Tampa Museum of Art showcases abstraction in Arab World'Taking Shape' on display now through Jan. 22

Sometimes, all it takes is a series of connections to make big things happen.

That’s exactly how and why the exhibition Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s-1980s, is now open through Jan. 16, 2022, at the Tampa Museum of Art. 

Organized by New York University’s Grey Art Gallery from the impressive collection of the Barjeel Art Foundation, the TMA exhibit contains about 80 pieces of modern and contemporary art from a variety of Arab nations like Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Qatar, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates.

The exhibit arrived in Tampa as the direct result of a friendship formed across cultures and communities. 

“I have developed close friendship with an Iraqi family whose son, Ameen Amin, has a personal connection with Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi,'' an Emirati commentator on Arab affairs and also a member of the Sharjah ruling family, says George Baxter, President Emeritus of the Community Foundation Tampa Bay. "Sultan owns a very large collection of modern contemporary art in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), so he funded and formed the nonprofit, the Barjeel Art Foundation that has at least 1,100 works in its collection.”

Baxter initially met Ameen's father, Mudhafer Amin, through the Tampa Bay Area Committee on Foreign Relations before he met Ameen, who is also part of the Committee.
Through conversation, Baxter learned that Ameen Amin had heard that Grey Art Gallery NYU had already pulled together an exhibition from this collection, and wanted to see if it could be shared with the Tampa Bay Area community. From there, Baxter reached out to TMA’s Executive Director Michael Tomor, who quickly jumped on the opportunity to make the Arab artwork a highlight at the museum.
“I came to realize how disconnected people are with the community, especially the Arab community. I saw this as an opportunity to really celebrate our Middle Eastern neighbors in our community with a major exhibition like this,” Baxter explains. “It has brought so much pride to this community; they are thrilled this exhibition is being showcased to celebrate their art and their values too.”
The only major challenge has been reaching out to the Arab community -- and the overall Tampa Bay Area community of global travelers, intellectuals, and art lovers  -- to spread the word about this exhibition and the importance of Arab abstraction.
“We have a rich community because of the different people who live here, and it’s important to recognize that diversity,” Baxter says.

Sponsors of the exhibit include Morgan Stanley, where Ameen Amin works as a Financial Advisor and Alternative Investments Director.

To learn more, visit Tampa Museum of Art and Barjeel Art Foundation.

Read more articles by Caitlin Albritton.

Caitlin Albritton is a freelance writer based in Tampa with a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and a MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art. When she's not looking at art throughout town, she can be found making it. You can keep up with her visual art on Instagram @caitlinalbritton or on her website. Visit her recent line of inlay “wearable paintings.”