Our World is Burning, a Polyphonic Writing of Art History

Conceived by Abdellah Karroum, director of the Arab Museum of Modern Art (MATHAF) in Doha, the exhibition “Our World is Burning” testifies to a polyphonic writing of art history, focusing more particularly on the artistic practices of the Middle East, North Africa and their diasporas..

The exhibition Our World is Burning offers a fully political view of international contemporary creation seen from the Gulf, where wars and diplomatic tensions have constantly determined the history of the early 21st century. The title explicitly refers to the human disasters generated by the successive conflicts in this region, while bringing in as broadly as possible the ecological catastrophes embodied by the immensely destructive forest fires from Amazonia to Siberia, without forgetting California. But fire is not just a statement of danger. Ambivalently, it is also a symbol of the formidable democratic élan experienced by this region during the Arab Springs.

Vue d’exposition « Notre monde brûle », Palais de Tokyo
View of the exhibition “Our World is Burning” Palais de Tokyo
Artists : Michael Rakowit, Dominique Hurth, Shirin Neshat
Photo : Aurélien Mole

From the destruction of Iraqi treasures (Michael Rakowitz) to the fate of Syrian refugees (Monira Al Solh) while taking in the financial backing of the Taliban through the exploitation of lapis lazuli (Asli Cavusoglu), “Our World is Burning” presents a complex intermeshing of events, to which the artworks allude while offering multiple poetic perspectives.

Vue de l’exposition « Notre monde brûle », Palais de Tokyo
– Sammy Baloji, Untitled (2018), 41 shell casings (1914- 1918 / 1939-1945)
– Fabrice Hyber : installation “The plastic museum” (2005-2020)
Photo : Marc Domage

The exhibition opens with a reflexion on the issue of the Anthropocene (John Akomfrah, Yto Barrada, Raqs Media Collective) and the question of the use of natural resources (Monira Al Qadiri,  Sammy Baloji, Fabrice Hyber) in order to participate in the debate about the need to change our exploitative relationship with nature. 

Vue d’exposition John Akomfrah, Installation vidéo "Purple" (2017)
Vue d’exposition: John Akomfrah, Installation vidéo “Purple” (2017)
Courtesy of Smoking Dogs Films & Lisson Gallery
Photo : Aurélien Mole

It affirms that artworks have the ability to intervene by adopting a position when confronted with the disorders of the world. Fire then refers to the intensity of artistic creation – as in the pieces that are set in the heritage of popular uprisings in the Arab world (Shirin Neshat, Amal Kenawy, Bady Dalloul) and display a deep desire for social justice (Mustapha Akrim, Danh Vo, Faraj Daham, Kader Attia).

Vue de l’exposition «Notre monde brûle», Palais de Tokyo
View of the exhibition “Our World is Burning” Palais de Tokyo
Artists : Amal Kenawy, Inji Efflatoun, Mustapha Akrim, Kader Attia
Photo : Aurélien Mole

From a post-colonial viewpoint, the multiplication of historical narratives (Amina Menia, Bouthayna Al Muftah, Wael Shawky, Dominique Hurth) thus becomes a way to affirm alternative versions and thus to trace out the premises for a pluralistic society, with less hierarchical and more horizontal structures.

Wael Shawky, Al Arab a Al Madfuna, 2012-2016 Vue de l’exposition «Notre monde brûle », Palais de Tokyo, Paris Courtesy de l'artiste & Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art (Doha) Crédit photo: Marc Domage
Wael Shawky, Al Arab a Al Madfuna, 2012-2016
View of the exhibition “Our World is Burning” Palais de Tokyo
Courtesy the artist & Mathaf
Photo: Marc Domage

As part of the “Fragmenting the World” season proposed by the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, the exhibition highlights the exceptional collection of the Arab Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MATHAF) founded in 2010 from the private collection of His Excellency Sheikh Hassan bin Mohamed bin Ali Al Thani.

Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art
Vue d’extérieur Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art 

Engaged in a post-colonial approach, MATHAF insists on cultural exchanges and questions the artistic heritage of Qatar in relation to globalization. Advocating the development of modernity in the Arab countries, it is developing its activities in the educational field and aims to be an institution that is both localized and open in a world of multiple centres. MATHAF thus defines itself as a non-hegemonic and non-normative museum that calls for “new power relations and cultural translations” in line with the thinking of Okwui Enwezor.

Our World is Burning is an exhibition curated by Abdellah Karroum, director of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Qatar. Karroum previously founded L’Appartement 22 in Rabat in 2002 and curated the 2012 La Triennale alongside its artistic director, the late Okwui Enwezor.

Due to the evolution of the current health situation and following indications from the French government, this exhibition is suspended until further notice. 


John Akomfrah, Mustapha Akrim, Francis Alÿs, Kader Attia, Mounira Al Solh, Bouthayna Al Muftah, Monira Al Qadiri, Sophia Al Maria, Sammy Baloji, Yto Barrada, Aslı Çavuşoğlu, Faraj Daham, Bady Dalloul, Inji Efflatoun, Khalil El Ghrib, Mounir Fatmi, Fabrice Hyber, Dominique Hurth, Amal Kenawy, Amina Menia, Shirin Neshat, Otobong Nkanga, Sara Ouhaddou, Michael Rakowitz, Younes Rahmoun, Wael Shawky, Oriol Vilanova, Danh Vo, Raqs Media Collective

Curator : Abdellah Karoum
Co-curator : Fabien Danesi

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