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Ackland Art Museum Shines Spotlight on Art of the Middle East and North Africa

August 15, 2019
Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies

The Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shines a spotlight on art of the Middle East and North Africa with an exhibition of contemporary photography by women artists and an installation of recent acquisitions of Islamic art. The exhibition “She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World,” is on view from Friday, Sept. 20 through Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019.

The Ackland’s new acquisitions of Islamic Art will be on view in a separate installation from Friday, Sept. 13, 2019 through Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020.

“She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World” brings together the work of 12 leading artists, ranging in genre from portraiture to documentary: Jananne Al-Ani, Boushra Almutawakel, Gohar Dashti, Rana El Nemr, Lalla Essaydi, Shadi Ghadirian, Tanya Habjouqa, Rula Halawani, Nermine Hammam, Rania Matar, Shirin Neshat, and Newsha Tavakolian.

During this critical time for Iran and the Arab world, as national and personal identities are being dismantled and rebuilt, contemporary photography reflects the complexities of unprecedented change. One of the most significant trends to emerge is the work of women photographers, whose images provide insights into new cultural landscapes, questioning tradition and challenging perceptions of Middle Eastern and Arab identity. The exhibition features over 80 photographs lent by the artists; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the collection of James Keith Brown and Eric Diefenbach.

“This exhibition is a wonderful opportunity to present the work of these 12 exceptional artists for the first time at the Ackland,” said Katie Ziglar, director of the Museum. Ziglar holds a master’s degree in Islamic art and architecture from the American University in Cairo. “With origins in eight countries – Iran, Morocco, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Yemen – these artist-storytellers present richly varied and intriguing narratives that have only recently come to international attention. In bringing this exhibition to North Carolina, we affirm the Ackland’s enduring interest in connecting with the beauty and complexity of a big world.”

In related news, the Ackland recently launched a major initiative to build its collection of art from the Islamic world. A small exhibition, presented in conjunction with “She Who Tells a Story,” will showcase seven recent purchases, including calligraphic manuscripts, textiles, metalwork and an architectural fragment all dating from the 8th century CE to the 17th century. There will be one rotation of the textiles and Qur’anic manuscripts on Friday, Nov. 22, midway through the show.

Admission to the Ackland is always free.

Media Contact: Ariel Fielding, director of communications,, +1.919.843.3675

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