Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East [Review]

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The second in the Saatchi Gallery’s trilogy of exhibitions of contemporary art from emerging global markets, Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East (on view through May 9) follows last year’s popular show of new Chinese art, and precedes a survey of work from India. Unveiled features 19 young artists from a region fraught with images of uncertainty and revolt in the media. Offering raw and provocative perspectives on the sensibilities of a new wave of artists, it blurs the boundaries between censorship and freedom, playing heavily on social issues and perceived gender roles.

The highly political commentary on the role of women in Islam is evident in French-Algerian Kader Attia‘s arresting Ghost (2007), a series of 240 tin-foil shells of veiled women, arranged in rows in the posture of Islamic prayer, devoid of face and identity. Similarly, Tehran-based photographer Shadi Ghadirian‘s Like Everyday (2000-01) series of large-format photographs showcases a variety of female figures, whose faces are replaced by domestic items, such as an iron or a rubber glove — borrowing from Marcel Duchamp’s notion of the readymade to comment on the confinement of women to domestic quarters.

In contrast, another Tehran-based artist, Shirin Fakhim, exploits the taboo subject of sexual deviance in her hyperbolic and humorous Tehran Prostitute (2008), a series of life-size female and transgender figures composed of household pots, pans, rope, and trashy, padded lingerie. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to female sculptures made by YBA artist Sarah Lucas, Fakhim’s works mock the incongruous relationship between sex and morality in post-Revolutionary Iran.

Image credit: Shadi Ghadirian, Like Everyday, 2000-2001