B. 1962, KUWAIT
Tarek Al-Ghoussein was born in Kuwait in 1962. His parents are Palestinian exiles, and the artist lived in the United States, Morocco, and Japan during his childhood. Al-Ghoussein received his undergraduate degree in photography from New York University and a MA from the University of New Mexico. He currently teaches at the American University of Sharjah, but before entering into academia was a photojournalist. Both Al-Ghoussein’s personal and professional background play a prominent role in his artistic output, which deals with his Palestinian identity through a photography that appears to be documentarian, but is in fact fictional. His ongoing Self-Portrait series, begun in 2002, presents images of a solitary figure wearing a kaffiyeh (a traditional Palestinian headdress), walking in front of an airplane, ship, or waterfront, among other places or objects. Although the figure poses no obvious threat, the headscarf may lead some viewers to assume he is a terrorist—and this sort of knee-jerk reaction is precisely what the artist desires to point out and counteract. In a 2004 interview, Al-Ghoussein recalled a moment in 2003 when a Jordanian police officer took him aside for questioning (an interrogation that lasted 22 hours) after watching him take his self-portrait standing in front of the Dead Sea while gazing at Palestine in the distance. According to the artist, the police asked “what was I doing, who was I, why was I wearing the Palestinian scarf, why that particular scarf—not the red scarf or the other type of black scarf? And it just made me realize how charged that scarf was. And how much, even in the Middle East, it has become almost a symbol of terrorism. I guess that just made me realize it’s not just a symbol in the West, it’s become a symbol in the Middle East as well.”¹
More recently Al-Ghoussein has started photographing walls or barriers in a desert landscape. These images refer to the literal barriers that prevent Palestinians from moving freely in the world (Al-Ghoussein has never been to Palestine) as well as the artist’s own difficulty in overcoming prejudices against the Arab world. Several different series, identified by letters, make up this untitled body of work.
Al-Ghoussein has exhibited internationally at such venues as the Royal Museum of Photography, Copenhagen (2003); Sharjah Biennial, United Arab Emirates (2003, 2005, 2009); Aperture Gallery, New York (2005); Singapore Biennial (2008); and United Arab Emirates Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2009). Major solo exhibitions have been held at the Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi (2009), and Sharjah Art Museum (2010). Al-Ghoussein currently lives and works in Sharjah.
1. Seth Thompson, “Palestinian Identity: The Work of Tarek Al-Ghoussein,” Afterimage (March/April 2007). Accessed October 4, 2010.” (source: https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/artist/tarek-al-ghoussein)
Tarek Al-Ghoussein (born 1962) is a Kuwaiti visual artist of Palestinian origin, best known for his work that investigates the margins between landscape photography, self-portraiture and performance art. He moves between abstraction and the explicit conditions found in certain places.
Tarek Al-Ghoussein was born in Kuwait, his grandparents were Palestinian exiles who were unable to visit their native home. His father, Talat Al-Ghoussein, was a journalist, editor and a diplomat who served as the Kuwait ambassador to the United States in the 1960s. His family moved a lot during his childhood between Kuwait, United States, Morocco and Japan. He received his bachelor's degree in photography from New York University and completed his master's degree in Fine Arts from University of New Mexico. He held several positions during his career, worked as a photojournalist, taught photography at the American University of Sharjah and is currently a professor at New York University branch in Abu Dhabi.
- 1995 Zwemmers Fine Photographs, London, UK
- 2000 Sharjah Art Museum, Sharjah, UAE
- 2003 Randolph Street Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
- 2004 Spectra Art Gallery, Copenhagen, Denmark
- 2004 Noorderlicht International Photography Exhibition, The Netherlands
- 2005 Sharjah International Biennial, Sharjah, UAE
- 2006 Political Realities, Heidelberg Museum, Heidelberg, Germany
- 2007 Art in Public Spaces, Light Boxes, Muscat, Oman
- 2008 Wonder, Singapore Biennale, Singapore
- 2009 In Absentia, Al Ma'mal Foundation for Contemporary Art, Jerusalem, Palestine
- 2011 Emirati Expressions, Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi, UAE
- 2013 National Pavilion of Kuwait, 55th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy
- 2014 K Files, Taymour Grahne Gallery, New York, USA
Tarek's work is collected by several museums and foundations worldwide such as Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Royal Museum of Photography, Copenhagen; Darat Al-Funun, Amman, Jordan; Mathaf Museum, Doha, Qatar; Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE; British Museum, London, UK; Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX and Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE.
- "Art, diplomatically deployed".
- Seaman, Anna. "Tarek Al Ghoussein to represent Kuwait at the 55th Venice Biennale".
- Mikdadi, Salwa (September 7, 2009). New Vision: Arab Contemporary Art in the 21st Century. Thames & Hudson Ltd. ISBN 978-0500976982.
- Al-Ghoussein, Tarek (2014). Transfigurations: Tarek Al-Ghoussein. Black Dog Publishing. ISBN 978-1908966612.
- Ghoussein, Tarek Al- (2009). In Absentia: Photographs by Tarek Al-. Third Line. ISBN 9780143120186.