The Sharq Art Gallery, co-owned and operated by husband and wife team Nahid Massoud and Dr. Robert Rosenstone, is celebrating 15 years in Pacific Palisades.
The nonprofit gallery, which focuses on art and artists connected to “Sharq,” or “the east” in Arabic and Farsi, has hosted 18 events and exhibits since its founding in 2004, showcasing works by artists with roots in Iraq, Iran, Israel, Palestine, Armenia, Afghanistan, Morocco, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Tunisia and Egypt.
Their new book, “Sharq Art: East/West – West/East,” is a retrospective exploration of the gallery’s history, told through its past exhibited artworks with accompanying artist biographies. The artworks in the book have been carefully curated and photographed by Massoud, and the crisp, 300-word biographies contributed by Rosenstone.
“We wanted to create a space where cultures could communicate; a gallery where everyone could feel at home,” Massoud said in a recent interview with the Palisadian-Post. “The idea for the gallery started after 9/11. I had always felt my culture was deeply embedded in me, but I also enjoyed the rights and freedoms I had earned as an American. There was so much misunderstanding and hatred directed at Middle Easterners after 9/11. I felt angry and disconnected, like my identity had been fractured and hyphenated. I was suddenly not American but Afghani-American.”
Massoud, who has given several talks in the Palisades and at UCLA as part of the Human Rights Watch, emigrated to the U.S. from Afghanistan in 1977, enrolling in nursing school at the University of Nebraska on a scholarship.
In 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, causing her to lose her scholarship and passport and seek political asylum in the U.S. Soon after, she moved to Los Angeles, where, in the early ’90s, she would meet her future husband at the YMCA pool in Temescal Canyon.
Their 22-year marriage has taken them around the world, from the foothills of Umbria to the pine forests of Japan, from the terraces of Granada to the suburbs of Cairo, where Massoud took Rosenstone to her old high school.
Like their marriage, their art gallery is a true partnership.
“We always hang the shows together,” Massoud said. “I clean and paint the walls.”
“There’s no board of directors,” Massoud continued with a laugh. “It’s just us.”
Rosenstone’s own experience in the art world has lent itself to the gallery’s management—he served on the Institute Art Committee for over 20 years at CalTech where he oversaw the Baxter Art Gallery before its closing in 1985.
Inside the Sharq Art Gallery tucked away in the El Medio Bluffs, vaulted ceilings with bright skylights create a cathedral-like feeling. Windows looking out onto green trees ring the crown of the gallery like a laurel chaplet, mixing the industrial interior with the coastal nature outside.
“I love this space because you can see nature all around when you’re inside,” Massoud said. “You’re able to enjoy the exhibits inside and the receptions outside.”
The artworks selected for display tend toward abstraction.
“A lot of the art we exhibit looks like it could have been done anywhere, not just the east,” Rosenstone said. “But a lot of it has strong Islamic influences.”
The gallery’s programs have included exhibitions of photos, paintings, prints, and sculpture, readings by poets and novelists, musical performances, and film screenings.
“At every opening, artists are able to interact with their audience,” Rosenstone said. “It’s educational, it’s homey and for immigrant artists new to the country with limited English, it’s a chance to network and explain what their art is about.”
Past artists showcased at the gallery include painters Tahir Fatah, Doris Bittar, Susan Moss, Rudik Ovsepyan and Ashen Ovsepjan.
“The gallery was created for [the artists],” Massoud said. “We wanted this place to be a home for them, for Americans and hyphenated-Americans to get together. We’re able to make friends and have these meaningful dialogues with people from all over the world here in this little backyard in the Palisades.”
A reception celebrating the anniversary of the gallery and the launch of the new book will be held 2 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, February 17. Those interested can RSVP by emailing email@example.com. For more information, visit sharqart.com.
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