Tarek Al-Ghoussein | Cashmere Images Diary
Born in 1962, Tarek Al-Ghoussein was a Kuwaiti multidisciplinary artist who pursued the intersection of landscape photography, self-portraiture and performance art. In his work, he moves away from land, belonging, nostalgia and borders to explore metaphorical ideas transiting to his ancestral homeland – Palestine.
Tarek was born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents who had been displaced from their ancestral homeland in Ramleh, Palestine. His father was a well-known Kuwaiti journalist, editor, and diplomat who served as Kuwait’s ambassador to the United States in the 1960s. Throughout his childhood, his family moved frequently between Kuwait, the United States, Morocco and Japan. In 1985, he obtained a BFA in photography from New York University followed by a master’s degree from the University of New Mexico in 1989. After initially pursuing a career in journalism and documentary photography, he quickly turned to art photography. He taught photography at the American University of Sharjah and was a professor at New York University’s Abu Dhabi branch at the time of his death.
As an artist, Tarek Al-Ghoussein includes himself in his performance images. His use of space and the sound silence of his pieces make them remarkable. It faces the vast desert, seascapes and walls, with its back to the public. It conveys a sense of place and displacement in addition to a documentary instinct. His funny and moving images reflect the environment of the Middle East, recognizable objects and deserted areas. Through his work, Tarek has examined his personal concerns related to his Palestinian identity which has been purchased over the years by the Guggenheim Museum and the British Museum, among others. In an effort to challenge the way Palestinians are portrayed in the media and highlight the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the physical and cultural hardships it creates; it sometimes used to represent the traditional Palestinian scarf known as the Keffiyeh.
Besides his series of self-portraits, dating from 2002, Tarekh has documented various other themes in recent years. Some of his notable projects include photographing the 250 islands of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and a soon to be demolished Kuwaiti housing estate and the remnants left behind by its multi-ethnic residents.
Tarek was one of the first artists to join Third Line Gallery, a space in Dubai that collaborates with groundbreaking Emirati and Middle Eastern artists. These artists include Egyptian photographer Youssef Nabil, Iraqi artist HayvKahraman, Iranian artists Farhad Moshiri and the late Monir Farmanfarmanian, Lebanese photographers Joanna Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, among many others.
Tarek participated in the Sharjah Biennale in 2003 and 2005 and represented Kuwait at the 55th Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition. 2009 saw a retrospective of his work at the Sharjah Art Museum. Many organizations and museums have purchased his works, including the Smithsonian in Washington, DC; the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; the British Museum in London; the Mathaf Museum in Doha; and the Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah, among others.
Tarek died in New York City on June 11, 2022 at the age of 60, leaving behind an unprecedented legacy. Many respected cultural figures and organizations in the region took to Instagram to offer their condolences and share memories of the late artist, including UAE Minister of Culture Noura AlKaabi and Biennale director Sharjah, Hoor Al Qasimi, who wrote: “Rest in peace my dear Tarek, thank you for inspiring generations of young artists, for being part of our journey and for your friendship. We will miss you very much.”
The Sharjah Art Foundation wrote on their Instagram post, “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Tarek Al Ghoussein and offer our sincere condolences to his family, friends and the community.
Al Ghoussein has lived and worked in the United Arab Emirates for the past twenty years, having been a professor at the American University of Sharjah and most recently at NYU Abu Dhabi. He has exhibited extensively in the region and internationally and we are honored to have been able to work with him on numerous occasions. In addition to a mid-career retrospective of Al Ghoussein’s work in 2009, his work was presented at the Sharjah Biennale 6 and 7 and is part of the Foundation’s Collection”.
In another post shared by Art Dubai on its Instagram page mourning the artist’s untimely death, “Today we mourn the loss of Tarek Al-Ghoussein, a Kuwaiti artist of Palestinian origin, best known for his work which explores the margins between landscape photography, self-portraiture and performance art Tarek has resided in the United Arab Emirates for the past 25 years where, in addition to his valuable contributions to the artistic landscape, he has also served as director of the MFA program in Media and Art and Professor of Visual Arts at New York University, Abu Dhabi”.
The message further read “We offer our condolences to his family and loved ones. May his legacy as one of the most inspiring artists and mentors in the UAE live on.”