Debut UK solo presentation by Bahia Shehab launches the Aga Khan Centre Gallery

Bahia Shehab, ‘We Love Life’, HD video still, 2019
We Love Life, HD video still, 2019 © Bahia Shehab, Courtesy of the artist

The Aga Khan Centre Gallery will officially open to the public on the 27th September 2019 with the debut exhibition of Lebanese-Egyptian artist Bahia Shehab. Commissioned by the Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC), The Corner of a Dream will be the artist’s first solo show in the UK.

Shehab’s work first came to global attention during the Arab Spring that swept through Egypt between December 2010 and December 2011, through her ongoing series, A Thousand Times No (the subject of a TED talk the artist gave in 2012). Her new exhibition will feature five digital artworks about the poetry murals she has painted in various locations including Cairo, New York, Beirut, Marrakesh and Cephalonia. These murals were inspired by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish (1941–2008) and the show’s title is a line from one of his poems. Shehab began to paint Darwhish’s poetry in various cities as a response to the Egyptian uprising and her work aims to assert that ideas cannot be killed and to show that humankind is united in its struggle against oppression and dictatorship. Shehab views her murals as conversation starters and meeting points; s viewers pass by, their curiosity is peaked and the work serves as a cultural bridge, prompting them to ask about the stories behind the writing — encouraging them to stop and ask how they can tackle injustice in their own country.

In one of her films entitled, Those who have no land have no Sea (2019), which was created in Cephalonia where Greek Olympians train and also where one of her murals was painted, Shehab was struck by the parallels between the trainee swimmers and the refugees who were drowning every day in the sea just beyond the sports centre wall. Her film depicts a macabre, yet disturbingly realistic scene of floating life jackets accompanied by a single body, echoing the plight of the many refugees who drown while trying to flee war zones.

Those Who Have No Land Have No Sea, HD video still, 2019 © Bahia Shehab, Courtesy of the artist

In another film, We Love Life (2019), Shehab reflects on one of Darwish’s poems that reads, ‘We love life if we had access to it,’ and depicts a wedding in four different settings; the couple is seen in a tuk-tuk, then in chairs sitting in front of a butcher shop, in a destroyed house and finally in the city of the dead. The film plays on the idea of hope and the ability to dream visualizing something as joyous as a wedding to reflect a very morbid reality where even hope becomes impossible to grasp.

Coinciding with the exhibition will be the publication of a book highlighting Shahabs’s poetry-based work published by Gingko Press in association with AKU-ISMC which documents Shehab’s striking new work and tells the stories of the people she met along the way.

Says Esen Kaya, The Aga Khan Centre Gallery Curator: ‘We are honoured to be launching our new Gallery with an exhibition by Bahia Shehab. Bahia is probably one of the most important Arab female artists work­ing today. She is an internationally renowned artist, academic, designer and art historian and her artwork has been shown in exhibitions, galleries and streets globally. Her striking and stylized work provides an opportunity for us to think about some of the issues happening across the world today. The work is both poetic and stimulating as she encourages us to think about the lives of others, whilst considering our own.’ Adds Kaya: ‘The Aga Khan Centre Gallery is a place of education, insight and cultural exchange. It is home to a changing programme of exhibitions which aim to create a better understanding of Islam and Muslim cultures past and present. The gallery programme will significantly contribute to the cultural offer across the city of London as well as nationally and internationally. Bahia Shehab’s work forms the inaugural exhibi­tion, so we hope to welcome many visitors to our exciting new gallery.’

Bahia Shehab: At the Corner of a Dream is on view until 5 January 2020.

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