The deeply-knowledgeable Saeb Eigner was instrumental in creating the definitive British Museum “Word into Art” exhibition of 2006, which introduced artists such as Dia Al-Azzawi to a wider public, and now presents the fruit of a long love-affair with art. The introductory general survey is especially strong on the post-revolutionary period in Egypt, where Eigner was born. It is followed by a wide-ranging overview of art in public and private collections from countries as diverse as Iran, Algeria and Saudi Arabia, though Turkey is not included. Eigner includes a brief note on each artist, and though one senses that “explicability” has been a factor in most selections, Eigner’s sensitivity to close associations with tradition comes over affectingly. He observes, for instance, Shaker Hassan’s references to ancient Mesopotamia, illustrates the ruby-coloured drama of Chant Avedissian’s “artistes” with images of Ottoman velvet and notes how the painted textiles of Zaman Jassim evoke memory and touch. Inevitably, a personal selection is sometimes very eclectic: I do not share, for example, Eigner’s admiration for bizarre contortions of Arabic script, such as the configurations of Ahmed Moustafa and Charles-Hossein Zenderoudi’s singularly pointless infinite repetition in Arabic letters of the name of a small Swiss town. The reader may sometimes puzzle over the lover’s choice, but his passion is infectious.
Merrell, £39.95 (hb) ISBN 9781858945002