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24 June 2024

Art Fund New Collecting Award: Collecting Arab Visual Cultures (1960 to Today)

In 2022, I was awarded Art Fund’s New Collecting Award to support a two-year research-based collecting project.

Aiming to support curators and their professional development, the New Collecting Awards provide individuals with funding to research and buy works that will grow their museums’ collections in new directions or deepen existing holdings. The programme responds to the need for ongoing collections development in museums, underpinned by curatorial experience, vision and ambition.

My project, ‘Collecting Arab Visual Cultures (1960 to Today),’ has aimed to enhance the British Library’s collections of modern and contemporary visual culture from the Arab world. Taking a research-based collecting approach and through network-building in the Middle East and North Africa, the project has acquired book-objects in diverse formats, such as artists’ books, photobooks, zines, comics and graphic novels, children’s books and print ephemera. Produced by established as well as new and emerging artists and creatives in the region and diaspora communities, this material conveys urgent local and universal issues. These new acquisitions contribute to diversifying and globalising UK museum and library collections. As part of the project, I have received the generous expert guidance and mentorship of Dr Zeina Maasri, Senior Lecturer in History of Art at the University of Bristol.

Since 2022, over 200 new items for the British Library’s collections for the British Library’s collections. This blog post isn’t intended to give an exhaustive list of acquisitions (since they will all be discoverable in due course in the British Library’s catalogue), rather it aims to provides a window into some of these new acquisitions.


Artists’ Books

Artists around the world use the form of the book as a mode of artistic expression, often collaborating with writers, poets and other artists. As part of the project, we have added to the collection a number of artists’ books and other artist-led publications by creative practitioners from the Arab world, often produced in small print runs or limited editions. For example, Abdallah Benanteur (1931-2017) was one of Algeria’s leading painters and printmakers who produced over 1300 artist’s books over the course of his career. Previously, the British Library did not hold any of his artist’s books in its collection. However, through the project we have acquired three.


Four pages of map-like patterns arranged in quadrants with various earth tones showing patches of colour of various opacities

Abdallah Benanteur and Henri Kréa, Désespoir des causes, exigences pratiques: poème (Paris : L'Astrolabe1964), ORB.30/9463, ©Abdallah Benanteur and Henri Kréa; Abdallah Benanteur and Monique Boucher, Abdallah Benanteur: gravures (Paris : Galerie Herbinet, 1964), ORB.30/9464, ©Abdallah Benanteur and Monique Boucher (presented by the Art Fund)


Zines are often small-circulation, self-published works, including original and appropriate texts and images, often produced using DIY methods by individuals or collectives. The British Library has been actively collecting zines from the United Kingdom, yet our collection of zines from the Arab world has been relatively undeveloped. This project has allowed the Library to grow its collection of zines from the Arab world, helping it to better-reflect the publishing landscape of the region.


Three covers and one two-page spread of zines, all with text in English and Arabic, some featuring text in red, otherwise with black and white imagery

Haven for Artists, ManbouZine = Manbūẓīn (Beirut : Haven for Artists, 2022-23), ©Haven for Artists (presented by the Art Fund)


Photobooks and Photozines

Photobooks and photozines are books and zines in which photographic images make a significant contribution to the overall content of publication. Often documenting and bearing witness to historic events, communities, subcultures or narrating the author’s lived experience, they have been published in the Arab world and diaspora communities since the 1960s and are a growing form of publication today.

For example, I don't recognize me in the shadows (2020) by the Yemeni documentary photographer and storyteller Thana Faroq explores her own journey leaving war-torn Yemen and seeking asylum in the Netherlands. In the photozine Marrākush fawqa skīt būrd [Marrakech on a skateboard] (2022), the Moroccan photographer Yassine Sallame documents the skateboarding scene in Morocco. While in Cacti = Ṣubār (2023), which sits somewhere between a photobook, photozine and artist’s book in its form, Rasha Al Jundi and Michael Jabareen create a visual protest against the silencing of Palestinian voices in Germany.

Black and white portait of an individual in tradition maghribi dress with Arabic text in the foregroundBlack and white images of a person’s face with small area of colour photograph to the left and black and white image beside herBlack and white image of man looking at the camera through crack in masonry with text in English and Arabic vertically on right-hand side

(Left) Yassine Sallame, Marrākush fawqa skīt būrd (Paris: Á la Maison, 2022), ORB.30/9525, ©Yassine Sallame (presented by the Art Fund); (Middle) Rasha Al Jundi and Michael Jabareen, Cacti  = Ṣubār (Ramallah, Berlin : 2023), ©Rasha Al Jundi and Michael Jabareen (presented by the Art Fund); (Right) Thana Faroq, I don't recognize me in the shadows ([Eindhoven] : Lecturis, 2020), ©Thana Farooq (presented by the Art Fund).


Comics and graphic novels

The British Library’s Arabic section has been actively collecting comics and graphic novels from the Arab world since 2015 and this was the subject of an exhibition, Comics and Cartoon Art From The Arab World, which was held in 2017 as part of the Shubbak Festival. The New Collecting Award project has allowed the Library to further develop this area of the collection through acquiring recently published comics and graphic novels, as well as filling gaps in the collection of previously published materials.


Colour image of accordion book with drawings and text in French Colour two-page spread of printed items with 8-bit style graphic of heart with swords through it on left and panels of comic on right

(Left) Mazen Kerbaj, Une partie de scrable (Beirut: La Cd-thèque, 2003), ORB.30/9529, ©Mazen Kerbaj (presented by the Art Fund); (Right) Comic strip by Mloukhiyyé Al Fil in Samandal's Cutes: Collected Queer and Trans Comics (Berlin : Distanz, 2023), ©Mloukhiyyé Al Fil (presented by the Art Fund)


Children’s books

The British Library has not traditionally collected children’s books in Arabic. However, an exception to this has been made for the purpose of this project because children’s books are often sites of exciting and innovative collaboration between writers and artists, particularly since the 1960s in the Arab world. For example, the publishing house Dār al-Fatá al-ʻArabī, founded in Beirut in 1974 through the Palestine Liberation Organization, brought together prominent writers, artists and designers to produce children’s books combining striking visuals with radical politics. Today, the award-winning independent Lebanese publisher, Dar Onboz, founded in Beirut in 2006 by Nadine Touma and Sivine Ariss, works with artists, writers and designers to produce children’s books which can often been seen as art objects in their own right.


Two-page spread in colour with drawings of munitions on green background on left and large numeral nine over auburn background on rightTwo-page colour spread of knight attacking mythical beast with sword on right and text in Arabic in black ink on left

(Left) Joan Baz, Count to 10 with: I went looking for Palestine but I found (Beirut: Dar Onboz, 2014), ©Joan Baz (presented by the Art Fund); (Right) Ḥasan Sharīf, al-Fallāḥ wa-al-tanīn, illustrated by Nazir Nabaa (Beirut: Dār al-Fatá al-ʻArabī, 1977), ©Ḥasan Sharīf (presented by the Art Fund).


Print ephemera

Beyond the book, other more ephemeral print-objects, such as posters and pamphlets have been acquired through the project. These have been collected both for their informational and documentary value as well as for their visual and artistic value. For example, a poster produced by the Plastic Arts Section of the Palestine Liberation Organization documents the Art for Palestine exhibition held at the Beirut Arab University between 21 March and 5 April 1978 and includes visuals by the Moroccan artist Mohammed Melehi. A pamphlet documents a 1985 exhibition in Kuwait by the Jordanian sculptor, artist and activist Mona Saudi who was the former head of the PLO’s Plastic Arts Section. While a curious set of ‘cinderella stamps’—labels that resembles postage stamps not issued for postal purposes—issued by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine documents the organisation’s visual politics in early 1970s.

Black and white two-page spread of text and imagesColour poster with text in black and white at top and vertical bands of black, green, red, and white and flames of same colours at bottomA sheet of colour stamps each featuring portraits of different individuals, twenty-five images in total

(Left) Mona Saudi (Kuwait: National Council for Culture, Arts & Letters, 1985), ©National Council for Culture, Arts & Letters of the State of Kuwait (presented by the Art Fund); (Middle) Plastic Arts Section, Art for Palestine (Beirut: PLO, 1978), ©Palestine Liberation Organization (presented by the Art Fund); (Right) PFLP, Sheet of ‘cinderella stamps’ (1970?), ©Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (presented by the Art Fund)


Daniel Lowe, Arabic Curator


The Collecting Arab Visual Cultures Project was supported by the Art Fund.

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Further reading

Lena Bopp, ‘Dar Onboz' cases full of exquisite Arabic picture books’,, [accessed 13/05/2024]

Hassan Khan, Mohieddin Ellabbad and Nawal Traboulsi, ‘Revolution for Kids: Dar El Fata El Arabi, recollected’, Bidoun, [accessed 13/05/2024]

Kristine Khouri and Rasha Salti (eds.), Past disquiet: artists, international solidarity and museums in exile (Warsaw: Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, 2018)

Zeina Maasri, Cosmopolitan radicalism: the visual politics of Beirut's global sixties (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020)

Maha Maamoun and Ala Younis (eds.), How to maneuver: shapeshifting texts and other publishing tactics (Abu Dhabi : Warehouse421, 2021)

Venetia Porter, Artists making books: poetry to politics (London: British Museum, 2023)