Barjeel Art Foundation presents ‘Imperfect Chronology: Arab Art from the Modern to the Contemporary’ at The Whitechapel Gallery

Just a heads up for an exhibition that will be taking place at the Whitechapel Gallery next to Aldgate East station over the following year. The Barjeel Art Foundation is an art initiative based in the United Arab Emirates set up by Sultan Sooud al Qassemi to showcase his own personal art collection and contribute towards the development of the region’s art scene in a cultural, academic and intellectual sense.

East London’s Whitechapel Gallery recently announced a series of exhibitions that it will be hosting over the next twelve months displaying some of the foundation’s most important pieces for free. As its name suggests, ‘Imperfect Chronology’ will attempt to piece together creativity from across the Arab region to try and tell a story of contemporary art in the Middle-East from the early 20th century onwards.


Artists from Algeria, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Iran and more are all featured in four separate exhibitions, the first of which is running from now until December 6th. ‘Debating Modernism I’ places its focus upon Pan-Arab artwork from 1900–1968, densely packing over 40 artworks into one room that give a broad insight into different perspectives emanating from the region at the time.

I often feel unfortunate to not be educated about art in the academic sense; it’s something I always wished I had better knowledge about. Nonetheless, I still enjoy visiting galleries and trying to get what I can out of the things that I see. This first installment of the series is definitely intense, giving you a lot to take in in a relatively small space, but one or two things stuck out for me as interesting.

Firstly, the Western perspective of the Arab world has always been fraught with Orientalist attitudes and ‘Us–Them’ dichotomies which fetishise or exoticise Middle Eastern life in a way that is rarely close to the authentic. There’s the obvious intrinsically local qualities to all of this artwork that cuts through so much of the bullshit and communicates something much more poignant. One of the best pieces for me was Algerian artist Mohammed Issiakhem’s ‘Femme et Mur’, a huge oil canvas that has to be seen in person to really appreciate all the texture and layers.


Secondly, from a more current political perspective that’s perhaps closer to home for me, there’s a lot of garbage flying around in the news at the moment with the ongoing refugee crisis, many of those victims travelling both from and towards places like Syria, Lebanon, Lybia, and Iraq. This exhibition was for me a reminder that, beyond the political turmoil unfolding in some parts of this region, it remains one of the historical, cultural, aesthetic and creative centres of the entire planet. There’s something about a load of canvases in a room that has a humanizing affect totally different to that created by physical images, but nonetheless equally important.


Either way, it’s a free exhibition and you’ve got three months to make your way over and check this first segment out, so it comes recommended. Having visited this exhibition I’ve made a note to head along to the remaining three as there will undoubtedly be more good stuff to come.

The Barjeel Art Foundation’s ‘Imperfect Chronology’ Exhibition will be hosted at Whitechapel Gallery for the next fifteen months. You can learn more about the exhibition here. Entry is Free.

Exhibitions will be divided into the following sections:

Debating Modernism I (8 September – 6 December 2015)

Debating Modernism II (15 December 2015 – 6 March 2016)

Mapping the Contemporary I (25 April – 14 August 2016)

Mapping the Contemporary II (23 August 2016 – 8 January 2017)


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