From the figurative to the abstract
modern art from the Arab World

11 July – 8 November 2015

Recommend this exhibition

Rafa Al Nasiri (1940–2013), To describe an almond blossom. Artist book, 2009. Given by May Muzaffar in memory of Rafa Al Nasiri. © the estate of the artist. 2015,6019.1


This display features works on paper recently acquired by the British Museum by eight artists – Shafiq Abboud, Michel Basbous, Safeya Binzagr, Sadik Kwaish Alfraji, Tahar M'Guedmini, Marwan, Nabil Nahas and Rafa Al Nasiri.


Michel Basbous (1921– 1981), Abstract composition, ink on paper, 1961. 2014,6046.4. Funded by CaMMEA © estate of the artist.

Safeya Binzagr (b. 1940), Charcoal study, 1981. Funded by CaMMEA. © the artist. 2015,6018.5


Born in different countries of the Middle East and North Africa, these artists studied in Europe and elsewhere, absorbing different traditions into their work. Two of them worked alongside prominent European contemporaries: Syrian-born artist Marwan studied in Berlin with Georg Baselitz, and Lebanese sculptor and painter Michel Basbous was taught by Russian artist Ossip Zadkine. The study of the figure is central to a number of the artists. Tunisian-born Tahar M'Guedmini focused on anatomical drawing at the Beaux Arts in Paris, while Saudi painter Safeya Binzagr used the printmaking techniques she learnt at St Martin’s College in London to capture aspects of Saudi tradition.


Marwan (b. 1934), Marionette 2007. Funded by CaMMEA © the artist. 2011,6020.2

Nabil Nahas (b. 1949), Study for the Yale Chemistry Building mural. Given by Nabil Nahas © the artist. 2014,6041.1


Abstraction is another powerful thread running through the works in the display. Lebanese artist Nabil Nahas’s love of geometry stemmed from time spent studying Islamic art, while Iraqi artist Rafa Al Nasiri, who studied woodcut and watercolour in China, moved from a focus on the Arabic letter to abstract compositions that accompany Arabic poetry. The artist book has become increasingly popular among Arab artists and Nasiri and Shafiq Abboud have found inspiration in the works of two of the best known Arab poets – Adonis (Ali Ahmad Said) and Mahmoud Darwish. Abboud, in another book included in the display, illustrates a French folktale. Iraqi-born Sadik Kwaish Alfraji uses the form of the book to tell his own story of exile which he then transforms into moving video works.


Shafiq Abboud (1926–2004), La souris, 1954. Brooke Sewell Permanent Fund. © the estate of the artist. 2007,6012.1

Sadik Kwaish Alfraji (b. 1960), Ali’s Boat 1, 2015. Funded by CaMMEA. © the artist. 2015,6022.1

Tahar M'Guedmini (b. 1948), Untitled figural composition, 2012. Anonymous gift. © the artist. 2014,6021.1