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Press Release

The Musée d'Art Moderne de Paris is inviting visitors to rediscover the diversity of 20th-century Arab modernism and to take a fresh look at the history of art scenes still little known in Europe. Through a selection of over 200 works, most of which have never before been exhibited in France, the exhibition Modern Art and Decolonization: Paris 1908 – 1988 focuses on the relationship between Arab artists and Paris throughout the 20th century.

The exhibition explores a different history of modern art, illuminated by a wealth ofhistorical audio and visual archive material. Organised chronologically, it begins in 1908, the year in which the Lebanese poet and artist Gibran Khalil Gibran arrived in Paris and the opening of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Cairo. The period ended in 1988, with the first exhibition devoted to contemporary Arab artists at the Institut du Monde Arabe (officially opened a few months earlier) in Paris and with the exhibition Singuliers: bruts ou naïfs, featuring among others Moroccan artist Chaïbia Tallal and Tunisian artist Jaber Al-Mahjoub, at the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris.

As art historian Silvia Naef writes in the catalogue for the Arab Presences exhibition at the MAM, "How can we create a modern Arab art? A real aesthetic project was set up in the course of the 20th century, one that broke away from academic art, echoed the Western avant-gardes and was conceived within the framework of a specific national identity, without returning to an Islamic art form." 

The exhibition foregrounds over 130 rarely shown artists whose works make an essential contribution to the Arab avant-garde and the history of modern art in the 20th century. It also highlights the essential role played by Paris. Described as the "capital of the Third World" by the historian Michael Goebel, the city was seen from the 1920s onwards as a breeding ground for anti-colonial networks and the home of the new cosmopolitan modernities. The exhibition is structured around the differing careers of artists who studied at local art schools before moving to Paris to continue their training. Throughout the twentieth century, Paris was a place where modernity was embraced, colonialism was criticised and numerous encounters took place. The Musée d'Art Moderne itself played an important role in the post-war period through its exhibitions (Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, Salon de la Jeune Peinture, Biennale des Jeunes Artistes de Paris, etc.) and the acquisitions it made from the 1960s onwards.

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