Middle Eastern minimalism in This Orient

by Steve Watson in March 2020
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Describing itself as a magazine of “The Greater Middle East,” the latest issue of This Orient focuses on a group of artists, architects and creative individuals who either work in or originally come from the Middle East and North Africa. There’s a particular focus on Iran and Morocco, but the magazine also covers Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, Egypt and beyond, showcasing artists and landscapes on its minimalist pages.

There’s a particular interest here in the people rather than their work – sometimes to a fault. Several times I found myself wanting to see the artworks being described, but This Orient prefers to focus instead on the artists and their surroundings, acting as a jumping off point for readers to uncover more. I hadn’t heard of any of the artists featured in the issue, and I haven’t travelled much through the region, so with that in mind I’ve pulled out four features to give a taste of This Orient’s worldview.


Reflecting the fast-changing face of Tehran

Nazgol Ansarinia is an Iranian artist whose studio is based in the heart of Tehran. A dedicated urbanite, she clearly loves her home city, but there’s a sense of sadness too:

“On the one hand, Ansarinia sees Tehran as the beautiful place where she grew up, which she calls her home, full of trees and mountains up north. On the other hand it is a big, noisy, polluted city, bulldozing over itself… with every breakneck construction comes demolition.”


Revealing Morocco’s City of Orion

An extraordinary set of sculptures built by German artist Hannsjorg Voth, Morocco’s so-called City of Orion is mapped against the constellation of the same name, creating a terrestrial representation of the celestial body. The whole project is an almost unbelievable flight of fancy, constructed on the Mahra Plain at the foot of the Atlas Mountains between 1998 and 2003, and still largely intact today.

The builders used a traditional rammed earth technique, using a wooden ram to compact the local clay soil, and Voth travelled to the site every winter for five years to supervise the bizarre but strikingly beautiful project.


Documenting Syria’s elusive history

Sami Rustom is a book collector and one-third of Syrian collective Fehras Publishing Practices. Now based in Berlin, the three men use their art and publishing output to reflect on their country’s history and current cultural identity.

“Unfortunately, there are not many written books about Syria’s past… You can’t find many in libraries. I feel like there is not a big interest among Syria’s inhabitants, and a lot of books were also destroyed during the war. I just wanted to know about the history, and this curiosity was the starting point for me to hunt in bookstores and flea markets for books about Syria and Arabia.”


Uncovering Tunisia’s subterranean villages

Matmata, Tamezret and Tijma are three ancient Tunisian villages that mark the beginning of the Sahara desert. Popular tourist destinations, they have also been used widely in the movies, most famously as the humble home of Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars films.


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