Tarek Al Ghoussein:
23.03.10 – 13.05.10
Sharjah Art Museum
Tarek Al Ghoussein: A Retrospective
This magnificent retrospective at the Sharjah Art Museum . . . clarifies the extent to which Al Ghoussein expresses his image testimonials through a play of contrasts: the shift between close and wide in the photographs of concrete walls reference the Israeli-restricted areas in the Palestinian territories, or the balance between the transience and permanence, as when he explodes a big blue plastic plane in the middle of the vast desert . . . These are the contrasts through which Al Ghoussein’s work convincingly transforms direct political references into the existentially universal. Sabine Vogel, Artforum, 4.29.10
Tarek Al Ghoussein has spent the past 10 years considering how performance, interventions and photographic methods can be used to explore what it means to be situated within a landscape. The anonymous spaces of the desert have served as a stage for investigating how political circumstances affect one's relationship to a place through the propagation of myths and the creation of physical boundaries.
The artist works in series where the desert landscape, the solitary figure of the artist, and elements of structural and political control are photographed with an elegant simplicity that belies the complexity of the issues that the work addresses.
While the images can be understood within the broader context of Palestinian struggles, Al Ghoussein simply and persistently also tries to negotiate his existence and place in this part of the world. Contrasts between the landscape and the figure provide an opportunity to consider our relationship to the places that may not belong to us but that we nevertheless call home.
Born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents, Al Ghoussein is part of the Palestinian diaspora who are refused entry by the Israeli authorities into the country he considers his homeland. As a boy and young teenager he lived in Japan, later attending university in the United States. He is an Arab who speaks with an American accent. Since 2001, Al Ghoussein has lived and worked in Sharjah as an artist and a lecturer at the American University of Sharjah.
This major exhibition presented 60 works created in the period between 2001 and 2010, including the acclaimed Self-Portrait series as well as a new body of work entitled the E series which will be presented for the first time.
The exhibition follows the chronology of Al-Ghoussein’s work, with the first rooms presenting new versions of the light boxes created for the artist’s presentation in the Sharjah Biennial 2003. This series of Self Portraits, dating from 2001, shows the artist commenting on contemporary Western media representations of the Palestinian as terrorist. The walls, mounds and barriers that populate his A and B series are, in the first instance, a reference to the “defence barrier” being constructed in Palestine, but more importantly they speak of the artist’s personal struggles as he tries to negotiate his relationship with the world around him.
In the C series we witness both a continuation as well as an extension of these themes. The landscape becomes increasingly ambiguous and variable, thus evoking notions of transience. In his D series, and most recently in the DII series, which respond to various UN resolutions concerned with mapping and displacement, the artist continues his examination of the relationship between subject and space and how the individual affects and is affected by the space he inhabits.
The exhibition concludes with the artist’s most recent E series. According to Al-Ghoussein:
The roundabout is a means of imposing order on the landscape and an element that controls movement. In the images that form the E Series, the roundabout becomes a site for examining the relation between the figure and defined networks that order and control. Whereas the barriers that were the focus of earlier work form identifiable boundaries and can either include or exclude, the roundabout is a space defined by movement. The E Series considers how I locate myself within larger systems of order that determine ones’ ability to move freely.
There is a performative element to all of Al Ghoussein's work. Starting often with a sketch, each photograph is carefully conceived, constructed and produced. Writer Antonia Carver notes, ‘Tarek Al Ghoussein is a kind of ‘total artist’: his practice is as much rooted in the act of performance, of constructing, printing, editing and presenting his work, as it is in the taking of an image’. (Antonia Carver, Time and Place, In Absentia pg 79)
• Curated by Sharjah Art Foundation Director Jack Persekian, this exhibition was organized by the Sharjah Art Foundation and the Sharjah Art Museum with the support of the Directorate of Arts, Department of Culture and Information, Government of Sharjah.