Ahmad Askalani’s Standing Bull

Art can be a catalyst for change by drawing attention to important issues in society and encouraging people to think deeply about what is happening around them. An exhibition organised by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) aims to use this power of art to raise awareness about world hunger and the WFP’s efforts to combat it, while generating funds for this humanitarian cause.

The show, titled “Aware”, has been organised by the WFP offices in Iran and the UAE in collaboration with Contemporary Practices Art Journal and The Farjam Collection. It features paintings, sculptures, calligraphy and photographic artworks donated by artists from Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon and the UAE. The works will be auctioned at The Young Collectors Auction to be held at the Ayyam Art Centre on April 15, with the entire proceeds going to WFP Iran for funding their relief operations for refugees living in Iran.

Elise Bijon, WFP’s partnerships & business development manager for the MENA region, says, “WFP is the largest humanitarian agency in the world and in Dubai we manage the world’s biggest humanitarian logistical hub in the International Humanitarian City, dispatching goods to the region and the world. I believe there is great consonance between art and the work we do because art feeds the soul and we feed the bodies. Like artists, we want to open people’s eyes and hearts, and like them we are idealists sharing the same vision of a better world. The idea for this show began in Iran, where many well-known artists offered to support the work of our office. But thanks to donations by artists from other countries in the region and the support of The Farjam Collection, who provided us the exhibition space and also donated some artworks, this has grown into a much bigger event. We are happy to have the show in Dubai because the city is an important art hub and will provide great visibility and an excellent international platform to the artists who have so generously donated their artworks. It will also give us an opportunity to connect with the art community in the region, which includes important decision makers and many potential donors.”

The exhibition has been curated by Omar Donia, art adviser to WFP and co-founder of “Contemporary Practices Art Journal”, a not-for-profit art publication dedicated to the art scene in this region. “We have taken care to present quality artworks by some of the best contemporary artists in the region and we hope art lovers will enjoy the show and support this noble cause,” he says.

The show includes pieces by leading artists as well as emerging young talents. Highlights of the artworks from Iran include a mixed media work by Parviz Kalantari featuring traditional Iranian architecture; an oil painting by Ahmad Esfandiari in his abstract expressionistic style; a piece by master calligrapher Sadegh Tabrizi; a watercolour by Mohammad Ali Taraghijah featuring his trademark stylised horses and roosters; an oil painting by Nasser Ovissi, titled “The Girl”, in his signature style; an acrylic on wood painting by Farideh Lashai; and a spiritual composition by Dubai-based artist Gita Meh, featuring her favourite motifs of winged angels and maternal figures.

The UAE is represented through a large watercolour contributed by celebrated Emirati artist Abdul Qader Al Raes. The layered painting depicts the harmony between various elements in nature as a metaphor for the unity between the seven Emirates of the UAE. Egyptian photographer Marwa Adel’s piece from her “Hope” series speaks about her struggle to break free from the restrictions imposed on women by society and expresses hope for a better future. On the other hand, Ramy Dozy’s satirical street-art-style painting of the Lacoste logo along with some graffiti voices the feelings of young Egyptians about the political situation in the country and their desire for change. Other pieces to look out for include Egyptian Ahmad Askalani’s sculpture “Standing Bull” and paintings from British-Iraqi artist Athier’s 2011 series “The Birth and Destruction of an Eagle”.

Dr Farhad Farjam, art collector and founder of The Farjam Collection, says, “It is a distressing truth that as we enter into 2013, millions of people across the world continue to suffer from that most basic and cruel human affliction — hunger. I am therefore grateful to be able to collaborate with the WFP for this important exhibition. Art has always sought to confront us with the painful realities of our existence, to challenge us and to inspire compassion. It is thus fitting that this project celebrates the vibrancy of contemporary Middle Eastern art and shines a light on the WFP’s crucial work.”

Jyoti Kalsi is an arts enthusiast based in Dubai.

“Aware” will run at The Farjam Collection @ DIFC until April 14.



Hunger is the world’s No 1 health risk and kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Emergencies, which are highlighted in the media, account for less than 8 per cent of hunger victims, and there are more than 870 million hungry people in the world who do not make it to the headlines. These include babies whose malnourished mothers cannot produce enough milk, the elderly who have nobody to care for them, unemployed slum dwellers, landless farmers, Aids orphans, and women and children in underdeveloped rural communities.

World Food Programme

The UN World Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian organisation fighting hunger worldwide. WFP feeds more than 90 million people in more than 70 countries every year. In Iran, there are now about 950,000 Afghani and 50,000 Iraqi refugees living in various government-designated refugee settlements, and WFP is providing food assistance to people in 18 such settlements across 12 provinces. WFP also encourages the education of young girls in these settlements by providing monthly take-home rations to the families of more than 3,000 refugee schoolgirls. These are linked to regular school attendance, acting as an effective incentive for parents to ensure that girls complete their schooling. Since female teachers are essential to ensure enrolment of girls, WFP also provides each of them with monthly supplies of vegetable oil.

Across this region, WFP is involved in short-term emergency relief operations as well as long-term collaborations with governmental agencies. At present, it is feeding 1.5 million people inside Syria (on both sides of the conflict), and thousands of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt and plans to scale up the operation to feed another 1 million people. In Yemen, which has the world’s highest child malnutrition rates, it fed 5 million people last year and will do the same in 2013. Its long-term efforts in Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan and Palestine include collaboration with governmental agencies to use food as a tool to boost socio-economic development at all levels including child health and education by providing school meals and buying food supplies from local sources and small farmers.