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  • Writer's pictureMajid Alhusseini

14 Influential Arab Artists to Watch in 2023

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

The Arab world is a treasure trove of artistic brilliance, with a rich cultural heritage and a vibrant contemporary art scene. In 2023, a wave of talented Arab artists are emerging, captivating audiences with their unique perspectives, innovative techniques, and thought-provoking creations. From painters and digital artists to photographers, these 14 artists are reshaping the Arab artistic landscape and deserve recognition for their extraordinary talents. In this article, we present a diverse selection of Arab artists whom everyone should follow to stay connected with the pulsating heartbeat of the region's art scene.

eL Seed

eL Seed is an artist who goes beyond conventional boundaries, merging the realms of painting and sculpture, but his true recognition lies in the field of public art. He employs the wisdom of writers, poets, and philosophers from diverse cultures to create captivating art installations that convey messages of peace and emphasize the shared humanity of all people. To eL Seed, his art serves as a reflection of the stories he encounters within communities across the globe.

Whether working in the DMZ between South and North Korea, the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, or the neighborhood of garbage collectors in Cairo, eL Seed's artistic endeavors are deeply rooted in the communities they inhabit. Prior to commencing a project, he invests ample time with local community members, collaborating to find the most effective way to represent their voices.

In recent years, eL Seed has introduced an innovative dimension to his work by incorporating Arabic calligraphy. This artistic approach adds volume and a fresh structural composition to his pieces. His sculptures have been exhibited internationally, including at the inaugural edition of Desert X Al Ula in 2019.

eL Seed has received significant recognition for its impactful projects. In 2021, he was chosen as one of the Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum for his visionary leadership and influence in driving positive change. In 2017, he was awarded the UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture, a biennial honor. Foreign Policy named him a Global Thinker in 2016 for his monumental Cairo project, Perception, which spanned 50 buildings in the Egyptian capital. Furthermore, in 2015, eL Seed was recognized as a TED Fellow for his advocacy of peaceful expression and social progress through his artistic endeavors.

Ikram Kabbaj

Ikram Kabbaj, born in 1960, began her artistic training at the Casablanca School of Fine Arts before continuing her studies at the prestigious Paris Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. Since 1989, she has dedicated herself to the exploration of various materials and forms, showcasing her works both in Morocco and abroad. She has actively participated in numerous sculpture symposiums and biennales, contributing to the international art scene.

Ikram is a passionate advocate for integrating sculpture into public spaces. Her involvement in discussions concerning art, urban planning, environment, and city development has had a significant impact on the artistic landscape of Morocco. Notably, she played a crucial role in organizing the first to seventh International Sculpture Symposium in Morocco. This initiative led to the establishment of seven outdoor sculpture parks, featuring a remarkable collection of 62 sculptures.

Through her artistic endeavors and advocacy, Ikram Kabbaj has left a lasting imprint on the cultural and artistic development of Morocco, promoting the integration of sculpture into public spaces and enriching the visual landscape of the country.

Lara Baladi

Lara Baladi, born in 1969, is a renowned Egyptian-Lebanese artist, archivist, and educator with a global reputation. Her artistic practice encompasses a wide range of mediums, including photography, video, sculpture, architecture, and multimedia installations. By delving into archives and exploring popular culture iconography, she examines memory, mythological narratives, socio-political dynamics, and personal histories. Baladi's work probes the boundaries between fiction and reality, as well as the cyclical nature of history. In 2008-09, Baladi received the prestigious Grand Nile Award, the first prize at the Cairo Biennale, for her ephemeral construction and sound installation called "Borg El Amal" (Arabic for "The Tower of Hope").

For over two decades, Baladi has served on the board of two influential institutions in the Middle East: the Arab Image Foundation in Lebanon and the Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art in Egypt. In 2020, she joined the board of directors of The Artists Sanctum, a cultural initiative that supports artists whose work contributes to social change. In 2015, she held the position of Ida Ely Artist in Residence at MIT/CAST (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Since 2015, she has been a lecturer in MIT's Program in Art, Culture, and Technology.

In 2006, Baladi founded the artist residency program "Fenenin el Rehal" (Arabic for "Nomadic Artists") in Egypt's White Desert, providing a platform for artists to explore their creativity in a unique setting.

Lara Baladi's diverse body of work, her involvement in important cultural institutions, and her commitment to nurturing artistic talent have made her a significant figure in the art world, both regionally and internationally.

Zineb Sedira

ZINEB SEDIRA, born in 1963 in Paris, France, currently resides in London, United Kingdom, and divides her work between Algiers, Paris, and London. Over the past fifteen years, Sedira has contributed to the discourse on modernism, modernity, and their various forms in a comprehensive manner. She has also brought attention to artistic expression and the contemporary experience in North Africa. Initially inspired by her personal geography and identity as a woman, Sedira gradually expanded her focus to encompass broader themes of mobility, memory, and transmission.

Sedira's artwork has been featured in individual exhibitions at notable venues such as the De La Warr Pavilion (Bexhill on Sea, UK, 2022-2023), the Bildmuseet (Umeå, Sweden, 2021), the Jeu de Paume (Paris, 2019), and the Sharjah Art Foundation Art Spaces (UAE, 2018), among others. She has also participated in group shows at renowned institutions worldwide, including Tate Britain (London, 2002, 2012, 2013), Centre Pompidou (Paris, 2004, 2009), Brooklyn Museum (New York, 2007), and Tate Modern (London, 2017).

In the near future, Sedira's work will be exhibited at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum (Lisbon, 2023) and Dallas Contemporary (US, 2022).

Zineb Sedira had the honor of representing France at the 59th Venice Biennale in 2022. Her exhibition in the French Pavilion, titled "Dreams Have No Titles," received a special mention from the jury. She holds the distinction of being the first artist of Algerian descent to represent France at the Venice Biennale.

Hassan Hajjaj

Hassan Hajjaj is a contemporary artist from Morocco renowned for his diverse artistic practices, including photography, printed fabrics, and films. One of his most notable series is called 'Kesh Angels,' where he captures the vibrant street culture of young female bikers in Marrakesh. Through this series, Hajjaj aims to challenge Western perceptions of Arabic society by using the language of fashion photography to portray figures dressed in colorful North African attire. His photographs are often framed with consumer products such as Coca-Cola and Louis Vuitton, creating a juxtaposition that recontextualizes fine art photography and popular culture.

Born in Larache, Morocco in 1961, Hajjaj relocated to London at the age of 13 to live with his father. As a young adult, he worked as a music promoter, responsible for the visual decoration of club venues, including designs, furniture, and floral arrangements. While working as a designer, Hajjaj began creating photographs and films that explored the complexities of his cultural identity. He currently divides his time between Marrakesh, Morocco, and London, United Kingdom.

Hajjaj's works have been acquired by prestigious institutions such as the Brooklyn Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Lazaar Foundation in Tunisia, among others. His artistic contributions have garnered international recognition and continue to captivate audiences with their unique blend of cultural commentary and visual allure.

Lina Gazzaz

Lina Gazzaz, born in 1979, is an artist from Saudi Arabia who skillfully combines figurative, experimental, and Islamic elements in her work. She primarily employs ink, pastel, and oil as her mediums, but also explores collage, urban sculpture, and moving images.

Gazzaz has showcased her artwork in exhibitions spanning Europe, North America, and the MENASA region (Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia). She received the prestigious Painting Award at Dubai's Prophet Mohammed Festival, acknowledging her talent and contribution to the field. Gazzaz earned a Bachelor of Studio Arts degree from Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina. Currently, she resides and works in Jeddah.

Sara Abdu

Abdu, through her illustrative practice, depicts melancholic figures that are anthropomorphized, reflecting her fascination with the inner realms of human existence. Her exploration delves into themes such as the self, memory, home, mortality, immortality, and the interplay between conscious and unconscious thoughts. Since 2017, her artistic journey has involved strategies of embodiment, integrating temporal, spatial, emotional, and personal traces onto the canvas. This is achieved through meticulous, labor-intensive processes and a selection of materials that imbue meaning.

In her recent works, Abdu extends her artistic practice to encompass sensorial mnemonic installations, inviting viewers to engage in meditative and poetic experiences of reconciliation and remembrance.

In "Now That I've Lost You in My Dreams Where Do We Meet?" created in 2021, Abdu uses solid soap structures to memorialize dreamscapes. Inspired by the Islamic funeral tradition of perfuming the body, she constructs a curved, latticework wall using a mixture of sidr and camphor. This piece serves as an attempt to negotiate with death, acknowledging its role in erasing memories.

"The Infinite Now," produced in 2022, consists of 15 hanging pieces of paper. In this artwork, Abdu employs henna as her ink, symbolizing time due to its transformative nature over time. Through repetitive and surrendering acts of drawing straight lines, the entire collection becomes a documentation of the boundless present moment.

Zeinab Al-Hashemi

Zeinab Alhashemi, born in 1986, is a conceptual artist from the United Arab Emirates known for her large-scale, site-specific installations. Her artistic practice revolves around exploring the boundary between the natural and the constructed, taking inspiration from the region's natural geography. Alhashemi's work reflects a traditional landscape through its colors and textures, but she disrupts this resemblance by incorporating industrial materials like mesh metal, symbolizing human intervention in the natural world. Her artworks serve as portrayals of her birthplace, striking a balance between modernity and tradition.

Alhashemi's artistic achievements include participation in the Sharjah Biennial and showcasing her work in the Sustainability Pavilion at EXPO 2021 in Dubai. She was also commissioned by the Institut de France and the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi to exhibit her artwork during the inauguration of the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Additionally, she was part of the Co-Lab Show in 2018 and served as an Artist in Residence at the SETI Institute in San Francisco. Al-Hashemi holds a BA in Arts and Science from Zayed University and is represented by the Leila Heller Gallery. She currently resides and works in Dubai.

Amna El-Hassan

Sudanese artist Amna Elhassan draws her inspiration from the transformative processes, both physical and spiritual, as well as the spatial experiences that women in her community undergo. Her artwork, spanning various mediums such as printmaking and oil painting, revolves around the challenges faced by women and their struggle for emancipation. Elhassan's work delves into issues like the perception of women's bodies in both public and private domains, contributing to the ongoing dialogue on women's status in contemporary society. Her educational background includes a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from Khartoum University in 2010, a master's degree in architecture from Sapienza University of Rome in 2013, and participation in a studio program at the Khartoum Arts Training Center from 2017 to 2019. These educational experiences ultimately led her to pursue a career as a full-time visual artist.

Dahlia Abdelilah

Dahlia, a talented Sudanese artist based in Khartoum, possesses a captivating collection of paintings that are truly captivating. As a self-taught artist, she employs a variety of styles to craft artworks that are guaranteed to leave you in awe. Her repertoire includes mesmerizing black and white illustrations as well as oil paintings that possess a distinctive quality, evoking femininity and fantasy. Dahlia's artwork is a testament to originality, consistently conveying the beauty of Sudanese tradition in a multitude of ways. When you encounter her paintings, prepare to be mesmerized by their unique charm and their ability to express the essence of Sudanese culture.

Reem Al-Jeally

Sudanese artist Reem Al Jeally is renowned for her vibrant and distinct artwork that has the power to resonate with the viewer on a deep level. With her unique artistic style and indescribable allure, she has established herself as a prominent figure in the realm of contemporary art. Her exceptional talent has not only led to numerous exhibitions in galleries across Sudan but has also gained international recognition, with her works being collected and showcased in countries such as the United States, Kenya, South Africa, Qatar, and France.

In addition to her artistic pursuits, Reem actively supports and contributes to the local art scene. She has ventured into the world of curation, curating various exhibitions and programs through Muse Multi Studios and Bait Al Nisa, showcasing her commitment to fostering the creative community around her.

Marwan Shahin

Shahin's artistic practice serves as a tribute to the rich creative heritage of his ancestors, which spans over 5000 years. Through his work, he skillfully captures and documents the ongoing evolution of history by creating beautiful and thought-provoking art. His exploration of disruptive concepts enables him to bridge the gap between the past, present, and future.

By seamlessly merging the digital and physical realms, Shahin establishes a platform for absolute freedom of expression, shedding light on global issues such as environmental concerns, prejudice, and social commentary. His artwork reflects the contemporary culture we live in, incorporating elements like social media and cryptocurrency, thereby offering a unique perspective on the modern world we inhabit.

Nawar Haidar

Nawar Haidar, a Syrian artist born in 1979 and currently based in Spain, has made significant contributions to the art world. He earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Damascus in 2006 and went on to pursue a Master's degree in 2012. Haidar has showcased his artwork in both solo and group exhibitions across various regions, including the Middle East, Far East, and Europe. His exhibitions have taken place in countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Thailand, Georgia, London, Amsterdam, Vienna, Colombia, Barcelona, and Madrid.

Haidar's artwork is celebrated for its originality and the spontaneous nature of his brushstrokes and color treatments. His creations serve as a reflection of his memories, particularly those associated with his childhood and the individuals connected to his life. His paintings meticulously capture details of faces, colors, and actions.

Through his artistic process, Haidar explores his subconscious mind, delving into conflicting emotions of recognition and shock, blending love and hatred, rejection and revenge, good and evil. His work embodies the juxtapositions that define his existence, striving to portray them with the purity and innocence reminiscent of childhood.

AbdulAziz Al-Abdulaziz

Abdul Aziz Al Abdul Aziz, a Saudi plastic artist, discovered his passion for art at a young age. His artistic journey initially revolved around photography and graphic design. However, through a series of explorations and experiments, he eventually found his calling in the realm of art. Al Abdul Aziz has actively participated in numerous specialized exhibitions, showcasing his distinctive style characterized by drawing faces and figures. His artistic expression revolves around capturing the intricacies and nuances of human forms, displaying his expertise and creativity in portraying the human face and body.

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