That feverish leap into the fierceness of life


Saudi Gazette

Curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, ‘That Feverish Leap Into The Fierceness Of Life’ comes from the 1951-founding manifesto of the Baghdad Group for Modern Art.

“In that manifesto, the artists come together to express how important it is to look at art not just as something aesthetic, something to experience from a visual or sensorial level but to look at art as a vehicle for self-development.

As a vehicle for betterment of society and life at large and if we do not embrace art with full passion we cannot take that feverish leap into the fierceness of life. We thought it is a great way to express the passion, dynamism, excitement through which different artists from various cities of the Arab world were coming together at different moments creating their own schools and groups in order to immerse themselves in a process of searching. Searching for language that was globally informed, searching for a voice that reflected their aesthetic interests but was also echoing the political and social context in which they lived, and the issues and themes they wanted to comment on,” Bardaouil explained. Fellrath said what sets the exhibition apart was that it was a non-selling show. “It is like a museum show. It is organized as a scholarly museum like exhibition. We have five different art movements, cities so they are all divided into five rooms displaying works of important artists of the time,” Fellrath added. The exhibition consisted of 75 paintings and works on paper by 29 artists assembled from 25 lenders across 15 cities. Refuting the notion of certain ‘modernity’ in art, the exhibition showcased a variety of works from different parts of the Arab world to mark the differences and similarities in certain expressions.

“There is not one Arab modernism, or European modernism or American modernism- there are so many different expressions and negotiations of modernisms that happened sometimes at the same or different times but that each one of these modernisms operated along an axis both time wise and intellectually that was relevant to what needed to happen at that place at that time. It is not about forcing one place to operate within the confines of another place or about an image reflecting another. This is what we are trying to refute. But we also want to bring out the complexity of the thinking behind each of the works by these groups but also the diversity in terms of stylistic and form of negotiations and expressions they do. There are so many layers to diversity. If we were to talk about one commonality we have to go back to the title and understand it wasn’t a matter of hobby but about a dynamic embrace of art as a vehicle for change,” Bardaouil added.

The exhibition featured a number of artworks by some prominent names from five modernist artist groups and schools spanning five decades from five Arab cities. These included the Baghdad Group for Modern Art from the 1950s, The Khartoum School from 1960-70s, The House of Saudi Arts in Riyadh from the 1980s, the Casablanca School of Art from 1960-70s and Contemporary Art Group in Cairo from 1940s-1950s.

The non-selling collateral exhibition was presented by Art Dubai Modern and supported by the Misk Art Institute.

The Baghdad Group for Modern Art- the group found ways to be informed by heritage through innovative engagements, to initiate a new way of thinking of making art, which became an important nucleus for modern Iraqi art. Istilham is a concept that advocated mediation between past and present as a form of negotiation of heritage and tradition to project forward and realise a new contemporary aesthetic. The spirit of renewal in art and Istilham as its active method continued to instigate response within the various following art movements in Iraq.

The Contemporary Art Group, Cairo- this took place in between the Second World War and before the 1952 Revolution of the Free Officers. The concern for how to make art Egyptian, which was different from making art for Egypt was a staple in the Group’s theoretical ruminations and stylistic experiments. The Contemporary Art Group provides us with a complex moment within the multifaceted history of modernist negotiations and expressions.

The Casablanca School- Far from being established like an academy of styles, modern art became the space of questioning and unveiling. In Morocco, modernism was linked to debates on national culture and post –colonialism.

The Khartoum School- resists any conventional written definition. The Khartoum School was a modernist art movement formed in Sudan in 1960 that sought to develop a new visual vocabulary to reflect the distinctive identity of the newly independent nation. The group was typified by its use of primitive and Islamic imagery, including calligraphy in which artists would simplify Arabic script into abstract shapes.

Dar Al Funoon Al Sa’udiyyah- was formed in Riyadh in the 1980s. It was an incubator for all emerging and young artists at the time being the only such hub that provided the space and resources such as art supplies for artists. Despite its failure, the romantic idea of building a dream house as a home for all artists to gather was important to everyone. Many followed in the same footsteps and recently Saudi Art House was renewed by Mohammed Al Saleem’s eldest daughter Najla and is now called SAHRA.