This is a selling exhibition of work at Sotheby’s from the Caucasus, Central Asia, Iran and Turkey titled ‘At the Crossroads 2: Contemporary Art from Istanbul to Kabul’. It follows from a similar exhibition a year ago with a slightly narrower geographical focus. Iran and Turkey were additions in its second iteration. If I were being brutal, I might guess that the geography of selection had to be extended to improve the quality of the work. The current exhibition includes work from the 1970s and onwards.

It provides a fascinating glimpse into uncharted cultures. We are at the crossroads, our curator tells us, because these are the spaces between East and West: the ancient Silk Route that carried travellers on horseback and in convoys of camels with silk, tea and religion.

In the modern age, the Central Asian states seem more like flyover states now in popular imagination: low public profiles and few exports in terms of art, culture and information. They can be broadly classified as quiet little Russian satellite states. If we read about them at all, it’s usually Russia related.

The work is arranged broadly thematically. Some is political. Surprisingly, little is overtly Islamic.

There are some compelling stories of change. ‘Kaleidoscopic women want’ by Turkish artist, Burhan Doðançay, is one of a series of representations of city walls, with collage and paintwork layered like a palimpsest (a manuscript or piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on effaced earlier writing) to show a history of urban change in peeling paper and fragments of newspaper print.

‘Beautiful is the silence of ruins V’ by Iranian artist, Farhad Ahrarnia, juxtaposes a photograph of a sleeping James Dean with one of a Persian ruin and connects the two with taut embroidery. There’s something in it of tragedy and change and senses of the modern Iranian self. There’s also something in it of desolation and that’s a quality that some of the strongest parts of this collection share.

Lena and Victor Vorobyev’s ‘Horizon’ series includes three photographs of barren landscapes with, in each, the horizon marked. There’s a powerful sense of isolation in these giant spaces without context.

Similarly, Sibel Horada’s ‘Fire chronicles’ are three photographs taken in succession of a pile of dark wooden crates on a beach at night set alight with a solitary figure watching. It’s a moving story of nihilism and isolation.

‘A brief history of collapses’ (Series 1) by Afghan artist, Mariam Ghani, includes photographs drawn from a video installation of a palace of the Afghan King Amanullah built in the 1920s. These photographs chronicle its ruin with a fleeting female figure in each as a symbol of loss.

These regions may well share a great deal in terms of culture and visual arts, as the exhibition’s press release states, but that isn’t apparent from the exhibition itself. Whether it is the geographic, the temporal or the thematic breadth of the work or the curation, this is a collection of many different voices saying many different things and not all of them have interest or charm. The most poignant and compelling speaks of a desperate isolation at these crossroads, at these spaces between worlds.

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