Iranian artist (Princess) Fahrelnissa Zeid lived through virtually the entire 20th century, having been born in 1901 and died in 1991. Given her links with royalty, you might think she had an easy life, but it was full of murder, death and moving from city to city around the world to Iraqi embassies to which her royal husband has been posted to, including London, Paris and New York. On the recommendation of Queen Victoria, she even travelled to Scotland and painted Loch Lomond in 1948! Her work combines many influences and traditions in colourful abstract compositions which seem to have stylistic links to the Russian Pavel Filono, while, in her later works after the death of her husband, she reverted to portraits, one of herself in which she observed “The hand is Persian, the dress in Byzantine, the face is Cretan and the eyes are Oriental, but I was not aware of this as I was painting it.” it was almost as if she was finding herself at last.
Alberto Giacometti was born in Switzerland in the same year as Fahrelnissa. The Tate Exhibition shows the development of his work from early sculptures of heads around 1917/18 to the distinctive highly textured and elongated sculptures that we recognise as his style in the 1950’s until his unexpected death in January 1966, a few months after a retrospective exhibition of his work at the Tate Gallery, prior to which he worked on new sculptures in a studio arranged in the Gallery itself.
Tate Gallery’s third exhibition starts three years before Giacometti’s death, in the United States in 1963, when the American Civil Right Movement was at its height, and continues for the next two decades to examine art by black artists working in the US, starting with their work of protest or raising awareness, through some similar influences of African art that influenced Giacometti, to a point where black artists were accepted as mainstream artists, while still trying to maintain something of the black identity in their work and where black heroes such as Mohammed Ali were painted by Andy Warhol. These were tumultuous times, but hopefully today artists will be judged on their merit, not on the colour of their skin, their sexuality or their gender. Sadly, the evidence is that we are not there yet – society takes a long time to change.