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Many Tongues: Art, Language, and Revolution in the Middle East and South Asia


The most extensive contemporary art exhibition in the Western world to explore the relationship between the Middle East and South Asia, Many Tongues: Art, Language, and Revolution in the Middle East and South Asia, argues that a new cosmopolitanism has emerged in these countries since the end of colonial rule in the 1940s and 1950s. This landmark exhibition self-reflexively examines, deconstructs, and returns to concepts of modernity, mapping divergent routes to the contemporary.

Highlighting works that span from 1947 to the present, the exhibition traces shared histories of colonization and migration, and religion and tradition across the Middle East and South Asia. It also considers how the revolutionary politics of decolonization has contributed to transcultural exchange between these regions and created a culturally specific visual language. This intergenerational exhibition, which features more than 250 works of art in all media, is organized thematically, exploring concepts of abstraction, poetry, form, architecture, landscape, memory, archives, and media.

Many Tongues imagines a world where the language of art contorts and shifts to the contours of different territories and their historical sediments. By creating a historical opening between the past and the present, this exhibition presents artists working across the Middle East and South Asia to explore ideas about artistic and cultural hybridity between different regions. Looking back from a 21-century vantage point, the exhibition asks: How do museums speak to the shifting metropolitan landscapes that have developed across and between the Middle East and South Asia? How can an exhibition complicate ideas of geography, and indeed narrate the relationship between the East and the West?

A fully illustrated catalogue with contributions from leading scholars from around the world, including Omar Berrada, Diana Campbell Betancourt, Emma Chubb, Reem Fadda, Hannah Feldman, Shanay Jhaveri, Anneka Lenssen, Rasha Salti, and Sofia Victorino, among others, as well as a major contribution from the exhibition’s curator, accompanies the exhibition.

Many Tongues is curated by Omar Kholeif, former Manilow Senior Curator and Director of Global Initiatives at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. It is supported by the work of a curatorial advisory board, which includes Omar Berrada (writer, curator and Director, Dar Al Ma'mûn, Marrakech), Diana Campbell Betancourt (Artistic Director, Samdani Art Foundation and Chief Curator Dhaka Art Summit), Hannah Feldman (Associate Professor, Northwestern University), Shanay Jhaveri (Assistant Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art), Rasha Salti (Independent Curator), and Sofia Victorino (Daskalopoulos Head of Education and Public Programs, Whitechapel Gallery, London).


This exhibition was made possible by the Sotheby’s Prize. The Sotheby’s Prize is an annual award to support and encourage museums to break new ground. The grant aims to recognize curatorial excellence, and to facilitate exhibitions that explore overlooked or underrepresented areas of art history.

Lead support for Many Tongues: Art, Language, and Revolution in the Middle East and South Asia is provided by the Barjeel Art Foundation, the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, and Zell Family Foundation.

Generous support provided by Carla Chammas.