Art Dubai Modern Symposium is a series of talks and presentations focused on the life, work and cultural impact of 20th century masters from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. Renowned curators, scholars and patrons will lead the sessions that delve into the styles, influences and practices of artists whose work contributes to the history of art produced in the 20th century.

2018 Programme





Four of the Gulf’s six nations gained independence in the early 1970s, with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia established in 1932 and Kuwait in 1961. Despite the young age of these nations, their governments funded artist study abroad and many pioneers returned and worked prolifically in then-small and limited art scenes. This session will trace art practices in the Gulf from the 1970s through to the 1990s, looking at the lives, political and economic shifts and legacies of modernists from the Gulf.

  • Thuraya Al Baqsami, artist and writer, Kuwait
  • Eiman Elgibreen, Assistant Professor of Art History, College of Art and Design, Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University, Riyadh
  • Noora Al Mualla, Curator of Modern Arab Art, Art Centres Manager, Sharjah Art Foundation
  • Mona Khazindar, Director of Palette for Cultural Projects and Art Publications
  • Moderated by Till Fellrath, Independent Curator and Academic, Co-founder of Art Reoriented and co-curator of Art Dubai Modern Exhibition

This talk is supported by the MiSK Art Institute



African art: are its aesthetics ‘primitive’? Islamic? Calligraphic? Ethnic? Tribal? Are its makers African from the continent or from its Diasporas or both? What is the contemporary context of African art? Is it bound to a specific region within the African continent or does it extend to other parts of the globe? How does African-ness transpire in the work of the Diaspora? How did the colonial and post-colonial time impact and influence art in Africa? This session will seek to define and explain African art and its many meanings.

  • Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi, artist, art historian and Curator of African art at Cleveland Museum of Art
  • Ayo Adeyinka, Founder, TAFETA, London
  • Moderated by Catherine David, Deputy Director of the Musee National d’Art Moderne at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, and member of Art Dubai Modern Advisory Committee



The son of an Islamic scholar, Abdel Hadi Al Gazzar was born in Alexandria in 1925 and moved to Cairo with his family when he was 11 years old, settling in a neighbourhood where he was exposed to religious customs. Though he initially pursued medicine, Al Gazzar joined the Higher School of Fine Arts in 1945 and met fellow artists Hamed Nada, Kamal Youssef and Samir Rafi, among others. They came to form a group that sought to identify Egyptian traditions and infuse art with folklore and popular culture in a mission to wash away Western influences. It was during this time that Al Gazzar’s work both featured mystical symbolism and mythology and was shown at several editions of the Venice Biennale. He spent three years studying in Rome during which time he explored Europe’s cultural sites, becoming inspired to move away from Cairene landscapes to more surreal pictures. He died young, at just 41 in 1966 and is known as one of Egypt – and the Arab world’s – most important and influential artists.

  • Clare Davies, Assistant Curator, Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • Tayseer El Gazzar, daughter of Abdel Hadi Al Gazzar and Director of the Al Gazzar Foundation
  • Sam Bardaouil, Independent Curator and Academic, Co-founder of Art Reoriented




Amidst a political climate that witnessed the nationalisation of Egypt’s Suez Canal, and the establishment of the Baath Party in Syria, came a Western-trained artist who felt compelled to safeguard contemporary Iraqi art: Jewad Selim. Having studied in Europe, he returned to his native Iraq in 1940 and joined the Institute of Fine Art in Baghdad. Eleven years later, Selim and his protégé, Shakir Hassan Al Said founded the Baghdad Group for Modern Art, an artistic platform that sought to modernise and reference the country’s heritage – including Assyrian, Babylonian and Abbasid influences – with a nod to Yahya Al Wasiti, the miniature painter. After Selim’s untimely passing, Al Said, held the reins of the Group for a while, that included intellectuals, writers and poets. The legacy of the Group, however, outlived them. Who were these pioneering ‘Mesopotamians’ and how did they come to define an Iraqi art movement?

  • Hanaa Malallah, artist and associate professor at the Royal University for Women, Bahrain
  • Amin Alsaden, Teaching Fellow and PhD Candidate, Harvard University
  • Salwa Mikdadi, Associate Professor, Practice of Art History, NYU Abu Dhabi
  • Moderated by Nada Shabout, Professor of Art History and Director of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Studies Initiative at the University of North Texas, USA, and member of Art Dubai Modern Advisory Committee

This talk is supported by the MiSK Art Institute



In his 60-year career, Rasheed Araeen recognises that he has developed “a body of ideas useful to humanity”. A painter, writer, curator and a pioneer of Minimalist sculpture in Britain, the Pakistani-born artist began his professional life as a civil engineer in Karachi. In 1987, he established and published Third Text to address institutional racism that many non-Western artists faced. The UK has been his home since 1964 and was where Araeen encountered the work of Anthony Caro, becoming inspired by the English artist’s utilisation of industrial materials. Motivated by the idea of art acting as an agent for social awareness, Araeen looked to Islamic civilisation and developed a body of work in ode to Islam’s thinkers and philosophers. In 2014, he was celebrated with a major exhibition at the Sharjah Art Foundation and in December 2017, opened a retrospective at the Van Abbemuseum in The Netherlands.

  • Rasheed Araeen, artist, Pakistan
  • Nick Aikens, Curator, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven



A painter, sculptor, translator, poet, writer and theatre director, Bahman Mohasses is largely recognised as an icon of Iranian modernism. After studies at the Academy of Arts in Rome, he returned to Tehran and became a central figure during the peak of the Iranian capital’s flourishing cultural arena. Fascinated by the human body, animals and nature, his works were also inspired by mythology, Surrealism and Cubism. Mohasses was commissioned to create public sculptures, some of which were later destroyed during the Islamic Revolution of 1979; others, Mohasses destroyed himself on his trips back to Tehran from Rome where he lived in self-imposed exile, dying there in 2010.

  • Vali Mahlouji, independent curator, founder of the non-profit platform Archaeology of the Final Decade, and member of Art Dubai Modern Advisory Committee



A founding member of the Ecole de Tunis, Jallel Ben Abdallah was indeed a prolific artist, producing about 80,000 works in his 70-year career. Among the aspects for which he is best known is developing a distinct style based on a picture of ‘traditional Tunis’ that quickly became visually synonymous with the new Tunisian republic. Born in 1921, Ben Abdallah studied at the Fine Arts School of Tunis in 1948 and then obtained a scholarship at L’Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris, where he met artists of the School of Montparnasse. When he returned to Tunis, he explored various styles, becoming among the first Tunisian painters who dealt with geometry and symbolism before settling on what came to be recognised as the image for the modernist, post-colonial movement in Tunisia. He died in November 2017 at the age of 96.

  • Ridha Moumni, Curator and Cultural Adviser, Rambourg Foundation, Tunis



An aristocrat hailing from an old Aleppo family, Ali Jabri was born in Jerusalem, raised in Egypt and educated between Stanford University in California, where he studied architecture, and Bristol University, graduating with a degree in English literature. He returned to Egypt, infatuated with its history, Islamic architecture, people and streets, and finally settled in Amman in the 1980s, where his work took on more political and social themes, laced with satire and sarcasm. Very much a visual diarist, Jabri was fascinated by cultural heritage, archaeology and social structures. In 2002, he was mysteriously murdered in his Amman apartment. Several years later, a foundation established by his close friend and art patron, Fadi Ghandour, was set up in Jabri’s name that seeks to preserve his legacy. In 2017, Jabri was awarded the Special Prize at the Sharjah Biennial.

  • Suha Lallas, Founder, Wadi Finan Gallery
  • Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, Founder, Barjeel Art Foundation
  • Rula Atalla Ghandour, art patron, co-founder of the Ali Jabri Human Heritage Foundation
  • Moderated by Vali Mahlouji, independent curator and member of Art Dubai Modern Advisory Committee



He survived smallpox, for which he is owed his first name – Francis – after Goa’s patron saint St Francis Xavier. Several Bombay school expulsions later and a stint with the Communist party, he won first place in an art prize in 1947 – the same year of the India partition and also when Francis Newton Souza co-founded the Progressive Artists Group that sought to promote Avant-garde art in India. Two years later, he relocated to London and supported himself by writing for titles including ArtNews and Review and managed to stage a sold-out show at Gallery One in 1955. More shows came, so did institutional acquisitions and then a move to New York in 1967. Souza’s work was highly charged, often violent and sensual, and in his six-decade career, it would be fair to say that his seminal paintings are of Christ as well as the nudes. No doubt, he is among India’s most celebrated artists.

  • Ashish Anand, Director, DAG Modern, New Delhi/New York/Mumbai
  • Savita Apte, art historian specialising in modern and contemporary South Asian art
  • Moderated by Mahnaz Fancy, Senior Programme Officer, Sharjah Architecture Triennial