Proposal for a House Museum of an Unknown Crying Man,” a work by the Egyptian artist Mahmoud Khaled at Ark Kultur. The installation — based on a police raid on the Queen Boat, a floating disco on the Nile, and the subsequent arrests and trials of 52 gay men in 2001 — offers strong criticism of anti-gay policies and attitudes in Egypt and the rest of the region.
The Beirut component of the 13th Sharjah Biennial continues at the Sursock Museum, with the exhibition “Fruit of Sleep,” curated by Reem Fadda. The exhibit defines dormancy as the act of plotting after failed attempts of a revolution. The show wraps up at the end of the year.
Contemporary art in Iran: The current exhibition at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, “Roots and Stones,” features the German-British sculptor Tony Cragg. The 80 pieces on display focus primarily on Cragg's work on geometric shapes, using industrial materials. In parallel with the exhibition, a group of Iranian artists are working in the museum's courtyard to realize a large, marble sculpture designed by Cragg. It is expected to be completed in November. “Roots and Stones,” which opened in late October, continues to the end of the year.
Back to the movies: The legacy of Ronit Elkabetz, the Israeli actress and filmmaker who died last year, will be honored in a special exhibition at the Design Museum Holon on Nov. 28. “Je t'aime, Ronit Elkabetz” will take visitors on a visual journey of the identities and personas of this revolutionary actress, filmmaker and all-around icon.
Photography: “Cairographie,” the first photography and videography festival in Egypt, opens Nov. 5 at two of Cairo’s cultural hubs, Darb 1718 and Photopia. The festival celebrates photography and video by bringing together different artists who tackle contemporary topics. A series of talks, “Born to Change: Young Artists on the Rise,” will be held Nov. 17. The festival continues through Dec. 31.
The exhibition “Insight,” in Iran’s Golestan Palace Museum, a lavish UNESCO-listed building, features 80 photographs by two Iranian photographers from the Qajar period and by the German photographer Hans Georg Berger. The works bring the old and new together in their presentation of Shiite shrines in Iraq and Islamic seminaries in Iran. The images by the two Iranians were taken in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when they served as official, court photographers for the Qajar kings Nasser ad-Din Shah (1821-1900) and Mozaffar ad-Din Shah (1853-1907). They illustrate local life around the shrines in the Iraqi cities of Najaf, Karbala and Samarra. Berger’s photos of Islamic seminaries in Iran were taken in 2000 and 2005. The exhibition closes Nov. 15.
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