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Ana Maria Cornea / Gavel Media

McMullen Hosts Panel on New Exhibition “Landscape of Memory”

The McMullen Museum of Art’s latest exhibition, Landscape of Memory, features a diverse set of modern and contemporary art from the Arab world. This study of war, belonging, and identity was made possible through the museum's collaboration with the Barjeel Foundation. As an extension of the partnership, founder Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi and curator Suheyla Takesh spoke in a panel on Sunday afternoon. 

Al Qassemi began by introducing his foundation. He explained that the non-profit was started in 2010 to promote the study and awareness of works produced by Arab artists. Over the past 10 years, Al Qassemi has successfully guided his organization to the forefront of the contemporary art scene, helped by his charisma and adept Twitter skills. The foundation has now collaborated with over 100 institutions on more than 30 exhibitions. Al Qassemi noted that Landscape of Memory is the product of a long process of collecting multimedia works from different Arab artists. 

Barjeel curator Suheyla Takesh then fielded initial questions from moderator Prof. Kathleen Bailey. They first discussed the Barjeel Foundation's emphasis on collaboration with educational institutions such as Boston College. Takesh listed universities with prior exhibitions– Yale, NYU, MIT – saying she sees “educational value in the papers [students] write, the classes [professors] teach” about the exhibitions on display. Al Qassemi and Takesh ultimately hope that exposing students and professors to Arab art will help build cultural and historical awareness.  

Al Qassemi picked up on this point within the context of university research. He hopes the Barjeel will “start conversations that could lead to further productive research,” as contemporary Arab art can sometimes fly under the radar in higher academia. His goal is that by touring different exhibitions through American universities, that trend can be reversed. 

Another idea that both Takesh and Al Qassemi emphasized was the representation of female artists. The Barjeel has a specific goal of equitable representation – three of the seven artists on display at the McMullen are women. This is part of their larger project, as Al Qassemi wants to “start a conversation about disparity” in contemporary art representation. 

Takesh then tied these various themes together, describing how in curating various works by female artists, she has broadened her understanding of what art is worthy of research and preservation. She said that Arab women “are expanding the canon of what modern art can be,” and she has often found they work in mediums that men traditionally do not. This includes tapestry, embroidery, ceramic, and other materials beyond oil and canvas.  

Al Qassemi concluded his remarks by thanking the McMullen. He said that in spite of the challenges of art acquisition in the Arab world, exhibitions like Landscape of Memory make his endeavors worth the struggle. After all, he thinks that art is intimately tied to “natural heritage and history.” It’s ultimately these efforts that preserve important, yet fragile, aspects of culture. 

Landscape of Memory is on loan at the McMullen for the rest of the semester. Museum hours and information can be found on their website

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