“If we fail to fulfill ourselves through art, as through all other realms of thought, we won’t be able to make that feverish leap into the fierceness of life.”
Manifesto of the Baghdad Group for Modern Art, 1951
Shakir Hassan Al Said. Untitled. 1957. Oil on canvas. 100 x 80 cm.
Courtesy Alia and Hussain Harba Collection. Iraq-Italy. Photo courtesy Edoardo Garis
The exhibition That Feverish Leap into the Fierceness of Life presented a number of artworks by some of the leading members of five modernist artist groups and schools spanning five decades from five Arab cities: the Contemporary Art Group in Cairo (1940s/1950s), the Baghdad Group for Modern Art (1950s), the Casablanca School of Art (1960s/70s), The Khartoum School (1960s/70s), and dār al-funūn al-sa’udiah (The House of Saudi Arts) in Riyadh (1980s). Curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, the exhibition derived its title from the 1951 founding manifesto of the Baghdad Group for Modern Art, reflecting these groups’ passionate contributions to the intellectual and artistic discourse surrounding modernism within their respective socio-political contexts.
Mohammed Melehi, Untitled, 1976. Cellulose paint on panel. 100 x 95 cm. Courtesy private collection
The exhibition consisted of 75 paintings and works on paper by 29 artists assembled from 25 lenders across 15 cities. In recognising the heterogeneity of these five artist formations, the exhibition asserted the diversity that underpins their art-historical significance, as well as their socio-political agency. It shed light on the contradictions, antagonisms, accomplishments, as well as the commonalities of various expressions of modernism throughout a long century of rigorous negotiation and creation. In doing so, the exhibition refuted the depiction of modernism in the Arab world as a monolithic phenomenon. Instead, it advocated an inclusive vision of art history where the particularities of the so-called “peripheral” are no longer seen as dichotomous with the perceived authority of the so-called “central,” and where, to cite Selim one more time, modernism becomes “that feverish leap into the fierceness of life.”
The exhibition was accompanied by a fully-illustrated bilingual English / Arabic catalogue featuring commissioned essays by the curators, as well as by Salah Hassan Abdallah, Eiman Elgibreen, Holiday Powers, and Nada Shabout who acted as academic advisor to the exhibition. This non-selling collateral exhibition was presented by Art Dubai Modern and was supported by the MiSK Art Institute.
Faraj Abo, Hussein Youssef Amin, Mohamed Ataallah, Farid Belkahia, Mohammed Chebaa, Ahmed Cherkaoui, Bachir Demnati, Abdlehadi El Gazzar, Jilali Gharbaoui, Salim Al Habschi, Mohamed Hamidi, Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq, Mohammed Kacimi, Omer Khairy (aka George Edward), Mahmoud Khalil, Mohammed Melehi, Abdulhalim Radwi, Maher Raef, Samir Rafi, Ali Alruzaiza, Shakir Hassan Al Said, Ibrahim El Salahi, Mohammed Alsaleem, Jewad Selim, Lorna Selim, Naziha Selim, Ismail Al Sheikhaly, Ahmad Shibrain, and Abdulrahman Alsoliman