Curator, Barjeel Art Foundation
What do you hope your audience will take away from seeing the exhibition? And, what may surprise them most about it?
Many viewers may have seen a Paul Guiragossian work before. He managed to create a very particular approach that dealt with the human figure that is very distinct. Yet this exhibition sees various points in the development of his style. The process of seeking out Guiragossian's paintings locally allowed us to see how widely collected his works are regionally, and in particular how well represented they are in the UAE. It will also be of note to audiences to explore the exhibition’s archive material drawn from the Paul Guiragossian Foundation, which will show the artist in a more historical light and his relationships with other key cultural figures.
What would you say made Guiragossian’s work stand out from that of his contemporaries?
In the process of putting together this exhibition we had access to the archive materials from the Paul Guiragossian Foundation and I also had the opportunity to conduct an interview with Etel Adnan and Simone Fattal in Paris, who knew him personally. Etel in particular interviewed him for a newspaper in 1973 during her time as a journalist in Beirut, a text which is also part of the Paul Guiragossian Foundation archive. One of the things that came to mind was how highly regarded Paul Guiragossian was by his contemporaries, and how his work resonated with theirs. Etel said she regarded Paul’s body of work as: “one long pilgrimage. Not [a] pilgrimage to a place, but an exile-like pilgrimage” and has a work by him on the wall in their apartment. The poet Mahmoud Darwish, whom the artist met later in his life, developed a friendship with the artist that was, in Paul’s words, based on a mutual understanding of exile; that “what [they] lived through can’t be explained to those who did not face oppression or war.” It’s not that his work stands out from his contemporaries, but it was part of a wider conversation that this incredible generation of artists and cultural producers were having, an oeuvre that was sustained, distinct, and very human.
The show will be Barjeel’s last exhibit at Maraya Art Centre. What role has Maraya played in the growth of Barjeel Art Foundation?
This exhibition certainly marks the end of a particular iteration of Barjeel Art Foundation's ongoing programme, which began in 2010 at the Maraya Art Centre. Our local, in-house exhibitions at Maraya have been an anchor point in Barjeel's far-reaching international programme the past few years. The Barjeel gallery space has been a window into the collection through temporary exhibitions and it is where many of our encounters with our international partners began. Maraya and its team have been a great support as they have not only facilitated the launch of 16 exhibitions in the gallery but have also given us the opportunity to share the collection with local and international visitors for eight years.
How important is the presentation of the works from the collection within the UAE versus internationally?
With a particular focus on modernism during the past few years, our local and international exhibitions have allowed us to consider modern art from a more global perspective. Our local programme on the other hand, allows us to introduce audiences here to an art history they may not be aware of but, by being in the region, they are implicated in.
Paul Guiragossian: Testimonies Of Existence will be open from 24 February - 24 April 2018 at Maraya Art Centre.