Tabari Artspace is delighted to announce the solo exhibition of Palestinian visual artist Hazem Harb entitled Gauze. The exhibition curated by Munira Al Sayegh takes place as part of the gallery’s programming dedicated to the milestone of its 20th anniversary as a gallery pioneering MENA art in the UAE.
The solo presentation offers insight into the multifaceted significance of the material “gauze” within Palestinian collective histories, particularly in the context of the corporeal. The exhibition invites viewers to explore the profound connections between material, the body, the context and the artist’s personal journey as a Gazan native in exile.
The word “gauze” holds a powerful resonance with collective histories, inseparable from the corporeal experience. A material historically used in ancient and modern medicine for bodily envelopment, gauze signals the initiation of the act of repair. Serving as a visual announcement, it bears witness to injuries hidden from view. Known as ” اشش†” (shash) in Arabic, the English name “Gauze” finds its etymological roots in the city of Gaza, Palestine, where the material has been historically crafted and from where Harb originates.
Harb’s early connection with the material dates back to his childhood in Gaza in 2004, where he employed gauze as an artistic medium, akin to canvas. Not originally intended for artistic purposes, gauze transformed into a creative outlet and an instrument of resistance for Harb amid the suffering of his people that characterised his formative years.
Throughout Harb’s artistic career, gauze has emerged as a recurrent artistic resource. He utilised it for Burned Bodies, a video installation created during his art studies at Città dell’Altra Economia Roma, in Italy in 2008.
Decades later, Harb revisits gauze as a medium to excavate the untold stories from his city, shedding light on the genocide of his people. Informed by the global dissemination of real-time imagery on social media in 2023, this new body of work reexamines the original site and material, offering a fresh perspective. Harb reflects on his early works with gauze, exploring the transformative power of reflection and imagination in charting an emancipatory future.
The exhibition unfolds across two distinct spaces, each evoking a unique atmosphere. Along the back wall of the main room, a large-scale print featuring the Great Omari Mosque photograph serves as a poignant backdrop for Harb’s art. Captured during his last visit to Gaza this summer, this photograph symbolises a final encounter with his city’s oldest mosque before its tragic destruction in an Israeli strike.
Within this main room, a curated collection features both newly produced and retrospective works by Harb, spanning back to 1999. Notable additions include large scale gestural charcoal sketches from the artist’s 2023 series, Dystopia Is Not A Noun, a visceral response to the post-October 7th atrocities in Gaza. The circular acrylic collages, Watermelon I and II (2024), also reveal a new direction for Harb who remediated an image of a watermelon from a 1917 fresco found on a home in Nazareth. This recent work reflects orientalist codes, placing the watermelon as a powerful symbol of Palestine at the fore. The Last Escape (2024), a rectangular acrylic collage, overlays a photograph from Harb’s family visit to Gaza with Arabic text reading: “The Last Escape.” The piece captures a moment of serenity along the childhood coastline, a final escape into possibilities before departure.
In the back room, a contrasting, almost claustrophobic ambiance prevails. Framed installations focus on gauze, a material taking centre stage in Harb’s compositions. These ethereal visions transcend the conventional and social media imagery since October 7th, offering a commentary on the wrapping of Palestinian children’s corpses in Gaza. In this context, gauze becomes a precursor to the kafan, a white cloth that traditionally shrouds bodies before burial. Through this poignant work Harb transforms the medium into his message, bringing the distant into an intimate space, and compelling his audience to confront the harsh realities faced by Palestinians.
Significantly, alongside recent works, Harb introduces works from his archive into the curatorial narrative. During the summer, while at home, Harb expressed an interest in retrieving his archives from the family home, where they had been preserved for decades. Transporting these works back to the UAE, Harb faced the poignant reality that his childhood home, once the host of his archival works, was entirely destroyed months later. Consequently, he aptly labels these pieces the ‘Saved’ works.
This collection displayed in the main room, comprises expressive paintings and mixed- media compositions created by Harb between 1999 and 2003 while he lived in Gaza. These artworks offer a chronicle of the everyday realities he encountered – the architecture, refugee camps, family, marketplaces, and people that defined his existence there. The profound impact of erasure on the depicted scenes lends these works new significance, and their retrieval and current exhibition by the artist within this context imbue them with a heightened meaning. The exhibition seamlessly bridges the past and present, acting as a preserver of a vibrant history while defiantly standing against destruction.
Press release from Tabari Artspace
Image: Hazem Harb. Boarders are only in our minds #1. 2023. UV fine art unique prints layered upon acrylic. 100 x 150 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Tabari Artspace