Aicon has announced Rasheed Araeen – Islam & Modernism, a major exhibition of the artist’s recent works that constitute his fifth solo exhibition with the gallery in New York.
Aligning with the themes from his newly released book, Islam & Modernism, Araeen’s exhibition of the same name visually argues for the influence of Islamic art in his oeuvre. He writes: “In 1970, I was told […] that my work was ‘Islamic;’ and then in 2007, the Tate declared that ‘Rasheed was a pioneer of Minimalist sculpture in Britain.’ But how could both be true? The basis of my work was geometry and symmetry, which was the result of my interest in modern sculpture. I had then no knowledge of Islamic art, nor any interest in it. If I had then accepted that my work was indeed ‘Islamic,’ this would have not only been dishonest on my part but also denied its modernism. The history of modernism does not recognize the place of Islam in it. Yet, I must assert my Muslim identity, not merely because I’m a Muslim but as a Muslim who has pioneered something significant within modernism.”
Araeen is contemplating the problem of how to assert his Muslim identity both within his practice and within the broader doctrines of modern art. He asks, “Why should [modernism] be Eurocentric, representing the achievement of only white artists, when many other cultures have contributed to it? This question has been raised, and is still being raised, by many who have been excluded from it.” Critical theorists like Okwui Enwezor have thoughtfully diversified the category of modernity, yet the canon of modern art continues to struggle against a European origin story. By looking at an artist like Araeen, can we find an alternative narrative, one that looks to the architecture (and even name) of the Ka’ba and iconoclasm of Islamic art first and Cezanne’s contemplation of geometry second?
Known for his pioneering work in Minimalist and Conceptual Art in the 1960s and 70s, Araeen has provided an alternative voice and non-Western interpretation of European idioms for decades. His continually evolving practice is reflected within the current exhibition, introducing neon sculpture to his visual vocabulary of painting and wall structures. Concurrent with the exhibition opening will be a celebration of Araeen’s newest book, detailing his new take on a long and storied career. The artist will be joined in discussion by Kate Fowle, Former Director, MoMA PS1 during the reception to introduce his book.
In 2010, Aicon Gallery, London, hosted the first major retrospective of Araeen’s work in over a decade, paving the way for a new string of exhibitions and critical attention. A long overdue major retrospective recently toured Europe, starting at the Van Abbemuseum, Netherlands, traveling to the Musée d’art moderne et contemporain (MAMCO), Switzerland, and the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, United Kingdom, before concluding at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Russia. He has participated in several important group exhibitions, including the 57th Venice Biennale and documenta 14 – Universe in Universe, staged in Kassel and Athens.
His work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. The recent re-hang of MoMA’s galleries has seen his work included in step with artists like Donald Judd and Eva Hesse, challenging the roots of ethnic barriers, neo-colonialism, and imperialist attitudes for which Araeen’s work and texts are known.