Posts Tagged ‘Sufism


Exhibition: ‘Black Light: Secret traditions in art since the 1950s’ at Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona

La llum negra. Tradicions secretes en l’art des dels anys cinquanta

Exhibition dates: 16th May – 21st October 2018

Curator: Enrique Juncosa

Artists: Carlos Amorales / Kenneth Anger / Antony Balch / Jordan Belson / Wallace Berman / Forrest Bess / Joseph Beuys / William S. Burroughs / Marjorie Cameron / Francesco Clemente / Bruce Conner / Aleister Crowley / René Daumal / Gino de Dominicis / Louise Despont / Nicolás Echevarría / Robert Frank / João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiva / Brion Gysin / Jonathan Hammer / Frieda Harris / Derek Jarman / Jess / Alejandro Jodorowsky / Joan Jonas / Carl Gustav Jung / Matías Krahn / Wolfgang Laib / LeonKa / Goshka Macuga / Agnes Martin / Chris Martin / Henri Michaux / Grant Morrison / Tania Mouraud / Barnett Newman / Joan Ponç / Genesis P-Orridge / Sun Ra / Harry Smith / Rudolf Steiner / Philip Taaffe / Antoni Tàpies / Fred Tomaselli / Suzanne Treister / Vaccaro – Brookner / Ulla von Brandenburg / Terry Winters / Zush




Leon Ka – La llum negra – Mural

The mural at the entrance of the exhibition Black Light created by the artist Leon Ka, represents some of the symbols of ocultism, magic, and the mysticism of spirituality.



I love these eclectic exhibitions on unusual topics. Having studied a little Georges Gurdjieff, Carl Jung, Robert Johnson, Joseph Campbell and Carlos Castaneda to name just a few, I immersed myself in their spiritual, psychedelic and counterculture world. I had scarification done on my arm in 1992 which was one of the most spiritual rights of passage I have ever experienced in my life (see photograph below).

To be different, to explore that difference in art, is to violate the taboo of control – of adherence to the norm – that emotion which controls how we think, feel, act and create. As Georges Bataille observes,

“”The taboo is there in order to be violated.” This proposition is not the wager it looks like at first but an accurate statement of an inevitable connection between conflicting emotions. When a negative emotion has the upper hand we must obey the taboo. When a positive emotion is in the ascendant we violate it. Such a violation will not deny or suppress the contrary emotion, but justify it and arouse it.”1

An “understanding of the text [writing, art, music, etc.] as ‘social space’,” say Barthes, “activates a broad intertextuality and a productive plurality of meanings and signifying/interpretive gestures that escape the reduction of knowledge to fixed, monological re-presentations, or presences.” What he is saying here is that there is no singular unity… for unity is variable and relative. Further, according to Kurt Thumlert (citing Lentricchia, 1998), “a transgressive textuality can also become a mode of agential resistance capable of fragmenting and releasing the subject, and thereby producing a zone of invisibility where knowledge/power is no longer able ‘find its target’.”2

In other words, transgression of the taboo allows the artist (in this case) to release himself from the logic of control and where power cannot get its hooks into him. In order to do this during the production of art, the artist must understand that representations are presentations which entail,

“the use of the codes and conventions of the available cultural forms of presentation. Such forms restrict and shape what can be said by and/or about any aspect of reality in a given place in a given society at a given time, but if that seems like a limitation on saying, it is also what makes saying possible at all. Cultural forms set the wider terms of limitation and possibility for the (re)presentation of particularities and we have to understand how the latter are caught in the former in order to understand why such-and-such gets (re)presented in the way it does. Without understanding the way images function in terms of, say, narrative, genre or spectacle, we don’t really understand why they turn out the way they do.”3

The exhibition Black Light investigates how artists subvert these codes and conventions of representation and violate their taboo through emotions (whether positive or negative) present in the creative process. This transgressive spirit allows far seeing artists to become the seers of their day, playing with the dis/order of time, space and cultural (re)presentation. As a form of alchemy, all art partakes of this investigation into the past, present and future of life, our discontinuous existence as creatures who live and die, and the world that surrounds us, both physically and spiritually.


Many thankx to the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.


  1. Bataille, Georges. Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo. New York: Walker and Company, 1962, pp. 64-65.
  2. Thumlert, Kurt. Intervisuality, Visual Culture, and Education. [Online] Cited 10/08/2006 No longer available.
  3. Dyer, Richard. The Matter of Images: Essays on Representations. London: Routledge, 1993, pp. 2-3.



Marcus Bunyan. 'Marcus (after scarification)' 1992


Marcus Bunyan (b. 1958)
Marcus (after scarification)
Gelatin silver print
© Marcus Bunyan




Black Light. Discover the occult side of contemporary art

The occult, spirituality, psychedelia and esotericism come to the CCCB with the exhibition Black Light. An unusual look at the art of the past 50 years that has been strongly influenced by secret traditions.



Joan Jonas
Reanimation (extract)



Henri Michaux (24 May 1899-19 October 1984)



Henri Michaux (French, 24 May 1899-19 October 1984) was a highly idiosyncratic Belgian-born poet, writer, and painter who wrote in French. He later took French citizenship. Michaux is best known for his esoteric books written in a highly accessible style. His body of work includes poetry, travelogues, and art criticism. Michaux travelled widely, tried his hand at several careers, and experimented with psychedelic drugs, especially LSD and mescaline, which resulted in two of his most intriguing works, Miserable Miracle and The Major Ordeals of the Mind and the Countless Minor Ones.



Kenneth Anger
Lucifer Rising (Original track by Acqua Lazúli)



For more information about this film please see the Lucifer Rising Wikipedia entry

Kenneth Anger (born Kenneth Wilbur Anglemyer; February 3, 1927) is an American underground experimental filmmaker, actor and author. Working exclusively in short films, he has produced almost forty works since 1937, nine of which have been grouped together as the “Magick Lantern Cycle”. His films variously merge surrealism with homoeroticism and the occult, and have been described as containing “elements of erotica, documentary, psychodrama, and spectacle”. Anger himself has been described as “one of America’s first openly gay filmmakers, and certainly the first whose work addressed homosexuality in an undisguised, self-implicating manner”, and his “role in rendering gay culture visible within American cinema, commercial or otherwise, is impossible to overestimate”, with several being released prior to the legalisation of homosexuality in the United States. He has also focused upon occult themes in many of his films, being fascinated by the English gnostic mage and poet Aleister Crowley, and is an adherent of Thelema, the religion Crowley founded. (Text from the Wikipedia website)


Barnett Newman (1905-1970) 'Untitled' 1946


Barnett Newman (1905-1970)
Oil on canvas
76.5 x 61.1 cm
© IVAM, Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, Generalitat Valenciana


Antoni Tàpies. 'Book covers' 1987


Antoni Tàpies
Book covers
Paintings on old book covers
60 x 78.5 cm
Private collection, Barcelona
© Heirs of Antoni Tàpies / Vegap, Madrid


Leon Ka. 'Creatio: Lux, Crux' 2015


Leon Ka
Creatio: Lux, Crux
Door of the cultural association Magia Roja, Barcelona



Black light is about the influence that various secret traditions have had on contemporary art from the nineteen-fifties to the present day. It presents some 350 works by such artists as Antoni Tàpies, Agnes Martin, Henri Michaux, Joseph Beuys, Ulla von Brandenburg, William S. Burroughs, Joan Jonas, Jordan Belson, Goshka Macuga, Kenneth Anger, Rudolf Steiner, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Francesco Clemente and Zush.

Black light brings together, in more or less chronological order, paintings, drawings, audiovisuals, sculptures, photographs, installations, books, music, engravings and documents by artists largely from North America, where secret traditions have historically enjoyed greater acceptance. There are works by creators who are considered fundamental to the history of art, such as Antoni Tàpies, Barnett Newman and Agnes Martin, alongside less-known figures of the counterculture of the sixties and seventies. The show also presents young artists to reflect the renewed interest in these traditions.

The work of all of them goes to show the relevance and continuity of these habitually overlooked trends, in many cases regarding art as a possible means to a higher cognitive level, as an instrument of connection with a more profound reality, or as a form of knowledge in itself. These ideas are contrary, for example, to a purely formalistic understanding of abstraction. Specifically, the exhibition also explores the influence of esoteric ideas on areas of popular culture, such as comics, jazz, cinema and alternative rock.


Henri Michaux. 'Untitled' 1983


Henri Michaux
Oil on linen paper
24 x 33 cm
© Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co. Photography: Fabrice Gibert


Marjorie Cameron. 'West Angel' Nd


Marjorie Cameron (American, 1922-1995)
West Angel
Graphite, ink and gold paint on paper
60.3 x 93.3 cm
© Courtesy Nicole Klagsbrun and Cameron Parsons Foundation



Marjorie Cameron Parsons Kimmel (April 23, 1922-June 24, 1995), who professionally used the mononym Cameron, was an American artist, poet, actress, and occultist. A follower of Thelema, the new religious movement established by the English occultist Aleister Crowley, she was married to rocket pioneer and fellow Thelemite Jack Parsons.

Read her entry on the Wikipedia website


Aleister Crowley. 'Snow-Peak beyond Foothills, Libra I8 September-October' 1934


Aleister Crowley
Snow-Peak beyond Foothills, Libra I8 September-October
Pen and wash on paper
45 x 50 cm
© Ordo Templi Orientis


Unknown photographer. 'Aleister Crowley as Magus, Liber ABA' 1912


Unknown photographer
Aleister Crowley as Magus, Liber ABA
Originally published in The Equinox volume 1, issue 10 (1913)


Wolfgang Laib. 'Passageway' 2013


Wolfgang Laib (Germany, b. 1950)
Brass ships, rice, wood and steel
6 3/4 x 99 x 12 inches
© Wolfgang Laib



Wolfgang Laib (born 25 March 1950 in Metzingen) is a German artist, predominantly known as a sculptor. He lives and works in a small village in southern Germany, maintaining studios in New York and South India.

His work has been exhibited worldwide in many of the most important galleries and museums. He represented Germany in the 1982 Venice Biennale and was included with his works in the Documenta 7 in 1982 and then in the Documenta 8 in 1987. In 2015 he received the Praemium Imperiale for sculpture in Tokyo, Japan.

He became worldknown for his “Milkstones”, a pure geometry of white marble made complete with milk, as well as his vibrant installations of pollen. In 2013 The Museum of Modern Art in New York City presented his largest pollen piece – 7 m x 8 m – in the central atrium of the museum.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Brion Gysin. 'Dreamachine' 1960-1976


Brion Gysin (British, 1916-1986)
Cylinder. Painted and cut hard paper, Altuglas, electric bulb and motor
120.5 cm x 29.5 cm
© Galerie de France. Paris, Centre Pompidou – Musée national d’art moderne – Centre de création industrielle



Brion Gysin (19 January 1916-13 July 1986) was a painter, writer, sound poet, and performance artist born in Taplow, Buckinghamshire.

He is best known for his discovery of the cut-up technique, used by his friend, the novelist William S. Burroughs. With the engineer Ian Sommerville he invented the Dreamachine, a flicker device designed as an art object to be viewed with the eyes closed. It was in painting and drawing, however, that Gysin devoted his greatest efforts, creating calligraphic works inspired by the cursive Japanese “grass” script and Arabic script. Burroughs later stated that “Brion Gysin was the only man I ever respected.” …

The Dreamachine (or Dream Machine) is a stroboscopic flicker device that produces visual stimuli. Artist Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs’ “systems adviser” Ian Sommerville created the Dreamachine after reading William Grey Walter’ book, The Living Brain.

In its original form, a Dreamachine is made from a cylinder with slits cut in the sides. The cylinder is placed on a record turntable and rotated at 78 or 45 revolutions per minute. A light bulb is suspended in the centre of the cylinder and the rotation speed allows the light to come out from the holes at a constant frequency of between 8 and 13 pulses per second. This frequency range corresponds to alpha waves, electrical oscillations normally present in the human brain while relaxing. In 1996, the Los Angeles Times deemed the Dreamachine “the most interesting object” in Burroughs’ major visual retrospective Ports of Entry at LACMA. The Dreamachine is the subject of the National Film Board of Canada 2008 feature documentary film FLicKeR by Nik Sheehan.

A Dreamachine is “viewed” with the eyes closed: the pulsating light stimulates the optic nerve and thus alters the brain’s electrical oscillations. Users experience increasingly bright, complex patterns of colour behind their closed eyelids (a similar effect may be experienced when travelling as a passenger in a car or bus; close your eyes as the vehicle passes through flickering shadows cast by roadside trees, or under a close-set line of streetlights or tunnel striplights). The patterns become shapes and symbols, swirling around, until the user feels surrounded by colours. It is claimed that by using a Dreamachine one may enter a hypnagogic state. This experience may sometimes be quite intense, but to escape from it, one needs only to open one’s eyes. The Dreamachine may be dangerous for persons with photosensitive epilepsy or other nervous disorders. It is thought that one out of 10,000 adults will experience a seizure while viewing the device; about twice as many children will have a similar ill effect.

Text from the Wikipedia website



An approach without prejudice to art and esoteric beliefs

Esoteric traditions can be traced back to the very origins of civilisation, having served at different times to structure philosophical, linguistic, scientific or spiritual ideas. Despite their importance for the development of twentieth-century art, they tend to be ignored or disparaged these days due to the dominance of rationalistic thinking and the difficulty of talking about these subjects in clear, direct language.

In recent years, however, many artists have taken a renewed interest in subjects such as alchemy, secret societies, theosophy and anthroposophy, the esoteric strands in major religions, oriental philosophies, magic, psychedelia and drug-use, universal symbols and myths, the Fourth Way formulated by the Armenian mystic Georges Gurdjieff, etc., generating an interest in these fields that had not existed since the counterculture of the sixties and seventies.

According to the writer Enrique Juncosa, curator of this exhibition, this interest “may be due to the fact that we are, once again, living in a restless and unsatisfied world, worried about new colonial wars, fundamentalist terrorism, serious ecological crisis and nationalist populism, just as in the sixties and seventies people feared an imminent and devastating nuclear catastrophe. Furthermore, much of today’s mainstream art is actually rather boring due to its complete lack of mystery and negation of any kind of poetisation or interpretation of our experience of it.”

For the essayist Gary Lachman, author of the text “Occultism in Art. A Brief Introduction for the Uninitiated” in the exhibition catalogue, “in recent years, the art world seems to have become aware of the importance of occultism […]. Admitting the influence of Hermeticism on the Renaissance, or of theosophy on early abstract art, to mention just two examples, helps to re-situate occult forces as an undeniable part of human experience and rescue them from the marginal position to which they had been exiled for a few centuries.”


Terry Winters. 'Bubble Diagram' 2005


Terry Winters (American, b. 1949)
Bubble Diagram
Oil on linen
215.9 x 279.4 cm
© Mattew Marks Gallery



Terry Winters (born 1949, Brooklyn, NY) is an American painter, draughtsman, and printmaker whose nuanced approach to the process of painting has addressed evolving concepts of spatiality and expanded the concerns of abstract art. His attention to the process of painting and investigations into systems and spatial fields explores both non-narrative abstraction and the physicality of modernism. In Winters’ work, abstract processes give way to forms with real word agency that recall mathematical concepts and cybernetics, as well as natural and scientific worlds.


Fred Tomaselli. 'Untitled [Datura Leaves]' 1999


Fred Tomaselli (American, b. 1956)
Untitled [Datura Leaves]
Leaves, pills, acrylic and resin on wood panel
182.88 x 137.16 cm
© Collection Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman NY, Courtesy the FLAG Art Foundation



Fred Tomaselli (born in Santa Monica, California, in 1956) is an American artist. He is best known for his highly detailed paintings on wood panels, combining an array of unorthodox materials suspended in a thick layer of clear, epoxy resin.

Tomaselli’s paintings include medicinal herbs, prescription pills and hallucinogenic plants alongside images cut from books and magazines: flowers, birds, butterflies, arms, legs and noses, which are combined into dazzling patterns that spread over the surface of the painting like a beautiful virus or growth. He uses an explosion of colour and combines it with a basis in art history. His style usually involves collage, painting, and/or glazing. He seals the collages in resin after gluing them down and going over them with different varnishes.

“I want people to get lost in the work. I want to seduce people into it and I want people to escape inside the world of the work. In that way the work is pre-Modernist. I throw all of my obsessions and loves into the work, and I try not to be too embarrassed about any of it. I love nature, I love gardening, I love watching birds, and all of that gets into the work. I just try to be true to who I am and make the work I want to see. I don’t have a radical agenda.”

Tomaselli sees his paintings and their compendium of data as windows into a surreal, hallucinatory universe. “It is my ultimate aim”, he says, “to seduce and transport the viewer in to space of these pictures while simultaneously revealing the mechanics of that seduction.” Tomaselli has also incorporated allegorical figures into his work – in Untitled (Expulsion) (2000), for example, he borrows the Adam and Eve figures from Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (1426-27), and in Field Guides (2003) he creates his own version of the grim reaper. His figures are described anatomically so that their organs and veins are exposed in the manner of a scientific drawing. He writes that his “inquiry into utopia/dystopia – framed by artifice but motivated by the desire for the real – has turned out to be the primary subject of my work”.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Philip Taaffe. 'Rose Triangle' 2008


Philip Taaffe (American, b. 1955)
Rose Triangle
Mixed media on canvas
178 x 178 cm
© Collection Raymond Foye, New York



About the exhibition

In the fifties, US filmmakers Harry Smith and Jordan Belson made animated films that were precursors of the psychedelia and counterculture of the following two decades. Also at this time, painters associated with abstract expressionism in the US (such as Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt and Agnes Martin) and European Informalists, such as the Catalans associated with Dau al Set (including Antoni Tàpies and Joan Ponç), became interested in the writings of Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, oriental philosophies, the great myths and primitive shamanic rites. The cult US filmmaker Kenneth Anger made films that are still considered radical, influenced by the ideas of the well-known English occultist Aleister Crowley, who was also influential in the world of rock. And Forrest Bess, a self-taught, isolated artist, an unusual figure in the American art of the last century, painted symbolic, visionary images of the universal collective subconscious.

In the sixties and seventies, the emergence of counterculture and the hippy movement was accompanied by an upsurge in interest in esoteric matters and alternative spirituality. US writer William S. Burroughs and French artist and writer Brion Gysin, both interested in occultism and mysticism, developed the cut-up method to write texts using collage, actions which, like the origin of art itself, they considered magic. The American musician Sun Ra, one of the jazz world’s most idiosyncratic figures (he claims he was born on Saturn), set up the secret society Thmei Research in Chicago, and was interested in the writings of Armenian philosopher and master mystic Georges Gurdjieff, and the Ukrainian Madame Blavatsky, creator of the esoteric current known as theosophy. Sun Ra’s compositions, with a big band that performed in strange colourful clothing, were highly radical, embracing improvisation and chaos. In Europe, the German artist Joseph Beuys was inspired by the writings and activities of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy, as a model to explain his ideas. Beuys called for a return to spirituality and defended art as a vehicle for healing and social change. The French artist Tania Mouraud, interested in introspection and philosophy, with a strong analytical vein, creates installations that are spaces for meditation, and the Catalan artist Zush, in Ibiza, discovers psychedelia and draws fantastic beings connected by vibrant energies.

The eighties and nineties saw the consolidation of a large number of artists who saw artistic practice as something that can facilitate a higher cognitive level. Several American abstract painters, like Terry Winters, Philip Taaffe and Fred Tomaselli, became interested in spiritual themes. Winters, for example, who took scientific images as his inspiration, based a large series of paintings on knot theory, a mathematical concept that might be seen as an emblem of the hermetic. Taaffe, meanwhile, used ornamental forms from different cultures, combining them in complex configurations of an ecstatic nature, and Tomaselli produced compositions using all kinds of drugs in a reference to psychedelia. In Europe, the German sculptor Wolfgang Laib, interested in Zen Buddhism and Taoism, creates sculptures and installations with symbolic images, like stairs and boats, suggesting ascension, travel and inner transformation, while the Italian Gino de Dominicis, who claimed to believe in extra-terrestrials and was obsessed by Sumerian culture and mythology, creates invisible sculptures. The paintings by Italian Francesco Clemente, a representative of the Transavanguardia movement, feature images of an apparently hermetic nature, creating a singular narrative of spiritual symbolism. The Chilean-French artist Alejandro Jodorowsky explores esoteric ideas in his extraordinary films of great visual imagination and also creates highly celebrated comics. In the nineties, several alternative rock bands such as Psychic TV (led by the English musician, poet and artist Genesis P-Orridge) were also interested in occultism and magic.


The origin of the title “Black Light”

The title “Black light” refers to a concept of Sufism, the esoteric branch of Islam that teaches a path of connection with divinity leading via inner vision and mystic experience. Sufism, which regards reality as light in differing degrees of intensity, speaks of a whole system of inner visions of colours that mark the spiritual progress of initiates until they become “men and women of light”. The intention is to achieve a state of supra-consciousness that is announced symbolically by this black light.

Press release from the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona website


Chris Martin. 'If You Don't See It Ask For It' 2016


Chris Martin
If You Don’t See It Ask For It
Acrylic and glitter on canvas
195.6 x 152.4 x 4.4 cm
© Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, CA Photography: Brian Forrest


Genesis P-Orridge. 'Burns Forever Thee Light' 1986


Genesis P-Orridge (British, b. 1950)
Burns Forever Thee Light
Hair, Indian corn, wax, saliva, semen, blood, acrylic paint, flourescent tape, pages from Man Myth & Magic, Polaroids, c-prints, paint pen
20 x 25 inches
© Courtesy of the artist and INVISIBLE-EXPORTS



Genesis Breyer P-Orridge (born Neil Andrew Megson; 22 February 1950) is an English singer-songwriter, musician, poet, performance artist, and occultist. After rising to notability as the founder of the COUM Transmissions artistic collective and then fronting the industrial band Throbbing Gristle, P-Orridge was a founding member of Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth occult group, and fronted the experimental band Psychic TV. P-Orridge identifies as third gender.[a]

Born in Manchester, P-Orridge developed an early interest in art, occultism, and the avant-garde while at Solihull School. After dropping out of studies at the University of Hull, he moved into a counter-cultural commune in London and adopted Genesis P-Orridge as a nom-de-guerre. On returning to Hull, P-Orridge founded COUM Transmissions with Cosey Fanni Tutti, and in 1973 he relocated to London. COUM’s confrontational performance work, dealing with such subjects as sex work, pornography, serial killers, and occultism, represented a concerted attempt to challenge societal norms and attracted the attention of the national press. COUM’s 1976 Prostitution show at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts was particularly vilified by tabloids, gaining them the moniker of the “wreckers of civilization.” P-Orridge’s band, Throbbing Gristle, grew out of COUM, and were active from 1975 to 1981 as pioneers in the industrial music genre. In 1981, P-Orridge co-founded Psychic TV, an experimental band that from 1988 onward came under the increasing influence of acid house.

In 1981, P-Orridge co-founded Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, an informal occult order influenced by chaos magic and experimental music. P-Orridge was often seen as the group’s leader, but rejected that position, and left the group in 1991. Amid the Satanic ritual abuse hysteria, a 1992 Channel 4 documentary accused P-Orridge of sexually abusing children, resulting in a police investigation. P-Orridge was subsequently cleared and Channel 4 retracted their allegation. P-Orridge left the United Kingdom as a result of the incident and settled in New York City. There, P-Orridge married Jacqueline Mary Breyer, later known as Lady Jaye, in 1995, and together they embarked on the Pandrogeny Project, an attempt to unite as a “pandrogyne”, or single entity, through the use of surgical body modification to physically resemble one another. P-Orridge continued with this project of body modification after Lady Jaye’s 2007 death. Although involved in reunions of both Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV in the 2000s, P-Orridge retired from music to focus on other artistic mediums in 2009. P-Orridge is credited on over 200 releases.

A controversial figure with an anti-establishment stance, P-Orridge has been heavily criticised by the British press and politicians. P-Orridge has been cited as an icon within the avant-garde art scene, accrued a cult following, and been given the moniker of the “Godperson of Industrial Music”.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Harry Smith. 'Untitled, October 19, 1951' 1951


Harry Smith
Untitled, October 19, 1951
Ink, watercolour, and tempera on paper
86.36 x 69.85 cm
Collection Raymond Foye, New York


Agnes Martin. 'Untitled, No. 7' 1997


Agnes Martin (1912-2004)
Untitled, No. 7
Acrylic and graphite on canvas
152.4 x 152.4 cm
Collection “la Caixa”. Art Contemporani
© Vegap



Agnes Bernice Martin (March 22, 1912-December 16, 2004), born in Canada, was an American abstract painter. Her work has been defined as an “essay in discretion on inward-ness and silence”. Although she is often considered or referred to as a minimalist, Martin considered herself an abstract expressionist. She was awarded a National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1998. …

Martin praised Mark Rothko for having “reached zero so that nothing could stand in the way of truth”. Following his example Martin also pared down to the most reductive elements to encourage a perception of perfection and to emphasise transcendent reality. Her signature style was defined by an emphasis upon line, grids, and fields of extremely subtle colour. Particularly in her breakthrough years of the early 1960s, she created 6 × 6 foot square canvases that were covered in dense, minute and softly delineated graphite grids. In the 1966 exhibition Systemic Painting at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Martin’s grids were therefore celebrated as examples of Minimalist art and were hung among works by artists including Sol LeWitt, Robert Ryman, and Donald Judd. While minimalist in form, however, these paintings were quite different in spirit from those of her other minimalist counterparts, retaining small flaws and unmistakable traces of the artist’s hand; she shied away from intellectualism, favouring the personal and spiritual. Her paintings, statements, and influential writings often reflected an interest in Eastern philosophy, especially Taoist. Because of her work’s added spiritual dimension, which became more and more dominant after 1967, she preferred to be classified as an abstract expressionist.

Martin worked only in black, white, and brown before moving to New Mexico. The last painting before she abandoned her career, and left New York in 1967, Trumpet, marked a departure in that the single rectangle evolved into an overall grid of rectangles. In this painting the rectangles were drawn in pencil over uneven washes of gray translucent paint. In 1973, she returned to art making, and produced a portfolio of 30 serigraphs, On a Clear Day. During her time in Taos, she introduced light pastel washes to her grids, colours that shimmered in the changing light. Later, Martin reduced the scale of her signature 72 × 72 square paintings to 60 × 60 inches and shifted her work to use bands of ethereal colour. Another departure was a modification, if not a refinement, of the grid structure, which Martin has used since the late 1950s. In Untitled No. 4 (1994), for example, one viewed the gentle striations of pencil line and primary colour washes of diluted acrylic paint blended with gesso. The lines, which encompassed this painting, were not measured by a ruler, but rather intuitively marked by the artist. In the 1990s, symmetry would often give way to varying widths of horizontal bands.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Matías Krahn Uribe. 'Panamor' 2016


Matías Krahn Uribe (b. Santiago de Chile, 1972)
Canvas and cotton
225 x 225 cm
© Matías Krahn Uribe



Matías Krahn (b. Santiago de Chile, 1972) Catalan painter born in Chile who lives and works in Barcelona.

His colourful works are a reflection of the world that surrounds him, of a concrete circumstance and environment, but also of the most intimate and subjective. Interested in the balance between the exterior and the interior, it orders the space and the figures it contains. His work, influenced by surrealism, is the mirror of the psyche and the unconscious that expresses itself in infinite forms and tonalities.


Francesco Clemente. 'Tarot cards: the High Priestess' 2009-2011


Francesco Clemente (Italy, b. 1952)
Tarot cards: the High Priestess
Water colour, gouache, ink, colour pencil
48.2 x 25.4 cm
© Courtesy of the artist



Francesco Clemente (born 23 March 1952) is an Italian contemporary artist. He has lived at various times in Italy, in India, and in New York City. Some of his work is influenced by the traditional art and culture of India. He has worked in various artistic media including drawing, fresco, graphics, mosaic, oils and sculpture. He was among the principal figures in the Italian Transavanguardia movement of the 1980s, which was characterised by a rejection of Formalism and conceptual art and a return to figurative art and Symbolism.



Black Light – Secret traditions in art since the 1950s: occultism, magic, esotericism and mysticism

This exhibition analyses the influence that different secret traditions have had on art since the 1950s and today. These are traditions that can be traced back to the very origins of civilisation and that have served at various times to structure philosophical, linguistic, scientific and spiritual ideas.

Despite the importance that these ideas had for the development of 20th century art – being fundamental in the work of key figures of modernity such as Piet Mondrian, Vasili Kandinski, Arnold Schönberg, William Butler Yeats and Fernando Pessoa – it is a tradition that has often been ignored in our time because of the dominant influence of rationalist orthodox thoughts, which are often ignored in our times.

Today, however, many contemporary artists re-explore these themes and are interested in issues as diverse as alchemy, secret societies, theosophy and anthroposophy; the esoteric currents of the great religions; oriental philosophies and magic; psychedelia and the ingestion of drugs; universal symbols and myths; the so-called fourth way of the Armenian mystic Georges Gurdjieff, etc., and, in so doing, generate a renewed interest in these issues that did not exist since the years of counterculture in the 1970s. Authors such as Mircea Eliade, historian of religions and novelist; Carl Gustav Jung, psychologist; Henry Corbin, specialist in Sufism, the esoteric current of Islam; Gershom Scholem, specialist in Kabbalah, the esoteric current of Judaism; and Rudolf Steiner, the founding philosopher of anthroposophy, have now found numerous new readers.

The exhibition will present, more or less chronologically, paintings, drawings, films, sculptures, photographs, installations, books, music and documents by artists as varied as Harry Smith, Jordan Belson, Barnett Newman, Agnes Martin, Ad Reinhardt, Antoni Tàpies, Joan Ponç, Henri Michaux, René Daumal, Forrest Bess, Kenneth Anger, Alejandro Jodor. The work of all of them demonstrates the relevance and continuity of these usually ignored traditions, and in many cases understands art as a possible way to reach a higher cognitive level or as a form of knowledge in itself.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue with texts by specialists such as Cristina Ricupero, Gary Lachman, Erik Davies and Enrique Juncosa. The proposal will also investigate and reveal occult traditions and their current context in the cultural production of our country.

Text from the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona website


Irrationality from rationality

Vincenç Villatoro, director of the CCCB, has justified the presence of this exhibition in a centre that defends rational culture, alluding to the fact that much of the artistic production can not be understood without its connection to non-rationalistic traditions: mystical, esoteric, hermetic … and points out that although in the second half of the twentieth century the hegemonic thought was the scientist, there was a sensitive part of society that came to other traditions, especially to give meaning to its life. Villatoro warns the visitor that the exhibition La llum negra is not an encyclopedia on hidden traditions, but neither is it intended to be a defence, nor a refutation. But the exhibition points out that for many creators, art is a way to access a deeper reality, which is difficult to access in other ways. Thus, secret tradition and art are complemented.

Gustau Nerín


Forrest Bess. 'Homage to Ryder' 1951


Forrest Bess (1911-1977)
Homage to Ryder
Oil on canvas
20.8 × 30.5 cm
© Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Gift of Mary and Earle Ludgin Collection



Forrest Bess (October 5, 1911-November 10, 1977) was an American painter and eccentric visionary. He was discovered and promoted by the art dealer Betty Parsons. Throughout his career, Bess admired the work of Albert Pinkham Ryder and Arthur Dove, but the best of his paintings stand alone as truly original works of art. …

He worked as a commercial fisherman, but painted in his spare time. He experienced visions or dreams, which he set down in his paintings. It was during this time he began to exhibit his works, earning one-person shows at museums in San Antonio and Houston. During his most creative period, 1949 through 1967, Betty Parsons arranged six solo exhibitions at her New York City gallery.

Bess was never comfortable for very long around other people, although he hosted frequent visitors to his home and studio at Chinquapin: artists, reporters, and some patrons made the trip to the spit of land on which Bess’s shack stood. He did forge lasting relationships with a few friends and neighbors, and maintained years-long friendships and correspondence with Meyer Schapiro and with Betty Parsons. But ultimately Bess preferred solitude, and his prolific activities as an artist, highlighted by limited notoriety and success, alternated with longs spells of loneliness, depression, and an ever-increasing obsession with his own anatomical manifesto.

In the 1950s, he also began a lifelong correspondence with art professor and author Meyer Schapiro and sexologist John Money. In these and other letters (which were donated to the Smithsonian Archives of American Art), Bess makes it clear that his paintings were only part of a grander theory, based on alchemy, the philosophy of Carl Jung, and the rituals of Australian aborigines, which proposed that becoming a hermaphrodite was the key to immortality. He was never able to win any converts to his theories or validation from the many doctors and psychologists with whom he corresponded. In his own home town of Bay City, he was considered something of a small-town eccentric.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Rudolf Steiner. 'Untitled (Blackboard drawing from a lecture held by Rudolf Steiner on 20. 03. 1920)'


Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)
Untitled (Blackboard drawing from a lecture held by Rudolf Steiner on 20. 03. 1920)
Chalk on paper
87 x 124 cm
Rudolf Steiner Archiv, Dornach



Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner (27 (or 25) February 1861-30 March 1925) was an Austrian philosopher, social reformer, architect and esotericist. Steiner gained initial recognition at the end of the nineteenth century as a literary critic and published philosophical works including The Philosophy of Freedom. At the beginning of the twentieth century he founded an esoteric spiritual movement, anthroposophy, with roots in German idealist philosophy and theosophy; other influences include Goethean science and Rosicrucianism.

In the first, more philosophically oriented phase of this movement, Steiner attempted to find a synthesis between science and spirituality. His philosophical work of these years, which he termed “spiritual science”, sought to apply the clarity of thinking characteristic of Western philosophy to spiritual questions, differentiating this approach from what he considered to be vaguer approaches to mysticism. In a second phase, beginning around 1907, he began working collaboratively in a variety of artistic media, including drama, the movement arts (developing a new artistic form, eurythmy) and architecture, culminating in the building of the Goetheanum, a cultural centre to house all the arts. In the third phase of his work, beginning after World War I, Steiner worked to establish various practical endeavours, including Waldorf education, biodynamic agriculture, and anthroposophical medicine.

Steiner advocated a form of ethical individualism, to which he later brought a more explicitly spiritual approach. He based his epistemology on Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s world view, in which “Thinking… is no more and no less an organ of perception than the eye or ear. Just as the eye perceives colours and the ear sounds, so thinking perceives ideas.” A consistent thread that runs from his earliest philosophical phase through his later spiritual orientation is the goal of demonstrating that there are no essential limits to human knowledge.

Text from the Wikipedia website


The blackboard drawings are the instructions of a new design language that the artist wants to develop. Steiner believes in the development of a supersensible consciousness, a big change for the future of humanity. He gives many lectures in which he details his research on the concept of transmission and its influence on the social. Whether true or not, artists such as Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky and others are interested in the complex graphics of Steiner and his research. Mondrian will even write: “Art is a way of development of mankind.” (Text from the Culture Box website translated from French)


Adaptive image from the exhibition 'Black light'

Adaptive image from the exhibition 'Black light'


Adaptive images from the exhibition Black Light: Secret traditions in art since the 1950s at the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona



Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona
Montalegre, 5 – 08001 Barcelona
Phone: 93 306 41 00

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 11.00 – 20.00

Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona website


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Exhibition: ‘Light from the Middle East: New Photography’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Exhibition dates: 13th November 2012 – 7th April 2013

From the Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum



Newsha Tavakolian. From the series 'Mothers of Martyrs' 2006


Newsha Tavakolian (Iranian, b. 1981)
From the series Mothers of Martyrs
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum



A massive posting on a fascinating subject. I know little about this area of (sometimes postcolonial) photography. The images are really strong, powerful and laden with symbology – the signifier (photograph) and signified (meaning of the photograph) evidencing signs that interrogate “the creative responses to the social challenges and political upheavals that have shaped the Middle East over the past 20 years.” The three concepts Recording, Reframing and Resisting are critical to understanding the practices of these artists as they investigate the historicity, sacrifice, repression and persecution of their peoples.

Many thankx to the Victoria and Albert Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.


Nermine Hammam. 'The Break' 2011


Nermine Hammam (Egyptian, b. 1967)
The Break
from the series Upekkha
Archival inkjet print
The Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum



Light from the Middle East: New Photography is the first major museum exhibition of contemporary photography from and about the Middle East. It features more than 90 works by some of the most exciting artists from the region, spanning North Africa to Central Asia. The exhibition is part of a collaboration between the British Museum and the V&A, which has over the last three years seen the development of a major collection of Middle Eastern photography thanks to substantial funding from the Art Fund. The collection of 95 works has been built in response to a surge of interest in the visual arts in the region and is beginning to remedy the under-representation of Middle Eastern photography in UK collections. Light from the Middle East includes 87 of the works from this shared collection.

The photographs on display show the creative responses to the social challenges and political upheavals that have shaped the Middle East over the past 20 years and include work made following the recent revolution in Egypt. The photographs present multiple viewpoints of a region where collisions between personal, social, religious and political life can be emotive and complex. The exhibition showcases the work of 30 artists from 13 different countries including internationally established practitioners such as Abbas (Iran), Youssef Nabil (Egypt) and Walid Raad (Lebanon) as well as emerging talents such as Taysir Batniji (Palestine), Shadi Ghadirian (Iran) and Abdulnasser Gharem (Saudi Arabia). The work covers a wide range of techniques and subject matter, from photojournalism to staged and digitally manipulated imagery.

Marta Weiss, curator of the exhibition said: “In the past few years contemporary photographic practice from and about the Middle East has been some of the most exciting, innovative and varied art anywhere in the world. The exhibition celebrates the creative and sophisticated ways that contemporary artists use photography to respond to the complexities of the Middle East.”

The exhibition is structured around three key themes; Recording, Reframing and Resisting. Each explores a range of strategies Middle Eastern artists have used to engage with the medium of photography.

The opening section shows how photography can be used as a powerful tool for recording people, places and events. From Newsha Tavakolian’s series Mothers of Martyrs (2006) featuring elderly mothers holding framed pictures of their sons who were killed in the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s, to Jananne Al-Ani’s disorienting aerial views of the desert in her video Shadow Sites II (2011), this section demonstrates various ways in which the camera has been used to document and record. The work in the second section explores an interest in reframing and reworking preexisting photographs. Shadi Ghadirian’s series Qajar (1998) recreates 19th-century Iranian studio portraits, updating them with contemporary props such as sunglasses and Pepsi cans, while Taysir Batniji applies the modernist style of the German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher to his series of photographs of Israeli watchtowers in the West Bank.

The final section looks at practitioners who resist the authority of the photograph, questioning the medium’s ability to record factual information. Whether manipulating or digitally altering images, or physically attacking the print surface by scratching and burning, these artists demonstrate a desire to undermine the legibility and reliability of the photograph. In the intimate and poetic series Le Retour Imaginaire (2002), Afghan artist Atiq Rahimi rejects new technology, opting instead to photograph war-ravished Kabul with a primitive box camera. The recent series Uphekka by Nermine Hammam reworks photographs of Egyptian soldiers taken during the protests in Tahrir Square, Cairo in 2011 and transports them to multicoloured fantasy settings that are far removed from the struggles of the Arab Spring.

Press release from the V&A website



Photography is a seemingly accurate means of recording people, places and events. A photograph can serve a commemorative purpose or document a historic moment. It can reveal something not otherwise visible, such as a place or event the viewer would not have access to, or a particular vantage point available only to the photographer. It can also create a lasting image of a fleeting performance, or of a scene staged only for the camera.

But how reliable is a photograph? Despite the apparent authority of photographic images, they can trick or disorient. They can be ambiguous and difficult to decipher. Their meaning can shift according to context, cropping or captioning. What are the limitations of photography?

The photographers in this section use a range of approaches to exploit and explore the camera’s capacity to record.


Abbas. 'France Rioters burn a portrait of the Shah as a sign of protest against his regime. Tehran, December 1978' 1978-9


Abbas (Iranian, 1944-2018)
Rioters burn a portrait of the Shah as a sign of protest against his regime. Tehran, December 1978
From the series Iran Diary
Gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum
Abbas@Magnum Photos, courtesy Magnum Gallery


Issa Touma. From the series 'Sufis: The day of al-Ziyara' 1995-2005


Issa Touma (Syrian, b. 1962)
From the series Sufis: The day of al-Ziyara
Gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum



Issa Touma is a prominent figure in the Syrian art scene. Self-taught, he began his career as a photographer in the early 1990s. In 1996 he founded Le Pont Organisation and Gallery, an independent art organisation to promote freedom of expression and stimulate the local art scene through international events.

His series on the day of al-Ziyara documents an annual procession of Sufi pilgrims in northern Syria. Sufism is a mystical path within Islam. Touma photographed the event over the course of ten years, gradually gaining the trust of his subjects. The resulting images convey his sense of immersion in the festival and capture the fervour of the worshippers.


Waheeda Malullah. From the series 'Light' 2006


Waheeda Malullah (Bahrain, b. 1978)
From the series Light
Inkjet print on rag paper
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum



Waheeda Malullah uses playfulness and humour to explore social rules, and in particular the roles women play in Islamic society. In the series Light she records a performance staged expressly for the camera. By lying down next to tombs in Bahrain she exaggerates the Shi’i Muslim custom of seeking blessing by touching the tombs of revered people. These stylised compositions are also studies of form, light and shadow.


Ahmed Mater. 'Magnetism II' 2012


Ahmed Mater (Saudi Arabian, b. 1979)
Magnetism II
Acquired thanks to Mr Abdulaziz al-Turki



Ahmed Mater is a Saudi artist and qualified GP. Working in photography, calligraphy, painting, installation and video, Mater reflects his experiences as a doctor and the ways this has challenged his traditional background and beliefs, and explores wider issues about Islamic culture in an era of globalisation. In the series Magnetism, what at first appear to be pilgrims circling the Ka’ba, the sacred building at the heart of the sanctuary at Mecca, are in fact iron filings spiralling around a cube-shaped magnet. Mater refers to the spiritual force that Muslim believers feel during Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. By creating photographs that recall well-known images on a dramatically different scale, Mater also questions the reliability of photography.


Newsha Tavakolian. From the series 'Mothers of Martyrs' 2006


Newsha Tavakolian (Iranian, b. 1981)
From the series Mothers of Martyrs
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum



Newsha Tavakolian started her career at the age of 16, as a junior photographer for the Iranian women’s daily Zan-e Rooz. She also worked with other reformist newspapers and by the early 1990s had established herself as one of Tehran’s few female photojournalists, working internationally and particularly focussing on women’s issues. She is a founder member of the EVE international collective of women photojournalists, established in 2006 and of Rawiya, a collective of women photographers from the Middle East, founded in 2011. Her series Mothers of Martyrs shows elderly Iranian women holding framed photographs of their sons who died decades earlier in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-8). The double portraits attest to photography’s emotive power.


Abbas Kowsari. 'Halabche' 2003


Abbas Kowsari (Iranian, b. 1970)
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum



Abbas Kowsari began his career as a photojournalist for the Tehran Times in 1994 and is currently Senior Picture Editor for Shargh, a popular reformist title. This photograph made in nothern Iraq presents a portrait within a portrait. The figure of a peshmerga (a Kurdish combatant) is tightly framed to exclude his face. Instead, the face of rock musician Bryan Adams, on the soldier’s T-shirt, fills a central portion of the composition. The faded black-and-white image is surrounded by saturated colours and brightly gleaming metal. The contrast reinforces the incongruity between warfare in Iraq and western pop culture.


Abdulnasser Gharem. 'The Path (Siraat)' 2009


Abdulnasser Gharem (Saudi Arabian, b. 1973)
The Path (Siraat)
Inkjet print on aluminium
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum



Abdulnasser Gharem works across a variety of media to explore local Saudi issues. Amongst his best-known works are ‘stamp paintings’, made from industrial paint on rubber stamps, a technique devised to negotiate and comment on censorship. He combines service in the Saudi armed forces (he is currently Lieutenant Colonel) with his activities as an artist.

The subject of this photograph is a bridge in southern Saudi Arabia that was severely damaged in the early 1980s when villagers attempted to take shelter on it during a flash flood. Instead of providing a safe high ground above the floodwaters the bridge collapsed, resulting in the loss of many lives. Gharem spray-painted the word siraat repeatedly on the bridge. The word means path, and in the Qur’an it refers to ‘the path to God’.


Tal Shochat. 'Pomegranate (Rimon)' 2010


Tal Shochat (Israeli, b. 1974)
Pomegranate (Rimon)
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum



In her photographs Shochat stages both figures and objects to create symbolically-laden images that often question the boundary between nature and artifice. Here she applies the conventions of studio portraiture to photographing trees. The first stage in her meticulous process is to identify the perfect specimen of a particular type of tree. When the fruit is at the height of maturity, she cleans the dust off the branches, leaves and fruit. Finally, Shochat photographs the tree, artificially lit and isolated against a black cloth background. The photographs present a view of nature that would never actually exist in a natural environment. The work highlights the tensions in photography between reality and artifice.


Yto Barrada. 'Bricks (Briques)' 2003/2011


Yto Barrada (French, b. 1971)
Bricks (Briques)
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum



Yto Barrada grew up in Paris and Tangier and studied in Paris and New York. Since 2006 she has directed the Cinématèque de Tanger, a cultural centre home to an archive of Maghrebi and Arabic film and video. Barrada’s hometown of Tangier is the subject of much of her work. In this view, recently constructed buildings in various states of completion are scattered across the hillsides. The pile of bricks in the foreground seems to parallel the haphazard nature of the surrounding building projects. The untidy man-made heap echoes the form of the natural hills in the background.


Mehraneh Atashi. 'Bodiless I' 2004


Mehraneh Atashi (Iranian, b. 1980)
Bodiless I
From the series Zourkhaneh Project (House of Strength)
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum



Mehraneh Atashi explores the relationship between photography and power in her ongoing investigation into the possibilities of self-portraiture. Her photographic series reveal lesser-known aspects of Iranian life.

This photograph shows the inside of a zurkhana, a traditional Iranian wrestling gym, in Tehran. The artist has explained that ‘tradition forbids the breath of women’ in the zurkhana. Atashi includes herself in the scene through a reflection in a mirror. This picture within a picture emphasises her incongruous presence in a place from which women are normally excluded.



The artists in this section appropriate or imitate images from the past in order to make statements about the present. Their sources range from studio portraiture to fashion photography, from Old Master paintings to Modernist photographs. Using a variety of techniques, they update and interrogate, knowingly combining past and present, East and West, fact and fiction. Whether emulating or critiquing, these artists reframe existing images to new ends.


Raeda Saadeh. 'Who will make me real?' 2003


Raeda Saadeh (Palestinian, b. 1977)
Who will make me real?
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum



In her photographs, videos and performances, Raeda Saadeh assumes various roles to explore issues of displacement, gender and identity, with particular reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Here the artist lies in a pose that recalls 19th-century European paintings of reclining nudes. These often featured non-European women and ‘Orientalist’ costumes and scenery. Saadeh is encased in Palestinian newspapers, which conceal her body from neck to ankle while revealing its contours. The covering is both flimsy and apparently immobilising, resembling a papier-mâché body cast. Any sensuality implied by her pose is disrupted by the harsh realities reported in the newspaper.


Bahman Jalali. 'Image of Imagination' 2003


Bahman Jalali (Iranian, 1945-2010)
Image of Imagination
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum
© Rana Javadi



Jalali was a photographer and teacher who played a leading role in collecting and preserving historical photographs in Iran. He was an influential teacher, mentored many of the younger generation of Iranian photographers, and was instrumental in setting up Tehran’s first Museum of Photography (also known as Akskhaneh Shahr).

In this montage he layered Qajar-period (1786-1925) portraits and an enlarged detail of an old photographic studio sign that had been crossed out with red paint. Jalali speculated that this defacement occurred during the Islamic revolution (1978-9), perhaps as an attack on a studio where unveiled women had been photographed.


Shadi Ghadirian. From the series 'Qajar' 1998


Shadi Ghadirian (Iranian, b. 1974)
From the series Qajar
Gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum



Shadi Ghadirian was among the first students to graduate in photography from the Azad University, Tehran. Her work addresses concerns of Iranian women of her generation, exploring ideas such as censorship, religion and modernity, often with a wry humour.

The series Qajar is based on a style of photograph made during Iran’s Qajar period (1786-1925). In those portraits, sitters posed with props representing their aspirations. Here, the sitters wear costumes that approximate Qajar fashion, but the objects they pose with are jarringly modern and western – a mountain bike, a stereo or a can of Pepsi. The contrast makes a comment on the tensions between tradition and modernity that women in Iran face today.




Youssef Nabil (Egyptian, b. 1972)
The Yemeni Sailors of South Shields (detail)
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum



Youssef Nabil’s photographs and films evoke the glamour and melodrama of the golden age of Egyptian cinema in the 1940s and 50s, known as Hollywood on the Nile. This is one of a dozen portraits made as part of a project to document the last surviving Yemeni men to settle as ship-workers in South Shields, in the north of England. The area is home to one of the oldest Muslim communities in the UK. Nabil hand-coloured the black-and-white photographs in the manner of mid 20th-century Egyptian studio portraiture.


Hassan Hajjaj. 'Saida in Green' 2000


Hassan Hajjaj (Moroccan, b. 1961)
Saida in Green
Digital C-print and tyre frame
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum



Hajjaj is inspired by fashion photography, while also mocking its methods. He creates playful juxtapositions between global brand names and local motifs such as veils and babouches (traditional Moroccan slippers). The result is an exuberant collision of the stereotypical symbols of western consumerism and Middle Eastern tradition. The frames, which Hajjaj constructs from recycled materials, transform the photographs into three-dimensional, sculptural objects.



The artists in this section question the idea that a photograph can tell the truth. Some digitally alter images. Some scratch negatives and prints, or even burn them. Other artists reject clarity and detail in favour of processes that rely on chance. The results are murky, atmospheric images that require effort to interpret. These manipulations demonstrate the fragility of the photograph, whether at the hands of artists or censors. They also lay bare the power of photographic imagery to influence and control through propaganda or surveillance. These works resist photography’s claim to accuracy and authority.


Atiq Rahimi. 'On the threshold of time (Au seuil du temps)' 2002


Atiq Rahimi (Afghanistan, b. 1962)
On the threshold of time (Au seuil du temps)
From the series The Imaginary Return (Le retour imaginaire)
Gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum



Atiq Rahimi is a writer, film director and photographer who fled Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in 1984, seeking political refuge in France, where he is now based. He returned to Afghanistan in 2002, after the fall of the Taliban. Confronted by the ruins of Kabul, he decided not to photograph the city with his digital camera. Instead he chose a primitive box camera normally used to take identity portraits in the streets of Kabul. The unpredictable process resulted in dreamlike photographs. They convey the nostalgia and brutal feelings of loss that Rahimi experienced when revisiting the war-wounded city.


Jowhara AlSaud. 'Airmail' 2008


Jowhara AlSaud (Saudi Arabian, b. 1978)
From the series Out of Line
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum



Jowhara AlSaud’s photographs explore the language of censorship and the malleability of photography. AlSaud scratches the outlines of figures from her personal photographs into photographic negatives, which she then prints. By reducing the figures to line drawings she renders them anonymous. The embracing figures hint at farewells and longing. The envelopes suggest thwarted attempts at communication. AlSaud’s hybrid technique of drawing and photography critiques the censorship of visual communication in Saudi Arabia.


Şükran Moral. 'Despair' 2003


Şükran Moral (Turkish, b. 1962)
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum



Şükran Moral works in photography, sculpture, video and performance, creating bold and often controversial works that critique society and its institutions. Violence against women is a major theme. She has also made work about other groups who lack societal power, including the mentally ill, children, immigrants and prostitutes.

In this image, brightly-coloured birds, what Moral calls ‘digital nightingales’, perch on a group of migrant workers huddled in a boat. According to the artist, in Turkish literature nightingales are a symbol of hope, love and separation. The men and boys are shown in black-and-white, at the mercy of their situation. The birds, however, are free to fly away.


Nermine Hammam. 'Armed Innocence II' 2011


Nermine Hammam (Egyptian, b. 1967)
Armed Innocence II
From the series Upekkha
Archival inkjet print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum



Influenced by a background in film and graphic design, Nermine Hammam works in series, making prints that combine elements of painting and photography, often digitally manipulating and layering images to represent subjects in states of abandonment or altered consciousness. When the army was called in to respond to the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in January 2011, Hammam was struck by the vulnerability of the soldiers. They seemed to want to be anywhere but there. In the Uppekkha series she transports these soldiers into vibrant fantasy settings. Reminiscent of postcards, the series likens the events of Tahrir Square to a tourist attraction that drew the world’s attention, but was not fully understood.


Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige. 'Wonder Beirut #13, Modern Beirut, International Centre of Water-skiing' 1997-2006


Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige (Lebanon, b. 1969)
Wonder Beirut #13, Modern Beirut, International Centre of Water-skiing
From the series Wonder Beirut: The Story of a Pyromaniac Photographer
C-print mounted on aluminium with face mounting
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum
Courtesy of the artists and CRG Gallery, New York and In Situ / Fabienne Leclerc, Paris



Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige collaborate as filmmakers and artists, producing cinematic and visual art work that intertwine. In the series Wonder Beirut they use photography to blur fact and fiction. The artists noticed that tourist postcards of pre-civil war Beirut were still for sale after the war ended in 1990. They invented a fictional photographer named Abdallah Farrah who, in 1968, was commissioned by the tourist board to make postcard views of Beirut’s attractions. When the civil war broke out in 1975, he began to burn his negatives to reflect the surrounding destruction. The artists present these works as prints from the fictional photographer’s damaged negatives.


John Jurayj. 'Untitled (Large Embassy with Red Mirror #1)' 2007


John Jurayj (American, b. 1968)
Untitled (Large Embassy with Red Mirror #1)
Inkjet print on watercolour paper, with burn holes and mirrored Plexiglas
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum



Using a variety of media, including painting, print-making, sculpture and video, John Jurayj explores the impact of the Lebanese civil war (1975-90), as both a world conflict and an identity trauma. He often re-works photographs of Lebanon from family albums, press archives and online databases. Here he translates the brutality of war into an attack on the photograph itself. He enlarges to near abstraction a news photograph of the bombed US embassy in Beirut in 1984. The image is further disrupted by the holes burnt into the paper. The holes are then filled in with red, mirrored Plexiglas.



Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road
Phone: +44 (0)20 7942 2000

Opening hours:
Daily 11.00 – 19.00

V&A Museum website

V&A Light from the Middle East website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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