On view through October 31, 2016, The Whitney Museum of American Art presents the first U.S. solo exhibition of Qatari-American artist Sophia Al-Maria. Titled Black Friday, the exhibition places particular focus on the extreme proliferation of shopping malls throughout the Middle East. For nearly a decade, Al-Maria has been finding ways to describe twenty-first-century life in the Gulf Arab nations through art, writing, and filmmaking. She coined the term "Gulf Futurism" to explain the stunning urban and economic development in the region over the last decades, as well as the environmental damage, religious conservatism, and historical amnesia that have accompanied it. Black Friday is a roughly 16:00 minute video which explores the capitalist takeover and ruminates on its effect on the region.
Al-Maria's subject matter strikes a particular chord with The Brvtalist. We have long been fascinated by the shocking over-development, aesthetic movement(s) and social and cultural impact of the shopping mall here in the United States, particularly along the Sun Belt region. As many of those structures now represent a forgotten and even failed period in American economic development, it is of particular interest that other artists from around the globe are noticing similar patterns in development of shopping malls and how they track different political and economic patterns.
Also included in the exhibition is the installation The Litany (2016), which consists of flickering electronic devices displaying short, glitchy loops—a heap of old screens that acts as a coded history of consumption, conflict, and desire. Al-Maria's "techno-pessism" is at once a criticism of the social media and consumerist overload that is taking place in the Middle East region which much of the time is in direct conflict with the traditional religious values that are still very much a part of the local culture. Her works create a powerful juxtaposition of the Western obsession with material goods and perhaps the infection of those values on Middle East countries who have seen enormous wealth in the past few decades. This exhibition is an important one, not only from a global perspective but also positions a black mirror on our society here in the U.S.
Sophia Al-Maria: Black Friday is organized by Christopher Y. Lew, Associate Curator. The exhibition will be on view through October 31, 2016 in the John R. Eckel, Jr. Foundation Gallery, on the Museum's first floor, which is accessible to the public free-of-charge. For more information, please visit The Whitney Museum of American Art.
*above - still from The Litany (Sophia Al-Maria, 2016) and photo of the artist.