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Barjeel Art Foundation presents "Hurufiyya: Art & Identity" at Bibliotheca Alexandrina
Omar El Nagdi, Untitled, 1970. Mixed media on wood, 119.5 x 119.5 cm. Courtesy Barjeel Art Foundation.

ALEXANDRIA.- Barjeel Art Foundation announces details of Hurufiyya: Art & Identity, opening at Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a major library and cultural centre located on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, on 30 November 2016. The exhibition explores the impact that Hurufiyya, an art form that re-emerged in the mid-20th century, has had in the last century. Marking a break from a previous era of creative output, Hurufiyya (loosely translated as ‘letterism’) was one of the most significant movements in modern Arab art history. Through various aspects of the style and its expression throughout the region, the exhibition introduces different moments, approaches, and artists, and their concerns over the 20th and 21st century.

Hurufiyya: Art & Identity explores the origins of the movement and its route to the present, illustrated through snapshots by artists who pioneered the movement - Madiha Omar, Dia Azzawi, Kamal Boullata, Rafa Al Nasiri, Shakir Hassan Al Said, Rachid Koraichi and Omar El Nagdi - from across the modern world, including Palestine, Iraq, Algeria and Egypt.

Curated by Karim Sultan of the Barjeel Art Foundation, the exhibition aims to illustrate the break and change in art emerging from the Arab world from the mid-century. At first glance, Hurufiyya may be indistinguishable from calligraphy, but the two modes are very different: calligraphy carries with it a history of long-standing styles and relationships; whereas modern Hurufiyya was born in an era of modern conditions – with travel, exile, international life, conflict and identity – and is a result of it. The exhibited works at Bibliotheca Alexandrina were created at a turbulent and vibrant time with the birth of cities, decolonisation, political unrest, war, nationalism - and even the most distant, experimental, and abstract art bore a mark of this.

The exhibition marks the publication of Hurufiyya: Art & Identity in English - the first time these historic texts from the region have been published in English, and accessible to a non-Arabic speaking audience. Written by Professor Charbel Dagher, an active and prominent scholar on the Arab cultural scene, the work looks at the history of this modern art movement in the Arab world.

Karim Sultan, Curator, Barjeel Art Foundation said: “One of our objectives is to investigate, develop, and exhibit various aspects of regional art history. Hurufiyya is an important 20th century movement that lies between the international modern art of the day and concerns of artists in the Arab world. It is a fascinating entry point to exploring works and styles from the 20th century to our present moment.”

Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, Founder, Barjeel Art Foundation, said: “Alexandria Library is a beacon of knowledge and enlightenment in a region that is experiencing great uncertainty. We are proud to be associated with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and to bring to it a selection of Arabic Huruffiya works by modern and contemporary artists.”

Gamal Hosni, Director of Art Exhibitions and Collections Department, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, said: “The Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA) aims to promote modern and contemporary arts among its local and foreign visitors. One of our special points of interest is artistic creativity that is linked to literature, texts, alphabets, languages, or storytelling. This is why the BA holds a regular special event that is concerned with these ideas and applications. Within this context, the Hurufiyya exhibition is very relevant and appropriately highlights and gives depth to this particular line of creativity. We are glad and proud to collaborate with Barjeel Art Foundation on this enlightening project.”

The Barjeel Art Foundation, an independent, UAE-based institution established to preserve and exhibit an extensive collection (over 1200 works) of Modern and Contemporary Arab Art internationally, works with institutions across the world to support cross-cultural education and knowledge exchange. The foundation strives to create an open-ended enquiry that responds to and conveys the nuances inherent to Arab histories beyond borders of culture and geography.

Works in the exhibition include:

• Madiha Omar (Iraq), Untitled, 1978
• Rafa Al Nasiri (Iraq), Image (Amman), 1988
• Dia Azzawi (Iraq), Al-Mua’alaqat 1978
• Kamal Boullata (Palestine), In The Beginning was the Word, 1983
• Kamal Boullata (Palestine), The Alif And The Ya, 1983
• Shakir Hassan Al Said (Iraq), Untitled, 1963
• Rachid Koraichi (Algeria), Without You Or Me of Nostalgic Hallucination, 1986
• Omar El Nagdi (Egypt), Untitled, 1970

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