With Venetia Porter, Curator, Islamic and Contemporary Middle East Art, British Museum

Venetia Porter is the Curator of Islamic and Contemporary Middle East Art at the British Museum. Venetia is also the Curator of a temporary exhibition at the Museum, Reflections: contemporary art of the Middle East and North Africa, which opened on 17 May 2021. The exhibition opening coincided with the reopening of the British Museum following its temporary closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The exhibition, which ran until 15th August 2021, weaved together a rich tapestry of artistic expression from artists born in, or connected to, countries from Iran to Morocco. With drawings by artists trained everywhere from Paris to Jerusalem, and subject matters ranging from the Syrian uprisings to the burning of the National Library of Baghdad, it offered new views of societies whose challenges are well-known in the press but are little known through the prism of contemporary art. Featuring around 100 works on paper – from etchings to photographs and artists’ books – the majority of works in the exhibition have been collected in the past decade. They highlight topics of gender, identity, history and politics, while also exploring poetic traditions and the intersections between past and present. There is no single narrative but a multiplicity of stories.

In this session, participants were given an introduction to the Middle East art collection, its content and narratives. Venetia provided an overview of the exhibition, along with its accompanying book, from the exhibition’s creation to its opening in May.