PaperCity Magazine

March 2014 - Houston

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Steve Brooks and Cayden MARCH | PAGE 61 | 2014 FOTOFEST 2014 TURNS ITS LENS ON THE ARAB WORLD THE HOTTEST SPOT GAZING EAST: THE ARABIAN GULF AND BEYOND FotoFest lifts the veil this month on a highly charged theme: the photographic talents of the Middle East and Northern Africa. Among the most ambitious subjects in a 30-year history renowned for probing prescient issues and hot topics, it presents a curatorial program with 49 artists from 13 countries (plus 600 more in participating spaces); all told, the entire six weeks of citywide programming encompasses 5,500 works in 100-plus exhibitions that fan out across Houston. FotoFest promises to lure an audience of 270,000, many from the distant reaches of the globe. Peek inside the 15th annual Biennial — America's longest running, largest and most watched photographic convergence — and its brave focus on a complicated, controversial, ever- changing geo-political region. TURBULENT TIMES+THE ARTIST'S EYE Fifty years ago, the Iron Curtain and the Russian threat dominated American foreign policy. Now more than any other region, the shifting sands of the Arab arena define our time. What better way to understand the subtleties and contradictions between impermeable tradition and rapid change inherent in this part of the planet than through the viewfinder and the artist's eye. Cue this year's Biennial, titled "View from Inside: Contemporary Arab Video, Photography and Mixed Media Art," which presents (often for the first time in the U.S.), multiple generations of photographic artists whose personal Geiger counters are tuned to, and distill, their place and times — in the winds of change — via their imagery. The 2014 Biennial culls nearly 50 artists, who converge in Houston mid-March, via four exhibitions organized by FotoFest's co-founder Wendy Watriss with lead curator Karin Adrian von Roques, a European-based art historian whose expertise is the Arab sphere. Amounting to another first, this series of exhibitions — the and most in- depth view ever mounted in the U.S. of photographic artists from the Arab sector — alongside some 100 accompanying photo shows presented in town, make this 15th Biennial one of the most game- changing ever. It places FotoFest at the center of the Middle Eastern détente, following upon other hot FotoFest topics of the past decades such as Russian and Chinese photography; water, earth and other environmental subjects; and artists responding to violence. Stay tuned for provocative programming — lectures, film screenings, symposia, artist-curator dialogues, evenings with the photographers, conferences and the first ever Collectors Weekend — as well as the definitive acquisition opportunity at one of the most significant charity photography auctions in the world. Daily details via Twitter (@PaperCityCA). VOICES OF THE CONTINENTS During a preview with FotoFest's long- standing press officer, Vinod Hopson (who's worked with founders Fred Baldwin and Wendy Watriss for over a decade on fascinating places from China to Latin America), I was struck by the power and potency of these images and the fact that more than one-third of their makers are women. Also, what a challenge to look at — and read — artworks by emerging voices such as Palestine/Kuwait artist Tarek Al- Ghoussein, whose palm-lined landscapes possess classical order, yet reverberate due to the placement of the lone figure in the desert, both slightly humorous and strangely Surreal at the strange time. What is the viewer to take away? Then how strange to discern similarities between our housing bubble and that in the UAE, captured so perfectly in the lens of Lamya Gargash in eerie, hyperreal depictions of abandoned, once lush interiors. Or the rock star Moroccan-born Lalla Essaydi, taker of conceptual photographs of veiled women whose flesh is emblazoned with hand-painted calligraphy; Essaydi's art, the best known in the Western world, has risen to a collector status symbol. Meanwhile, another Morrocan (now living in London), Hassan Hajjaj, mines gold in pop-inflected portraits where the subjects are surrounded by hand-made frames, and placed against vivid, riotous, almost op art backdrops. Then there's Huda Lutfi conflation of the contemporary and the antique; the Egyptian photog concocts such memorable offerings as a parade of statue-like feet covered in cactus imagery that appear to spring to life. Or Lebanese talent Samer Mohdad's black-and-white take on the archaeological site, the Sun Temple in Yemen, which serves as a backdrop for a boys' ball game. And Egyptian artist Youssef Nabil questions his roots, with his metaphoric self-portrait surrounded by a dense tangle of monumental tree roots. OTHER WALLS: A GREAT EIGHT After you've explored the breadth and depth of the FotoFest-curated offerings, branch out to other spaces, museums, nonprofits and galleries. Here are eight must-sees. SUERAYA SHAHEEN AT BARBARA DAVIS GALLERY: Our Texas Artists Today contributing photographer returns from Dubai to presents a series that hits home, inspired by her days as a child in the Hamra Street neighborhood of Beirut. Shaheen's newest work, the work of four years, sees her touching down and recording global artists based in the Middle East, with telling portraits in studio, from Saudi Arabia to her Lebanese birthplace (March 21 – April 19). AMY BLAKEMORE AT INMAN GALLERY: It's no accident Glassell photography department head Blakemore's been in a Whitney Biennial. Her portraits of people, places and things are imbued with candor, poignancy and often a brooding beauty (through March 29). For more of our Best of FotoFest, tap CATHERINE D. ANSPON UNCOVERS THE POWER PLAYERS, PREVIEWS THE MUST-SEE EXHIBITS, BRINGS YOU THE BUZZ AND EXPLAINS WHY ALL ART-WORLD EYES WILL BE ON HOUSTON SATURDAY, MARCH 15, WHEN THE MIDDLE EAST'S AU COURANT — AND OFTEN CONTROVERSIAL — PHOTOGRAPHY IS REVEALED. HERE'S WHERE YOU NEED TO BE. THIS SERIES OF EXHIBITIONS — THE LARGEST EVER MOUNTED IN THE U.S. OF PHOTOGRAPHIC ARTISTS FROM THE ARAB WORLD — MAKE THIS 15TH BIENNIAL GAME-CHANGING EVER. Youssef Nabil's Self-Portrait with Roots, Los Angeles, 2008, at FotoFest Lamya Gargash's Pink Ninja, 2005-2006, at FotoFest Huda Lutfi's Cactus Walk (detail), 2013, at FotoFest Samer Mohdad's Untitled from the series Mes Arabies (Remains of the Sun Temple, Marib, Yemen), 1994, at FotoFest Cara Barer's Shavasana, 2014, at Nicole Longnecker Gallery Hassan Hajjaj's Helen P.J.I., 2011, at FotoFest Jeff Shore and Jon Fisher's Trailer, 2008-2012, at McClain Gallery Anton Ginzburg's Walking the Sea series, 2013, at Blaffer Art Museum COURTESY THE ARTIST AND THE THIRD LINE COURTESY THE ARTIST AND NATHALIE OBADIA GALLERY, PARIS/BRUSSELS

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