University News

Contemporary Middle Eastern Art on View at William Paterson University

--Exhibit is held in conjunction with University’s inaugural Cross-Cultural Arts Festival

The narrative tradition that is evident in contemporary artworks created by people of Middle Eastern heritage will be explored in an exhibit of paintings and artists books to be held in the Ben Shahn Galleries at William Paterson University in Wayne from March 23 through April 23, 2010. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Admission is free.

“One Thousand and One Nights: The Narrative Tradition in Contemporary Middle Eastern Art” includes paintings by multicultural artists Dahlia Elsayed, Dana Melamed, Nicky Nodjoumi, Helen Zughaib, and artist’s books by Maysalou Faraj, Hussain Tai, Elizabeth Jabar, Karim Farhan, Laurie Alpert, Nedim Kufi and Gary Goldstein.  The exhibit is on view in conjunction with the University’s inaugural Cross-Cultural Arts Festival from March 23 to 28, which celebrates the wide range of cultures among countries in the Middle East with a variety of events, including musical performances, art exhibits, and film series.

“Looking back to ancient and medieval folklore and the literature of the Middle East, we find a myriad of wonderful tales that were collected by scholars, translated into many languages, and dispersed throughout the world, including the most famous collection of stories, known as ‘One Thousand and One Nights,’” says Nancy Einreinhofer, director of the Ben Shahn Galleries and curator of the exhibit. “Through the works included in this exhibit, we can see how this ancient tradition has transitioned into highly diverse twenty-first century interpretations.”

Dahlia Elsayed calls on personal experiences as she creates her paintings on paper and tells her stories through a combination of handwritten text and imagery.  “A Long Layover,” for example, is the story of the family’s immigration to America and how a stopover in New York City, and a visit to the United Nations, changed the course of their lives. Autobiographical in nature, these are journalistic paintings that record both the internal and external worlds of the artist.

Dana Melamed’s creates the three-dimensional surfaces of her urban landscapes by combining various unconventional materials such as industrial paper waste products with acrylic and glue. This surface is then melted and altered with a blowtorch, and carved with a razor, revealing a chaotic urban landscape. “My aim is for the viewer’s eye to adjust slowly. It is a journey from darkness to light, from black to white,” says Melamed. “It is smog-filled, noisy and chaotic, intoxicating and suffocating. It simultaneously tortures and excites. The polarized layers of debris are filthy, alarming, exhilarating, but alive.”

Contrast, duality, and ambiguity are key elements in the paintings of Nicky Nodjoumi. His large-scale oil paintings, containing rich and mysterious visual metaphors, evoke dialogues of a socio-political and/or a religious nature with a visual narrative that combines Iranian iconography with references to Western, and in particular, American culture and politics.

Far less ambiguous are the narrative paintings by Helen Zughaib, which are inspired by fairy tales, both traditional and invented, but mainly from the stories told to her by her father. “Making Kibbeh on Sunday Morning,” for example, illustrates the family home with the women engaged in various chores including “pounding the kibbeh in the jurn” while the men enjoy their glasses of Arak and a young boy sleeps on the balcony.

The artist’s books included in the exhibit are made from materials as diverse as ceramic, textiles, paint, various printmaking techniques, and found objects often combined and mixed with other materials in experimental ways. For example, Maysaloun Faraj’ s books are constructed from earth stone, pierced and painted and bound with twine.  Hussain Tai’s “Bagdad Burning” tells a story through mostly abstract forms created with paint and paper, graphite and collage. Found object—glass doorknobs—are an important element in “A Fragile Bridge” by Elizabeth Jabar.  Arabic script is employed graphically in the “Ancient Books” of Karim Farhan. Laurie Alpert’s prints reference the Dead Sea Scrolls and both their religious and cultural content as well as the current political situation in Israel.

William Paterson University’s Cross-Cultural Arts Festival–Middle East was developed by the University’s College of the Arts and Communication with assistance from the New Jersey Arab-American Heritage Commission, the New Jersey-Israel Commission, the City of Paterson, and the Muna and Basem Hishmeh Foundation.

The exhibit is one of three shows on view concurrently in the Ben Shahn Galleries. In the East Gallery is “Mahmoud Farshchian:  Paintings and Prints,” which is also on view in conjunction with the Cross-Cultural Arts Festival. “Objects of Power:  Selections from the Joan and Gordon Tobias Collection of African Art,” on view in the Court Gallery, draws on the University’s 700-object collection of African sculpture, masks, jewelry, dress, baskets, and decorative objects.

This exhibit is made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Ben Shahn Galleries are wheelchair-accessible.  Large-print handouts are available. For additional information, please call the Ben Shahn Galleries at William Paterson University, 973-720-2654.