Latest Publications

Painting Nothing: An Introduction to Abstract Art in the Middle East

Aimee Dawson
23 May 2023

Another tale of abstraction unfolded in the Middle East that was not detached from Western styles but also not in imitation. Two of the most important contributions for English-speaking audiences to this retelling of abstraction are the exhibitions Tajreed: A Selection of Arab Abstract Art 1908-1960 at Contemporary Art Platform Kuwait (2013) and Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s at Grey Art Gallery, New York University (2020) along with their accompanying catalogues, among others delving more deeply into the individual artists who created abstract works (see, for example, Growing Shapes: Aesthetic Insights of an Abstract Painter (2016) about the Palestinian artist Samia Halaby, a pioneer of abstraction within the region).

The traditional Western art history books will tell you that the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky “invented” abstract art—depiction free from representation, focussing instead on elements of form, colour, line, tone, and texture—in around 1910. As with much of the art history canon, this narrative is slowly being unravelled and lesser-known histories of abstraction are being added to the story, such as the contributions of female artists (for example, the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint painted her first abstract work in 1906) and artistic developments in non-Western regions.