The art of Kevin Blythe Sampson



Saatchi backs angry art of Middle East - Times Online

Saatchi backs angry art of Middle East - Times Online

October 5, 2008

Saatchi backs angry art of Middle East

The Britart patron is finding new talent amid the troubles of Iran and Iraq

Click here to view the artists' works

The art impresario Charles Saatchi has picked his latest new wave of talent - painters who have sprung from the wreckage of Iraq and the religious strictures of Iran.

Saatchi, famous for spotting and promoting Britart in the 1990s, is to stage an exhibition of work by some 15 young artists from the Middle East at his new gallery in Chelsea, London.

Their work ranges from graphic depictions of the carnage in Iraq to nudes that defy the edicts of the Iranian ayatollahs. All the artists were born in these countries or in Syria or Lebanon, although some now live in exile.

Saatchi, who since his patronage of the Young British Artists has spread his wings with exhibitions of new European and American artists, is staging a show of Chinese work to open his gallery this week.

Over the past few months, however, he has been quietly accumulating works by the Middle Eastern artists. Some he first spotted online, others he picked up at galleries in New York or Dubai.

The show represents a return to his roots for Saatchi, born to an Iraqi Jewish family in Baghdad before moving with his parents to Britain at the age of four. “Some of this Middle East art is witty, some of it is hair-raising, and the best works are as sharp as a scalpel,” said Saatchi.

His new gallery, which will be free for all exhibitions, opens on Thursday at the Duke of York’s headquarters, a former barracks off the King’s Road.

“The work of these artists from the Middle East looks very different to the art we are used to seeing from America, Europe and now China,” said the former advertising tycoon, whose new gallery follows his short-lived tenure of part of the former County Hall on the south bank of the Thames.

Many of the artists in the new exhibition have turbulent personal stories.

Ahmed Alsoudani, born in Baghdad in 1975, fled Saddam Hussein’s regime to Syria in 1995 before moving as a refugee to America in 1999.

Saatchi has bought half a dozen of his works, including one graphic work in charcoal, We Die Out of Hand, which shows the effects of the war. It is largely drawn from his conversations with family members who have lived in Iraq since the invasion of 2003.

“Living with the war minute by minute is a struggle and a daily issue,” said Alsoudani, who last year had a solo show in New York. “Most of my work deals with the war . . . It is hard to step away from it. I’m not interested in showing blood, but I am interested in capturing that moment before and after the attack - that line between life and death.”

Another refugee from Iraq to America is Halim Al-Karim. His work also reflects the war with his photo print series, including Hidden Prisoner and Hidden Victims, which consist of stark black-and-white images.

“As an artist I could not stay in Iraq,” said Al-Karim, who was imprisoned by Saddam in the 1980s and left in 1991. He says it is still difficult to operate freely as a painter in his homeland.

“In Iraq if you want to be an artist, you must participate in official exhibitions. You cannot tell the truth or you will be in trouble.”

Now 45, he has lost some members of his family in the war. “But nobody in Iraq hasn’t lost somebody or at least part of their own character,” he added.

Figurative work of any kind can present problems for artists in much of the Middle East, because of concerns about idolatry and potentially insulting the prophet Muhammad.

The situation is particularly hard in Iran, especially for painters such as the brothers Rokni and Ramin Haerizadeh, who work in Tehran.

“I cannot show some of my art, at least on public show, here because it contains nudity and sexuality,” said Rokni, 30. “There are restrictions, but I can show some of this type of art privately or underground, which is what I do.”

Saatchi has bought five works from Rokni, all reflecting Iranian social life such as weddings or beach scenes, and five more from his older brother Ramin, who paints in the same artistic commune in Tehran.

Those Saatchi has bought from Ramin are more sexual, showing a figure, based on the artist himself, in explicit or unusual poses.

Other artists whose work Saatchi has bought include Ahmad Morshedloo, one of Iran’s top artists, and Diana Al-Hadid, born in Syria and now living in New York.


- Damien Hirst. Saatchi launched his career by buying a shark in formaldehyde in 1991

- Tracey Emin. Became famous after Saatchi showed her embroidered tent in the 1997 Sensation exhibition

- Zhang Xiaogang. Saatchi bought two of the Chinese artist’s paintings for more than $1m each and will show his work at the new gallery this week

Additional reporting: Georgia Warren