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This exhibition familiarizes the public with a series of monochrome works produced by John Carswell: the art historian, artist, teacher, explorer, curator and scholar of Near, Middle, and Far Eastern art and culture. Carswell graduated in 1951 from the Royal College of Art in London, and instead of setting out to conquer the British art world, ruled at the time by local social realists, he embarked on a steamboat and entered the Middle East through the port of Beirut. For almost six decades now, John Carswell has been studying this region, following on the heels of his lifelong source of inspiration, the medieval Islamic explorer Ibn Battuta. His interest in the art, culture and history of the Fertile Crescent has led him to various places and positions: from archaeological excavations in Turkey, Jordan, Syria, and Palestine, to teaching fine arts at the American University of Beirut, to following in the footsteps of the first Western explorers of Central Asia, to becoming the Curator of the Oriental Institute and then Director of the Smart Museum at the University of Chicago, and later moving back to London to become the Director of the Islamic and South Asian Department of Sotheby’s, London. His passion for the Orient has taken various forms: from art works, graphics and design for various political activist campaigns and scholarly treatises, to curating exhibitions or writing scholarly books and articles.

This exhibition, however, deals primarily with John Carswell’s art, and only secondarily with his writings and scholarly or curatorial projects. It can be difficult to draw a clear line between “Carswell the artist” and “Carswell the everything else”: a result of his refusal to specialize, in a world that demands narrow specialization and linear thinking. This aspect of Carwell’s personality – the rich combination of interests and skills that sets him apart from many contemporary artists as well as scholars – has inspired and motivated this project. In this exhibition, we come to suggest that perhaps the traveler-artist-draftsman-scholar-researcher-curator-activist model proposed and personified by John Carswell over the course of six decades may be regarded as an epitome of what is today called the “global artist.” In other words, perhaps today an artist might earn this title not on the basis of accumulated frequent flyer miles, but on how comprehensively, far-reachingly and truly globally he or she can integrate a wide array of knowledge and experiences into the laws of artistic form, scholarly research, or curatorial practice.

Octavian Esanu
Curator, AUB Art Galleries

Opening: 19 November, 6:00pm to 8:30pm at the AUB Byblos Bank Art Gallery
Welcoming Speeches: 6:30pm

The exhibition continues at the Rose and Shaheen Saleeby Museum (formerly the AUB Art Gallery)

Opening Hours: Tuesday - Saturday [12pm-6pm]
Location: AUB Byblos Bank Art Gallery, Ada Dodge Hall, AUB Upper Campus
and the Rose and Shaheen Saleeby Museum, Sidani Street, Hamra
Tel: + (961) 1 350 000 Ext. 4345

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