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Portrait by Alex Atack.
Courtesy of Canvas Magazine

Portrait by Sueraya Shaheen.

A Conversation with Rose Issa, Champion of Artists From the Middle East
by Lizzy Vartanian Collier, 11 September 2019


rose issa, a woman of many layers, BY gareth smyth IN the national, 17 september 2019

30 Artists, 30 Years — Rose Issa
interview by alessandra cianetti for the Bagri foundation
May 2020




Rose Issa is a curator, writer and producer who has championed visual art and film from the Middle East and North Africa in the UK for more than 30 years. She has lived in London since the 1980s showcasing upcoming and established artists, producing exhibitions with public and private institutions worldwide, and running a publishing programme.

Through curating numerous exhibitions and film festivals, she introduced Western audiences to many artists who have since become stars of the international scene, including: Ayman Baalbaki, Shadi Ghadirian, Monir Farmanfarmaian, Bahman Ghobadi, Hassan Hajjaj, Fathi Hassan, Farhad Moshiri, Abbas Kiarostami, Rashid Koraichi and Nja Mahdaoui among many more.

As well as holding exhibitions at Rose Issa Projects in London, she frequently co-curates exhibitions with international private and public institutions, including the Middle East Institute, Washington DC (2019); Beirut Art Fair, Lebanon (2017); Crawford Art Gallery, Cork (2014); Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar, Doha (2014); the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (2013, 2006); Leighton House Museum, London (2013; ongoing since 1992); Beirut Exhibition Center (2010-11); the Bluecoat Arts Centre, Liverpool (2010); Tate Britain, London (2008); the European Parliament, Brussels (2008); the State Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow (2007); the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (2007); ING Bank, Geneva (2007); the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin (2004); The CCCB (Contemporary Cultural Centre), Barcelona (2003); the IFA - Institut fur Auslandsbezeihungen (2002-3), Stuttgart; the Barbican Art Centre, London (2001, 1995); and the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam (2011-2013; 1996-1997).

Rose also lends work to and advises on collections for public and private institutions and organisations around the world, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2014); The Drawing Room, London (2014); Cultuurcentrum Bruges, Belgium (2014); FotoFest Huston (2014); Uppsala Art Museum, Sweden (2014); Museum of Fine Art, Boston (2013-2014); the Smithsonian,  (Sackler/Freer Gallery and National Museum of African Arts) Washington (2013); CAB Art Centre, Brussels (2013); the Boghossian Foundation, Brussels (2012); the Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane, Australia (2009); Paul Klee Museum, Bern (2009); The British Museum; the Imperial War Museum; The Museum of Mankind; the Victoria & Albert Museum, all in London; The Written Art Foundation, Wiesbaden; The National Museums of Scotland; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the World Bank, Washington DC; and The National Gallery of Jordan.

Rose was also a Jury member for the National Pavillions at the 50th Venice Biennale (2003) and sat on the Jury for the Arab British Centre (2013).

Since 2015, after the closure of the Rose Issa Projects space in London, she has been focusing mainly on co-publishing.


Founder of the publishing units Rose Issa Projects and Beyond Art Production, Rose publishes monographs and comprehensive catalogues addressing the current concerns and trends of contemporary visual arts from the Arab world.

Recent titles include: "Arabicity: contemporary Arab art", Saqi Books (2019); "Ourouba: The Eye of Lebanon", catalogue accompanying a major exhibition at the Beirut Art Fair, featuring works from Lebanese private collections (2017); "Signs of Our Times: from Calligraphy to Calligraffiti", Merrell Publishing (2016); “By Hassan Hajjaj: Photography, Fashion, Film, Design” (2014); “Maliheh Afnan: Familiar Faces” (2013); “Nermine Hammam: Cairo Year One” (2012); “Raeda Saadeh: Reframing Palestine” (2012); “Farhad Ahrarnia: Canary in a Coal Mine” (2011); “Ayman Baalbaki: Beirut Again and Again” (2011); “Selma Gurbuz: Shadow of My Self” (2011); “Omid Salehi: a Photographer’s Journey Through Iran” (2011); “Fathi Hassan” (2010); “Parastou Forouhar: Art, Life and Death in Iran” (2010); and “Maliheh Afnan: Traces, Faces, Places” (2009). Rose produced the first-ever publication on Iranian Contemporary Art, "Iranian Contemporary Art" (Booth-Clibborn editions, 2001) and has also co-published the two major overviews of contemporary photography from the Middle East: “Arab Photography Now” (with Kehrer Verlag, 2011) and “Iranian Photography Now” (with Hatjie Kantz, 2008), as well as the first and leading text on Iranian cinema: “Art & Life, the New Iranian Cinema” (British Film Institute, 1999).

Rose Issa on the importance of documenting, Abu Dhabi ARt Fair, 2011.

Film from the Middle East

In 1982 Rose Issa launched the first-ever Arab Film Festival in Paris and worked with the Delegations Etrangères at the Cannes Film Festival (1983-1985). For a further 26 years until 2008, she curated film seasons in Britain and abroad. She was special advisor to The Berlinale (2003-2007); the International Rotterdam Film Festival (1996-2002); the London International Film Festival (1987-2003); and The British Film Institute (1988-1995). She also curated film seasons at The National Film Theatre (“Hollywood on the Nile”, 2003; “Art and Life: The New Iranian Cinema”, 1999; “First Arab Film Festival”, 1987); the Barbican (“Unveiled Lives: Women and Iranian Cinema”, 2001; “Melodramas, Comedies, and Mysteries: North African Film”, 1995). In addition she curated a season of films for Britain’s Channel 4 (2005) and collaborated with them on “Cinema Iran”, a series of documentaries on Iranian cinema. Rose was also the advisor and co-director of the documentary, “Moving Pictures: Tunisian Women Film Directors”, for BBC2 TV (1995).

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