Cultural boundaries between two countries are often difficult to cross. But through the use of art, some people are identifying unexpected similarities between very different cultures. On July 28 the Birmingham Museum of Art is screening work by American-Qatari artist Sophia Al-Maria, whose life experience offers unique insight into the differences and similarities between the United States and the nations along the Persian Gulf.
The event is part of a series in collaboration with Art Papers Magazine, an Atlanta-based contemporary art publication. “It’s called Art Papers Live, and it’s a program that we host twice a year at the museum,” said Cate McCusker Boehm, director of Marketing and Communications at the BMA. “It’s spearheaded by our curator of Contemporary Art, Wassan Al-Khudhairi, and it’s a program in which we bring artists from out of town to Birmingham to host a conversation around contemporary art and contemporary issues.”
This week’s program, entitled Extreme Gulf Present, will feature screenings of Al-Maria’s film-based work. “Sophia is an exciting young artist who grew up between Washington State and Qatar, and her artistic practice includes art, writing and filmmaking,” said Al-Khudhairi. “She coined the term ‘Gulf Futurism’ to explain the incredible urban and economic development of Gulf Arab nations over the last few decades, as well as the environmental damage, religious conservatism, and historical amnesia that have accompanied it.”
Al-Maria’s first solo exhibition in the U.S. will premiere at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York on July 26. The exhibition, entitled Black Friday, will examine consumerism via the imagery of the shopping mall—a phenomenon that has taken root in both the U.S. and the Persian Gulf nations.
“Sophia’s interests connect to many contemporary issues that cross boundaries and reflect contemporary culture today,” said Al-Khudhairi. “The corrosive elements of consumerism, the erasure of history, and the isolation of individuals via technology are all symptoms of a larger culture that isn’t geographically specific but rather a transnational conversation.”
Joining the discussion will be special guest Shumon Basar, a writer and curator who co-authored The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present. “Shumon Basar’s work as a curator, writer and cultural critic is in conversation with Sophia’s work – they are both futurists,” said Al-Khudhairi. “[T]he discussion will center around the ‘Extreme Gulf Present’, which is an idea taken from The Age of Earthquakes and proposes that we consider how we consume information, what our relationship with history is, and how we perceive both the near future as well as the distant future.”
The event will allow members of the audience to discuss their thoughts on these ideas and how they are addressed in both Al-Maria’s and Basar’s work.
Art Papers Live: Extreme Gulf Present will begin at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 28. The Birmingham Museum of Art is located at 2000 Rev. Abraham Woods, Jr. Boulevard. For more information about the free event, visit Artsbma.org.