Review: Despite, Arts Canteen

Image: Dina Mattar, courtesy of Arts Canteen

Image: Dina Mattar, courtesy of Arts Canteen

It takes less than half an hour to make your way round Despite – but putting together the exhibition has been the result of years of contacts, organisation and work.

The show, curated by Aser Al Saqqa and Nicola Gray from Arts Canteen, brings together the work of sixteen Palestinian artists, twelve of whom are still based in the West Bank, Gaza or Jerusalem. It has not been easy. An ingrained distrust of official channels means artworks had to be taken out by individuals, while an unanswered visa application prevented the Paris-based artist Hani Zurob from attending the opening he was intended to headline.

Perhaps because of such restrictions on freedom of movement, many of the works hint at escapism. The graffiti-style abstracts of Dina Mattar, a recent art graduate from Gaza’s Al Aqsa University, blossom from a monotone background. Mohammed Joha’s “What’s Behind the Wall” imagines a surreal world with a promise of lift off. For his subject, Gaza-based Mohamed Abusal chooses the blush of candles and lamps over guns or rocket fire.

Image: Nabil Anani, Quranic Pages, courtesy of Arts Canteen

Image: Nabil Anani, Quranic Pages, courtesy of Arts Canteen

Also featured is work from veterans, notably Nabil Anani. His rearrangement of Quranic pages resonates both with classical illuminations and patterns as well as the playfulness of modern abstract art.

This kind of sophistication stands out when, colourfulness aside, there is little in the broad brush painting style favoured by many of the artists that hasn’t been seen before. But the exhibition is not aiming to break the artistic sound barrier. As Raed Issa’s Roof Life Series suggests, it’s the perspective that counts.

Despite runs until 28 December 2012, at Richmix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, E1 6LA. Free.

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About Julia Rampen

London-based journalist. Find me on Twitter @JuliaRampen

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