Two paintings inspired by the Arab Spring at an art fair in the UAE were taken by authorities, to the surprise of curators and collectors.
The paintings belonged to Artspace gallery, a local gallery participating in the sixth edition of the international regional art fair Art Dubai and had been heavily exhibiting art work inspired by the wave of revolutions that have swept across the Middle East.
A painting titled After Washing by Libyan artist Shadi Alzaqaouq, depicting a woman holding an underwear panty with the now infamous word Leave written on it, was one of the two paintings that unsettled the authorities. Leave or Irhal in Arabic was commonly heard throughout protests in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya as people protested against their autocratic regimes.
The unidentified authorities also removed a painting by Moroccan artist Zakaria Ramhani, which took up an entire wall at the gallery space, depicting an incident in Egypt in which a female protester was beaten up and stripped by the army. The woman with her infamous blue bra takes centre stage in the painting, titled You were my only love.
Artspace's managing director, Maliha Al Tabari, was outraged by the authorities' intervention which she witnessed but could not stop.
One of the pieces that was shown was a piece, was Zakaria Ramhani's piece which is a piece about the girl that was pulled away in Tahrir Square and beaten up by the army, and we thought the artists wanted to show that work and we did, and we showed the work. It is a very strong piece, but unfortunately we could not keep it in the fair for censorship reasons, she said.
Al Tabari said she was approached by plain clothed officers who came with security personnel dressed in black. They stopped at her booth and removed the paintings, telling her not to hang them again. No explanation was given for the order, and it was unclear whether the men were from the police or security services.
Only a small number of artworks have ever been removed from Art Dubai for offending the country's values, the art fair said in a written statement.
Annually, prior to opening, Art Dubai's content is reviewed by representatives who then may make suggestions about a minimal number of pieces which may not be in keeping with the social and cultural values of the UAE. These pieces may then be stored by the gallery, and Art Dubai as a policy does not comment further as this vetting is not within the fair's purview, the statement read.
Al Tabari insisted she would re-exhibit the artworks, even if she had to take them abroad.
We'll exhibit it in our gallery, and now we have a space in an art gallery in London. The idea of having the gallery in London is to show work from this region, the Middle Eastern artists in a way, well, not to hide, she said.
Art Dubai opens to the public from March 21 to 24.
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