Beyond the Cloth: “The Kafiye Project”

Whitebox Art Center presents

Beyond the Cloth:
“The Kafiye Project”

An exhibition curated by Hala A. Malak
Sept. 6 – Sept. 29, 2013

Sunday Salons and Events
VIP Opening + Meet the Artists + Cake book launch Sept. 6th | 5.30-8pm
Opening Reception Sept. 8th | 6-8pm
Closing and Pop up store + Performances Sept. 29th | 3-7pm


The New York Times, Mary Mattingly: ‘House and Universe’, by Martha Schwendener

Press Release

The Kaflab Foundation launches its inaugural exhibition, Beyond the
Cloth, part of The Kafiye Project, curated by Hala A. Malak, at White
Box Projects–a space chosen for its alternative, challenging, and
influential exhibitions. Various complementary multimedia events and
performances will take place throughout the month of September (Sunday

The Kafiye is the strongest symbol to come out of the Arab contemporary world. Treading realms of street, politics, revolution, traditional garb, trends, and catwalks, the Kafiye has transcended form and function to become much more than a mere item. The story of this powerful icon continues to evolve tremendously, and keeps adapting with globalization over time.

Beyond the Cloth aims to demystify clichés surrounding the Kafiye, while assertively addressing its enduring global significance. Despite its popular association with Palestinian culture, the design actually derives from Ancient Mesopotamian times. Today, it has spread all over the world in a multitude of forms, patterns, colors and printing styles, and succumbed to the rules of globalization: while there is only one factory in Palestine left currently producing the garment, most Kafiyes are made in China.

Although the core article still exists, countless variations have popped up all over the world. Furtheremore, we must deconstruct the Kafiye’s myriad and provocative interpretations–does it lose any of its meaning through appropriation? How can we use the Kafiye as a lens for dissection and exploration of identity?

Beyond the Cloth presents the Kafiye as a tool of artistic expression to examine emotional and socio-political questions of identity, through themes like trauma, loss, remembrance, the private versus the public, struggle, rejection, national unity, resistance, expression, memory and Orientalism. The featured artists and designers fuse connections between the West and the Arab World, starting with their own personal stories and struggles and connecting to bigger topics of consciousness and circumstance.

We all wear masks; and the Kafiye has the power to conceal personal identity and bring forth a communal connection, reflected in its compelling geometric pattern.  The exhibition unifies the collective consciousness manifested by the Kafiye’s multitudinous and dynamic narratives, and its connections to identity, power, and struggle.

A mix of award-winning, established, and emerging artists of diverse backgrounds and mediums have been invited to participate in the exhibit:

Carolee Schneemann,  Tsibi Geva, Larissa Sansour, Anthony Haden-Guest, Igor Molochevski, Mary Mattingly, Zena El Khalil, Yasira Nun, Yucef Merhi, Rosalinda Gonzalez,  Wojtek Ulrich, Romulo Sans, Erum Naqvi. Bahram Hajou, Hassan Hajjaj, Roger Moukarzel, Osama Esid, Kevork Mourad, threeAsfour, Chadi Younes, Houmam Al Sayed, Sabyl Ghoussoub, Muhyiddin Sadek, Tony Khoueiry, Chris Carr, Marianna Zoghbi, Oussamah Ghandour, Gabriel Ferneine, Saffaa and Pasha Radetzki.

The two winners of the Kafiye Project Competition, Reem Bassous and Nour Abu Hayeh will have their work featured in the show as well.

All the pieces will be shown in New York for the first time, and most are created specifically for the show. The Kafiye Project is a global initiative, and Beyond the Cloth is a travelling exhibition that will launch in NYC and move to Europe, Asia and the Middle East in 2014.

KAFLAB is a foundation dedicated to experimenting with the elements of Arab identity through the lens of Art and Design. Its first project is about the Kafiye.

Prequel to KAFLAB: With most Arab countries undergoing large social, economic, and political changes, there is a strong urge to define contemporary Arab identity. A rebranding boom has swept the Arab world over the last decade. Every brief for a new visual identity asks for the same thing: Develop a “very Arab” image. But no one seems to be able to decide what that means. Arab identity is so hard to define, and so often misconstrued, that finding unifying visual elements to represent it is virtually impossible. It doesn’t exist yet. Take the symbol for Arabic on the Mac, which is a hilal, or crescent moon. The crescent is a symbol associated with a Muslim holiday and not specifically with Arab or Arabic. This was the starting point of our work at Kaflab, a foundation dedicated to experimenting with Arab identity through a creative lens by examining design, iconography, symbolism, and identity. Our task was to try to find a strong Arab icon as a starting point, leading us to the Kafiye. By closely scrutinizing Arab identity, we hope to open up a new array of possibilities for existence formation and understanding, and probe the core of what makes us who we are. The outcome? Pushing boundaries, exploring trials and social change. Kaflab is co-founded by Hala A. Malak and Tarek Atrissi.


Curator: Hala A. Malak
Exhibition Designer: Tarek Atrissi
Curatorial Assistant: Jennifer Chakra
This project is made possible by the generous donation of GAM.

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