Washington DC’s Middle East Institute Launches Gallery For Contemporary Middle Eastern Art

Washington DC, MEI Art Gallery, Middle East Institute, Fathi Hassan
Courtesy of the artist, Rose Issa Projects and a private collection, London
Chant Avedissian. Mrs Souad Labib from the Icons of the Nile series. 1991-2004. Pigment and gum arabic on recycled cardboard. 50 x 70 cm
The inaugural exhibition for the Middle East Institute (MEI) Art Gallery is curated by Rose Issa and features the work of 17 artists from across the Arab world

The only art gallery in the US capital dedicated to showcasing contemporary art from the Middle East, the MEI Art Gallery is a non-commercial space and features the work of artists hailing from Morocco, the Levant, the Gulf and even Afghanistan.

The gallery serves as a key addition to the newly renovated Middle East Institute, which has worked to promote cross-cultural understanding between the Middle East and the US since 1946 through a policy programme, an educational centre featuring language learning, regional studies and a library of 20,000 books on the Middle East. The art gallery will host up to five shows per year.


Batoul Shimi. Monde Sous Pression (World Under Pressure). 2012. Aluminum pressure cookers, dimensions variable. Installation view at Rose Issa Projects, London. Courtesy of the artist and Rose Issa Projects

“We want to provide a platform for the Middle East’s leading and emerging artists to engage with US audiences and the local DC community,” says Kate Seelye, Vice President for Arts and Culture at MEI. “With thoughtfully curated and accessible exhibitions, free talks and film screenings, it’s a welcoming place for people to discover a new perspective on the region and to celebrate its rich culture.”


Anas Albrahe. From the series Dream Catcher. 2018. Oil on canvas. 100 x 80 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Rose Issa Projects

The gallery will open on 14 September with Arabicity|Ourouba, an exhibition curated by renowned London-based curator Rose Issa, presenting works that explore Arab identity, heritage and ultimately, resist stereotyping. Included are works by Adel Abidin, Chant Avedissian, Ayman Baalbaki, Said Baalbaki, Khaled Barakeh, Anas AlBraehe, Tagreed Darghouth, Hassan Hajjaj, Fathi Hassan, Susan Hefuna, Abdul Rahman Katanani, Youssef Nabil, Mahmoud Obaidi, Khalil Rabbah, Raeda Saadeh, Batoul S’Himi and Sharif Waked.

“The exhibition touches on themes of memory, identity, war, reconstruction, displacement and a host of other issues affecting the region at this critical time with sensitivity, depth, beauty, and even humor,” says Lyne Sneige, MEI’s Director of Arts and Culture. “The diverse works on view convey not only the challenges and problems facing the region, but also the incredible humanity, richness, and resilience of its artists and people.”


Hassan Hajjaj. Saeda. 2000. Digital C type print with wood and recycled tyre frame. 50x40cm. Courtesy of the artist and Rose Issa Projects

The gallery will open in coordination with the DC-wide art festival, Art All Night, an event featuring DC-based DJ Muath spinning dabke, rai, chobi and other Middle Eastern dance beats. There will be a pop-up hosted by Adams Morgan bar called The Green Zone, and an on-site calligrapher who will create unique mini-artworks for guests real-time.

Throughout September, October and November the space will host a series of talks and film screenings of award-winning documentaries by Arab filmmakers. Be sure to look out for a panel on cultural production in the Middle East that will explore new power centres for arts in the region. Watch this space.

The MEI Art Gallery is located on 1763 N Street NW, Washington, D.C.


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Washington DC, MEI Art Gallery, Middle East Institute, Fathi Hassan
Courtesy of the artist, Rose Issa Projects and a private collection, London
Chant Avedissian. Mrs Souad Labib from the Icons of the Nile series. 1991-2004. Pigment and gum arabic on recycled cardboard. 50 x 70 cm