June 2016. The Cinema Ritrovato Film Festival, Bologna, Italy. A rare retrospective of films directed by famous Iranian filmmaker and writer Ebrahim Golestan (here being interviewed by Ehsan Khoshbakht). It is as if all the Iranians in Italy came to try to unravel the mystery of this mythical director, who launched the Iranian “New Wave” before taking off, with all his secrets, for his final exile in London, a few years before the 1979 revolution. We would love to publish something at Zamân Books on the history of his films. We won’t take the risk of unraveling the mystery. We’ll make it even bigger.
June 2016. Tate Modern, London, UK. The new display of the modern collections includes more and more “Middle East/North Africa” works; they demonstrate the tensions between figurative and abstract art in the context of the Cold War. On these walls Hamed Abdalla (Egypt), Farid Belkahia (Morocco) as well as Bahman Mohassess (Iran) hang alongside Jackson Pollock, Jean Dubuffet and Wifredo Lam. This photo shows Hamed Abdalla’s son and grandsons as a family, armed with a video camera, come to immortalize their grandfather’s admission to the Tate. None of the 5 million visitors a year will see the work the way they see it, but by the same token, they will never see it the same way those 5 million see it. The exhibition Hamed Abdalla: ARABECEDAIRE is currently at The Mosaic Rooms, London.
September 2014. In the studio of artist sculptor Mohammad Hossein Emad, Tehran, Iran. Without doubt one of my favorite artists in Iran, this “wise man” had the great kindness to invite me into his studio to give me a demonstration of his latest floating sculpture. Inspired by the lip plates worn by the women of certain Ethiopian or Chadian tribes, once it has been flipped over, this imposing wooden volume will hang in the air from a single wire. Stunning.
March 2015. Art Dubai, United Arab Emirates. In the “modern” section of the fair, in a display case on the stand of the Meem gallery (Dubai), which is presenting works by the great Syrian artist, Marwan Kasab Bachi (1934-2016), I discover Issue No. 5 of the review Zamân (summer 2010), in which we published a comprehensive report on his life and work. Let’s hope that the review doesn’t turn into a fossil; I would rather it became a seashell. Four months later I would go to Berlin, where Marwan had been living since the 1950s, for an acquisition by the Tate Modern – his tribute portrait of the Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab (1965).
Avril 2015. Abu Dhabi Art Fair, United Arab Emirates. My first encounter with the work of Gebran Tarazi on the stand of the very famous Agial Art Gallery, Beirut. Immediately struck by the radicality and dizziness of this geometrical and above all metaphysical abstraction; it’s like a Sufi poem with its incantations, its chanting and its repetitions. I didn’t know then that, two years later, the monograph on Gebran Tarazi would become Zamân Books’ second publication.
March 2015. Hotel room, Doha, Qatar. My first visit to these parts to discover Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art and its already famous collection. I notice a phenomenon that will be repeated in all the hotel rooms I stay in in the Gulf. The huge, hermetically sealed windows on the 30th or 40th floor make you feel as if you are in an aerial jar where the outside landscape loses all reality. You’re almost afraid that the room will be turned upside down like a snow globe and the snow will start to fall. A dream of whiteness in the land of blazing oil.
September 2014. In the office of Ali Dehbashi, editor of the review Bokhara, Tehran, Iran. I have come to talk to him about our project for a monograph on Bahman Mohassess. Dehbashi knew Mohassess well. Their correspondence was even published in another review, Tandis. His office is such a maze of books and documents that it has all the beauty of a labyrinth where you lose all your bearings. His assistant enters the room to collect some proofs and Dehbashi announces, without a moment’s hesitation, “the pile on the right”. LOL
August 2015. The bookshop Les Colonnes, Tangier, Morocco. Legendary bookshops can be counted on the fingers of one hand these days: José Corti in Paris, City Lights in San Francisco, Les Colonnes in Tangiers, Moroccan home to the Beat Generation, and notably Paul Bowles. Legend has it that the bookshop also acted as Jean Genet’s bank. Today the bookshop is more active than ever, also as a publisher of books and of its own review Nejma. I like to think of them as part of the family alongside Zamân Books.
March 2015. Christie’s Dubai, “Middle East” Auction, United Arab Emirates. A painting by Behjat Sadr (1924-2009) is on sale. When I see the price rise from one second to the next, I think back with irony to the monograph we published with Zamân Books in 2014. She who was inspired by oil spills in her black paintings on aluminium, in post-kinetic, neo-industrial abstract style.
November 2016. Exhibition space at Birzeit University in Ramallah, Palestine. A group of remarkable curators, including Vera Tamari and Yazid al-Ani, launched an exhibition programme a few years ago focusing on Palestinian cities. I am lucky enough to see the one on Gaza. Eloquent display of objects designed by students of the art and design department of the university who, seriously and ironically, document artefacts such as keychains and pens. When I see these “archaeologists of the present” at work, I immediately wonder if they have seen Jean-Luc Moulène’s Objets de Grève or Christian Boltanski’s autofictional showcases. In the end, it doesn’t matter much… “You didn’t see anything in Gaza”, a Japanese voice whispers in my ear.