Image Credit: The Kurator

To celebrate the opening of "Carpets of Eden, Gardens of Fantasy" – a captivating exhibition curated by Behrang Samadzadegan at Leila Heller Gallery in Dubai – The Kurator Magazine participated in a thought-provoking panel discussion. Khemena Ahmad, Editor-in-Chief, led the conversation with the curator and three participating artists.

This dialogue delved beyond the familiar realm of threads and fabrics, exploring how carpets have blossomed into a wellspring of inspiration for contemporary art, shattering the traditional perception of carpets as simply flat, patterned surfaces.

The discussion began with the concept of the exhibition, which the curator explained, “The idea came very accidentally; last year, during Art Dubai, Leila Heller and I were looking at some artists who worked with the motifs of carpets, and Leila told me that you should curate a carpet show! It was a big challenge for me because I have always thought that carpets have always been taken by Western art history as what Westerners expect them to be."

Behrang Samadzadegan
Image Credit: The Kurator

He added, "So what I have always considered as a critical vision of how the West approaches East and Middle East in terms of culture and art was that it has been received as what was wanted to be accepted. We know the history of Middle Eastern cultures; we understand that carpets have a long history, not as ornamental objects but as a philosophy, as a language to narrate stories. So I decided to search, and it took about one year to study and make an archive of artists who approach carpets not as an ornamental surface, not as exotic objects, but as a kind of folder of philosophy, storytelling, concepts, and narratives.”

Artists Areen Hassan, Hassan Ghazi, and Melis Buyruk joined the panel and shared how their artwork resonates with the concept of perceiving carpets not merely as decorative surfaces or exotic objects, but rather as repositories of philosophy, storytelling, concepts, and narratives.

Then Behrang explained the different approaches the artists adopted in creating their artwork inspired by carpets and commented on how he chose the artists: “My first idea was that if I look at particular approaches and choose artists based on that, it will quickly become an aesthetic criterion that can make a stereotype. I didn't want to impose my sense of aesthetics, so I tried to find different artists who have different approaches to carpets, and their concepts and stories vary. So, the first criterion was how an artist makes me curious and how much more I would find beyond the orientalist stereotypes when I searched about the artist and their works.”

Image Credit: The Kurator

Behrang believes that the exhibition "Carpets of Eden, Gardens of Fantasy" he curated resists the historical stereotypes of exotic orientalism of carpets. He says, “I've sought out artists who have shown remarkable resilience in their work, standing against the dominance of Eurocentric art history. For me, incorporating carpet in Contemporary Art, particularly from the Middle East, is not just a subject but a stark reminder of cultural colonialism."

He added, "For us Middle Eastern artists, it has always been like this: We use our cultural and historical elements in a way that we have been asked to do by the market or, let's say, Eurocentric art history. This is when we should do something together about the heritage, history, literature, and philosophy we have in the Middle East. Let's put it in conversation with other artists from other nations and cultures as well. Then, we can have several approaches that are different from the ordinary Orientalists they used to be.”

Image Credit: The Kurator

This exhibition, which continues until September 2024 at Leila Heller Gallery in Dubai, not only offers new perspectives on carpet research and artistic exploration but also presents the carpet as a model for understanding art and art histories in a broader sense.

The participating artists include Etel Adnan, Faig Ahmed, Maryam Al-Homaid, Ayman Baalbaki, Melis Buyruk, Josefina Concha, Ali Cha’aban, Mohammad Ehsaei, Bijan Ghaseminejad, Shoeib Gorgani, Marcos Grigorian, Shahzad Hassan Ghazi, Areen Hassan, Mona Hatoum, Debbie Lawson, Aref Montazeri, Soheil Rad, Farid Rasulov, Marwan Sahmarani, Antonio Santin, Parviz Tanavoli, and Shaheer Zazai.