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Press Release: Chasing Mirrors - Reflections on Identity, Art and Culture

From 14 October 2011 until 8 January 2012

21 October 2011

Inspired by the exhibition, Chasing Mirrors: My Portrait, Shape by Shape, this season of events focuses on contemporary visual art and culture with connections to the greater Middle East. The season includes a wide range of perspectives from storytellers, calligraphers, poets, artists, dancers, historians and writers.

All events free with no booking required except the Arabic Calligraphy Workshop and the Young People’s Workshop. Contact 020 7306 0055.

In Conversation With Athier
Friday 21 October 2011 18.00
Explore the exhibition Chasing Mirrors: My Portrait, Shape by Shape with the artist Athier andgain an insight into his artistic practice,inspiration and the participatory nature of the project.

A Pub Quiz
Friday 21 October 2011 19.00
Join the quiz-mistress, test your knowledge and win prizes in this entertaining and irreverent pub quiz, which playfully explores art, life and possibly some caravans. With artist Yara El-Sherbini.

Queer Perspectives
Thursday 3 November 2011 19.00
Join Brian Whitaker, former Middle East editor of the Guardian and author of Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East for a stroll around the Gallery in conversation with Queer Perspectives resident Sadie Lee.

Thursday 10 November 2011 19.00
Finding inspiration from the exhibition The First Actresses,storyteller Seema Anandweaves tales of actresses and temptresses.

The Eighth Congress: The Curious Case of Europe
Friday 11 November 2011 19.00
Sarah Rifky reads a fictional account of two Egyptians visiting a world exposition in Paris in the nineteenth century. Sarah Rifky is a curator at the Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Arts (Cairo). In partnership with the Delfina Foundation.

Adnan Al Sayegh
Friday 18 November 2011 19.00
Exiled from Iraq in 1993 due to his criticism of oppression and injustice, Adnan’s poetry carries an intense passion for freedom and love. Adnan reads a selection of poems in Arabic. Translated into English by Stephen Watts.

Diallo: Visualising Portraits
Thursday 24 November 2011 14.00 –15.30
A picture description of the portrait of Diallo by Marion Cole for visually impaired visitors.

The Changing Faces of Anglo-Arab History
Thursday 24 November 2011 19.00
Oxford historian Eugene Rogan examines the changing role of Britain in the Middle East through the portraits of key figures from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – travellers, Orientalists, soldiers and imperialists.

Thursday 24 November 2011 20.00
Al Zaytouna is a UK-based Palestinian dance company. Unchained is a performance of contemporary dabke (Arabic folk dance) accompanied by live music that explores the pursuit of democracy in the Arab World. In partnership with the Arab British Centre.

Participatory Art Practice
Friday 25 November 2011 19.00
Delfina Foundation's resident artists Nadia Kaabi-Linke (Tunisia) and Baptist Coelho (India) discuss their participatory arts practice and forthcoming project at the Pump House Gallery. Moderated by Hammad Nasar of Green Cardamom and George Unsworth.

Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights
Thursday 1 December 2011 19.00
Marina Warner’s latest book is Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights. Hear her in conversation with TimSupple, director of Dash Arts and directorof Hanan al-Shaykh's adaptation of One Thousand and One Nights, a highlight at the Edinburgh International Festival thisyear. Includes readings by HoudaEchouafni who plays Shahrazad. In partnership with Dash Arts.

Khyam Allami
Friday 2 December 2011 18.30
Oud player Khyam Allami is joined by percussionist Vasilis Sarikis for a special performance of his album Resonance/Dissonance.

Middle Eastern and North African Portraiture, Photography, Art, Documentary, Illustration and Fashion Today
Thursday 8 December 2011 19.00
With writer and editor Malu Halasa.

Arabic Calligraphy Workshop
Sunday 11 December 2011 11.00 –17.00
With calligrapher Mustafa Ja’far. Tickets: £70/£50

Chasing Tales
Families (5+ and carers)

From Monday 24 until Friday 28 October 2011 11.30 and 14.30
An exciting week of storytelling, animation and calligraphy.

The Shape of You
Young People (14-21 years)

Sunday 4 December 2011 13.00 – 16.00
Creative art workshop led by the artists Athier and Marc Woodhead exploring identity and friendship.


Chasing Mirrors: My Portrait, Shape by Shape
From 14 October 2011 until 8 January 2012
Studio Gallery
Admission Free

Chasing Mirrors: My Portrait, Shape by Shape is a new installation of work by contemporary artist Athier Mousawi and a collective of young people from Brent, Barnet and Ealing. Opening on 14 October 2011, the installation will explore portraiture and concepts of representation and identity. The installation is the final year of a three year project made possible with support from John Lyon’s Charity.

British-Iraqi artist, Athier, works with bold colours, geometric Islamic shapes and abstracted Arabic calligraphy to create large scale canvasses. The assembled mosaic of graphic phrases, embedded words, imagery and ideas in each work add subtext and allow each work to be experienced in many ways, as a whole or in detail. The Chasing Mirrors: My Portrait, Shape by Shape installation began with the young people from the project creating self-portraits using symbols to represent the ‘self’, combined with Arabic geometric patterns from Islamic art and architecture. Athier then incorporated elements of the individual self-portraits to create a portrait of each of the three collaborating groups, and also collective portrait of all of the young people involved. The triptych will be on display in the Studio Gallery linked by a series of interconnecting lines to the original source portraits from the young people. The participants come from our three community partners. An-Nisa is a women-managed organisation established in 1985 to promote a positive British Muslim identity. Paiwand is an Afghan community organisation established to unite and improve the quality of life of the Afghan refugee community in the UK along with their partners Barnet Refugee Service and Barnet Youth and Connexions. Tallo is a community centre on the South Acton Estate that works with the local Somali community.

Ayuba Suleiman Diallo (Job ben Solomon) by William Hoare of Bath, 1733
Room 11
Lent by Qatar Museums Authority, 2010
Diallo (1701–73) came from a family of Muslim imams in West Africa. In 1731 a case of mistaken identity led him to being taken into slavery and to a plantation in America. By his own enterprise and assisted by a series of spectacular strokes of fortune, Diallo arrived in London in 1733. Recognised as a deeply pious and educated man, he mixed with high and intellectual society and was bought out of slavery by public subscription. Hoare’s sensitive portrait of Diallo is the earliest known British oil portrait of a freed slave and the first portrait to honour an African subject as an individual and an equal. Painted at the time when there was a new interest in Islamic culture and faith in Britain, it offers a fascinating insight into identity and the complexity of global issues in the eighteenth-century.


Late Shift Every Thursday and Friday until 21.00
Late Shift
in partnership with FTI Consulting offers new ways to explore the Gallery after hours and socialise after work. Enjoy a wide range of events including tours, talks, live music, DJs, films, art workshops, lectures, philosophy salons and drop-in drawing sessions. Plus unwind and relax with drinks at the Late ShiftBar, a coffee in the Portrait Café or dinner in the Portrait Restaurant

John Lyon’s Charity gives grants to registered charities for the benefit of children and young adults.  Grants are restricted to the nine London boroughs of Barnet, Brent, Camden, Ealing, Hammersmith & Fulham, Harrow, Kensington & Chelsea and the Cities of London and Westminster.  Since 1992 John Lyon’s Charity has distributed over £60 million to a large range of services including youth clubs, arts projects, counselling, child care and parental support schemes, sports programmes and academic bursaries and scholarships. 

For further press information and image requests please contact: Eleanor Macnair, Press Office, National Portrait Gallery Tel: 020 7321 6620 (not for publication). Email: [email protected]
For press images:

National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London, WC2H 0HE. Opening hours Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday: 10am – 6pm (Gallery closure commences at 5.50pm) Late Opening: Thursday, Friday: 10am – 9pm  (Gallery closure commences at 8.50pm) Nearest Underground: Leicester Square/Charing Cross Recorded information: 020 7312 2463  General information: 020 7306 0055  Website:

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