Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF) is exhibiting Rayyane Tabet: Exquisite Corpse, a major exhibition that marks the first in-depth Middle East presentation of FRAGMENTS (2016–ongoing), the artist’s most ambitious project to date. On view until 15 June 2021, the exhibition is curated by Sharjah Art Foundation Senior Curator Ryan Inouye and features re-conceptualized presentations of works and two new commissions.
The exhibition draws on personal insight, artefacts and historical records to explore an archaeological excavation led by Baron Max von Oppenheim at Tell Halaf in northeast Syria at the turn of the twentieth century. As an educator in Beirut, Tabet’s great-grandfather Faek Borkhoche was appointed as von Oppenheim’s translator and secretary for six months in 1929, a few years after Western powers had carved up the region.
This personal connection led the artist on a journey through encounters with family heirlooms and archaeological objects, following their stories across time, generation and geography.
While the project documents the improbable story of the Tell Halaf excavation, this exhibition also foregrounds the ways in which Tabet’s formal and conceptual engagement with historical documents and cultural heritage draw the wide-ranging fallout of an era into contemporary relief. Basalt Shards (2017) captures the rough physicality of stone artefacts shattered during the Allied bombing of Berlin in a sweeping installation of 1,000 charcoal rubbings.
Exquisite Corpse (2017), the work with which the exhibition shares its title, features tents used in Western ground offenses that bear similarity to the Bedouin ‘bisht’, a personal garment that doubles as temporary shelter. Investigating questions of circulation and value, Ah, My Beautiful Venus (2017) juxtaposes fragile foil pressings taken from the face and hands of von Oppenheim’s 6.5-tonne, basalt figure with a rectangular composition of the same weight and stone material quarried in southeast Syria in 2016.
Two new works embrace fragmentation as a condition of possibility: Digital Surrogates (2021) is a publicly accessible web archive of historical records, research materials and project documentation in a range of formats that enables a relational, rather than scripted, exploration of history.
The digital archive can be accessed via this link. Structured around a running display of all 230 pages of field notes taken by Tabet’s great-grandfather during the six-month expedition, Portrait of Faek Borkhoche (2021) charts entanglements between archaeology, ethnographic study and colonialism in a playful adaptation of exhibition design common to the encyclopedic museum.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a booklet with commissioned essays by scholars Omar Dewachi, Associate Professor of Medical Anthropology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick; Uzma Rizvi, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Urban Studies at the Pratt Institute, New York and a Visiting Professor at Shah Abdul Latif University, Khairpur, Pakistan; and Andrea Wallace, Senior Lecturer in Law at University of Exeter, UK.
Working in the fields of political science and anthropology as well as copyright and intellectual property, these writers significantly contribute to the contextualisation of this exhibition through their attention to the social wound, the colonial intellectual and the surrogate, respectively. These resonant concepts—much like Tabet's FRAGMENTS—wander and weave through a complex tapestry of sited history and subject formation as they attend to important social shapes and intersubjective spaces of expression and remembrance.
As one of the most important voices of his generation, Tabet works as a sculptor and storyteller, exploring the interplay between material form, narrative and social conditions that shape and are shaped by these aesthetic expressions. Exquisite Corpse showcases hallmarks of artist’s practice, including his unique approach to self-directed research and the use of personal narrative to complicate our understanding of major and minor historical events that continue to shape our present sociopolitical contexts.
Tabet has previously participated in Sharjah Biennial 10 (2011), Sharjah Biennial 12 (2015), and Sharjah Biennial 13 (2017), as well as March Meeting 2014. He has been awarded the Abraaj Group Art Prize, Dubai (2013); Future Generation Art Prize Jury Award, Pinchuk Art Center, Kiev (2012); and Sharjah Biennial 10 Artist Prize (2011). He participated in the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program (2016), counts among his publications, FRAGMENTS/BRUCHSTÜCKE (KAPH Books, 2018). He is the recipient of the Robert Rauschenberg Residency in 2021.
Born in 1983 in Achkout, Lebanon, He holds a BArch from Cooper Union, New York (2008), and an MFA from the University of California, San Diego (2012).
This exhibition is part of Sharjah Art Foudation’s 2021 programme which will also feature March Meeting: Unravelling the Present (MM 2021), the solo exhibitions Tarek Atoui: Cycles in 11 and Zarina Bhimji: Black Pocket as well as Unsettled Objects, a major exhibition of newly acquired and rarely seen works from the Sharjah Art Foundation Collection.
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