The Aga Khan Centre Gallery is delighted to announce it will launch its new gallery space with At the Corner of a Dream, a solo exhibition by the Lebanese-Egyptian artist Bahia Shehab.
The show — her first solo presentation in the UK — is comprised of five digital artworks produced by the artist in 2019 about the poetry murals she has painted in four different cities: Cairo, New York, Beirut and Marrakesh, as well as the Greek island of Cephalonia. These have been inspired by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008) — the show’s title is a line from one of his poems.
Commissioned by the Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC), the exhibition marks the publication of a book highlighting Shehab’s poetry-based work published by Gingko in association with AKU-ISMC. The exhibition also follows the unveiling of a major 30-metre mural called We Will Not Repent, created for Lincoln University in August 2019.
Shehab began to paint poetry by Darwish on the walls of different cities in new and original forms of the Arabic script. She uses lines from his poetry to tell the world that ideas cannot be killed, to show that humankind is united in its struggle against oppression and dictatorship.
The evening will include a talk by the artist entitled We Will Not Repent Our Dreams; From Tokyo to Honolulu and from Marrakesh to Amsterdam, the human stories of the people Shehab has interacted with have been key to the development of her work. The talk will be an opportunity to join the artist as she reflects on her artistic process for painting murals in different cities around the world. The talk marks the first in a series of eight lectures entitled Pluralism and Pluralities in Islamic Cultures jointly presented by AKU-ISMC, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the Aga Khan Museum.
In the featured films, each location corresponds to sites where Shehab created a wall mural. Shehab views her walls as meeting points and conversation starters. By raising the curiosity of passers-by, they serve as cultural bridges, prompting them to ask about the stories behind the writing and encouraging them to stop and ask how they can tackle injustice in their own country, or how they can work for equality and help others live in a better world.
One of the films, Those who have no land have no Sea (2019), was created at a swimming pool reminiscent of one located in Cephalonia where Greek Olympians train and where her mural was painted. It depicts a macabre yet disturbingly realistic scene of floating life jackets accompanied by a single body. Shehab had been struck by the parallels between the trainee swimmers and the refugees who were drowning every day in the sea just beyond the sports centre wall and her film echoes the plight of the many people who drowned while fleeing war zones.
In another film, We Love Life (2019), Shehab reflects on Darwish’s stanza that reads ‘We love life if we had access to it.’ It depicts a wedding in four different settings. In the first, the couple are seen in a tuk-tuk (a transportation bike used in informal housing areas in Cairo); in the second, they are seated in their wedding chairs on the street in front of a local butcher shop; in the third they are seen in a destroyed house and, finally, they sit on thrones with the city of the dead in the background. The film plays on the idea of hope and the ability to dream visualising something as joyous as a wedding to reflect a very morbid reality where even hope becomes impossible.
The films are presented in an immersive environment across four screens creating a 360° display in which each image is seamlessly adjoined. Alongside, the show includes a site-specific calligraffiti stencil wall work and two vitrines containing paraphernalia relating to her artistic practice.
Shehab’s work first came to global attention during the Arab Spring, in which she had an active role in the revolution that swept through Egypt over 12 months between December 2010 and December 2011, through her ongoing series, A Thousand Times No. These calligraffiti stencil works, which Shehab applied to walls across Cairo during the revolution with spray paints, were inspired by the Arabic saying, “No and a thousand times no”.
Created as a protest against the injustices that were perpetrated in the world before the revolution, the artist originally sourced one thousand different Arabic ‘noes’, which she found on buildings, mosques, plates, textiles, pottery and books from countries such as Spain, China, Afghanistan and Iran, where Islam had thrived at one point in history or another.
Her own stencil drawings included a representation of a bra, rendered in blue paint, which was inspired by the public stripping of an unidentified woman on the streets of Cairo, in which her abaya was removed by soldiers, revealing her undergarments. Since then, she has taken her peaceful resistance to the streets of the world, from New York to Tokyo, Amsterdam to Honolulu.
Bahia Shehab is a multidisciplinary artist, designer and art historian. Her work is concerned with identity and preserving cultural heritage. Through investigating Islamic art history she reinterprets contemporary Arab politics, feminist discourse and social issues. She is Professor of Design and founder of the graphic design program at The American University in Cairo where she has developed a full design curriculum mainly focused on visual culture of the Arab world. She has taught over fourteen courses on the topic. She frequently lectures internationally on Arab visual culture and design education, peaceful protest, and Islamic cultural heritage. Her artwork has been on display in exhibitions, galleries and streets internationally. The documentary Nefertiti’s Daughters featuring her street artwork during the Egyptian uprising was released in 2015. Her work has received a number of international recognitions and awards some of which include the BBC 100 Women list (2013), TED Senior fellowship (2016), and a Prince Claus Award (2016). Her publications include “A Thousand Times NO: The Visual History of Lam-Alif.” She is the first Arab woman to receive the UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture (2016).
Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations and Aga Khan Centre Gallery.
Time and Venue
Lsunch Thursday 26 September 2019, 18.00-20:00
This event is free but booking is essential:
To attend in person, please click here.
To attend online, please click here.