As the new year approaches, the Middle Eastern culture calendar is filled with fashion, photography and modern art.
Dressing up: The Holon Design Museum in Tel Aviv has just launched an exhibition that takes the concept of Franco-Israeli haute couture to new heights. The show, “Je t’Aime, Ronit Elkabetz,” looks at more than 500 pieces of apparel, including an array of corsets and undergarments, that belonged to the Israeli and international screen icon. The exhibition reveals Elkabetz to have been a woman of capricious, uncompromising chic with a cheeky ability to play with fashion. Elkabetz’s incredible wardrobe and unique taste are on display until April 30.
Meanwhile, the annual Dubai Modest Fashion Week is scheduled for Dec. 8-9, bringing to the catwalk the creations of some two dozen designers who (mostly) adhere to Islamic standards for women's attire. The event also features a special showing for fashion bloggers.
The ninth edition of the Cairo Fashion Festival is now in the rearview mirror, held Nov. 22, but there's more fashion ahead, this time with a photographic angle. On Dec. 15 in the Egyptian capital, Sherif Elbouhy will discuss what it means to be a fashion photographer. The evening event, “Obsession: A Fashion Photography Talk,” is organized by Photopia and will be held at its photographers' hub in Heliopolis. Photopia's program this month also includes the workshop “Art Direction and Image Making in Fashion,” scheduled for Dec. 18-22.
Major photo exhibitions: Anyone interested in photography might also want to visit Beirut for the Sursock Museum’s latest exhibition, “Click, Click: The Repetition of Photographic Subject Matter in the 19th Century,” featuring the work of four French photographers based in the Middle East. The Sursock explains, “Like tourists checking off visited sites, photographers based in the Middle East in the 19th century roamed the land with the aim of sharing views from across the Orient with a Western audience. In this way, Baalbek, Palmyra, Beirut, Damascus, and Jerusalem became … commonplaces.” The exhibition runs through Feb. 5, 2018.
The Ruya Foundation, the organization behind the impressive Iraqi Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennial, will sponsor an exhibition of 50 works by Latif Al Ani, the founder of modern Iraqi photography, at the Coningsby Gallery in London's Fitrovia district, Dec. 4-16. The self-titled show features works capturing daily life in Iraq from the 1950s to the 1970s, what the organizers call “a period of increased cosmopolitanism and openness in the country.”
In Cairo, Cairographie, Egypt's first video and photography festival, continues with exhibitions and workshops until Dec. 31.
Sculpture, modern art and cartoons: A 17th-century statue is currently an object of controversy in Egypt, but without dispute, there are two remarkable contemporary sculpture exhibitions this month in Cairo. Artist and fine arts professor Amgad El Tohamy’s highly abstracted architectural forms and human figures in bronze can be seen at “Dreams of Freedom,” an exhibition at the Ubuntu Gallery, on the island of Zamalek, through Dec. 16. Across the Nile in downtown Cairo, the Karim Francis Contemporary Art Gallery, always worth a visit, presents an exhibition of bronze works by Hassan Kamel, who is also known for his clean-line, abstract figurines. The exhibition runs Dec. 3-21.
The Sharjah Art Foundation has wrapped up its 13th biennial, but it is far from taking a break. It has announced curators for the 14th biennial, which opens in March 2019, and is currently presenting a retrospective by the Emirati artist Hassan Sharif, a pioneer of conceptual art in the Middle East who died last year. His work encompasses drawings and paintings as well as installations. The Sharjah exhibition, “I Am the Single Work Artist,” includes his famous “Slippers and Wire” and his trademark “Cotton.” The show concludes Feb. 3, 2018.
The 11th Tehran International Cartoon Biennial kicked off at the Saba Art and Cultural Institute Nov 28. Some 500 cartoons from 74 countries, mostly on the theme of safety and security, can be seen through Dec. 15.
In Istanbul, the marriage between ceramics and architecture is on display in a wonderful show featuring works by the pioneering Turkish ceramics artist Fureya Koral. The exhibition, Fureya Koral Retrospective, at 16 Siraevler, coincides with the 20th anniversary of the artist's death. It will remain on view through Jan. 18, 2018.
Words and music: The Beirut International Arab Book Fair is ongoing downtown at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure Center until Dec. 13. The fair includes workshops and programs presenting participating writers. The fair, founded in 1956, is one of the oldest in the Arab world and attracts a reported 200 publishers and 30,000 visitors every year.
For those who want their December to be all about music, the 10th edition of the Beirut Chants Festival starts Dec. 1 and continues through Dec. 23, with 28 concerts of classic, sacred and ethnic music, mostly in the churches of Beirut.