The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is currently hosting an exhibition titled “Contemporary Ceramic Art From the Middle East” that references more than 5,000 years of art history through the works of contemporary artists from the Eastern Mediterranean region and North Africa, illustrating their visions of issues of political and social conflict in a region rife with transformations. It also offers new forms of dialogue with different artistic traditions and the artists’ responses to the challenges of modernization and contemporary society.
The exhibition reflects the richness and creativity of current ceramic art in the Arab region, according to the museum’s website.
The Middle East is considered a cradle of ceramic art in the world, as the earliest evidence of firing clay in kilns to produce pottery appeared in Mesopotamia. Over the course of history, clusters producing pottery were concentrated in Turkey and Iran. Egypt was also distinguished by the production of Badarian pottery, which dates back more than 4,000 years. The Naqada area in Qena Governorate, in southern Egypt, is still one of the most substantial regions for pottery production in the world.
The London exhibition is the culmination of efforts by Mariam Rosser-Owen, director of the Middle East Department at the museum, who came up with the idea for the exhibition. The preparation of the exhibition took about four years, during which Rosser-Owen conducted field studies in several countries in the region to select the pieces that fit with the idea of the exhibition.
The exhibition brings together 19 contemporary artists from 10 countries, including Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, as well as Turkey and Iran.
The pieces on display include references to the development of ceramic art from the traditional shapes of pots, bowls and pottery plates, and how these forms move to new horizons suitable for the modern era and the expansion of visual arts concepts, with the emergence of composite artworks and the so-called “processing arts” in the void.
Diverse Generations and Experiences
There are different generations, directions, formats and artistic methods in the exhibits. The artists, who are of different ages, present their works within three main themes: tradition, identity, and politics. Works under the tradition, or heritage, theme interact with the forms, designs and techniques of historical pottery, exploring the artist’s personal relationship with his homeland, and finally evoking traditional methods to approach many contemporary social issues.