RCA Secret Dubai Democratizes Art Dubai by Keeping Artists' Names Secret

What would happen to the art market if all work was sold and acquired democratically? That’s a pretty controversial question to ask at an art fair. In its 9th edition Art Dubai (March 18–21) drew an estimated 25,000 visitors to view modern and contemporary art from 92 galleries in plush exhibition halls. The art market in the United Arab Emirates is about as old as the fair, but thanks to a solid gallery scene, some record Christie’s auctions, and easy import and export policies, Dubai is coming into its own as the cool new kid in art school, and is now beginning to be regarded as a global art hub.

Postcard by Najat Makki

Postcard by Najat Makki

Of course the whole object of an art fair is to ogle, critique, and (if one’s bank account permits) acquire work by established artists. This traditional order was turned on its head by RCA Secret Dubai, an event that took place in collaboration with Art Dubai, imagining a model in which all of the work cost the same amount, regardless of the artist. The concept, which has developed somewhat of a cult following in London, is facilitated to benefit the Royal College of Art in London, and presented some 3,000 postcard-sized works of art in a series of glass display cases installed beneath the palm trees planted between Art Dubai’s exhibition halls. Although entry to Art Dubai is exclusive (there were invitation only VIP and VVIP night openings) and requires an admission fee and registration, with one badly publicized free day, visiting RCA Secret Dubai was perfectly free.

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Each of the original postcards was up for auction for just AED 500 (about $136 USD), but there was a twist—none of the works had artists’ names identified. The brilliance of the project was watching visitors play the guessing game of trying to match postcards to a list of participating artists.

Postcard by eL Seed

Postcard by eL Seed

The 2014 RCA Secret London sale had included postcards by Grayson Perry and Zaha Hadid. In Dubai, regional and UAE-based artists including eL Seed and Ruben Sanchez participated alongside Paul Smith and Emma Watson, as did Najat Makki, who is the first Emirati woman to attend art school and whose paintings will be showcased at the UAE Pavilion at the upcoming Venice Biennale.

Postcard by Yinka Shonibare

Postcard by Yinka Shonibare

Postcard by Hazem Harb

Postcard by Hazem Habra

More than 1,000 people registered to bid. A few stalwart collectors even camped overnight in the shadow of the Orientalist souk, just to be first in the queue. (Dubai collectors are not used to waiting for much of anything, so the lines were not particularly long, with most bidders rolling in as the sale opened at noon.) With a cap on four postcards per registered bidder, the auction became a game of choosing work one connected with, balanced with work that could possibly be of great value. Was the illustration of a balloon dog defecating, a famous artist’s doodle or a recent RCA graduate’s weak attempt at satire? In my case, sadly, it was the latter.

Postcard by Emma Watson

Postcard by Emma Watson

Imagine an entire auction that displayed and sold art this democratically. After watching the 40-year-old Lebanese painter, Ayman Baalbaki’s Babel auctioned off at Christie’s Dubai sale for a record $400,000 (the estimate was $150-200k), it doesn’t look like that will be happening here anytime soon.

The full list of postcards with revealed artists can now be found here.

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Credits: This post originally appeared on ArtSlant. All images are credited to RCA Secret Dubai and Art Dubai.

 

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The Illusion of Repetition: In Conversation with Land Artist Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim

As an artist working only with materials grown and gleaned from his native Khorfakkan, Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim is by definition the most Emirati artist living and practicing in the UAE today. His coded works on paper mark time and memory through meditative repetition and the appearance and reappearance of India ink characters.

Turãb (meaning soil or earth in Arabic), his current show at Cuadro Art in Dubai, brings these creatures to life in realistically proportioned objects formed from mountain clay, dried grass cuttings, and glue. 14 sheep trail across the gallery’s industrial floor. It’s almost possible to visualize the pulse of an insect balanced on two knotted legs with a thick vein running across its spinal cord. Interestingly, Ibrahim is averse to thinking of these beings as sculptures—a term that would imply his work to be impressive in design yet lifeless.

The objects come in flocks or pairs, including Male Female II, which, when rolled on carpet, emits a soft cry as small mountain pebbles tumble inside. Stones mounted on pedestals allude to a graveyard and the inevitability that we all come from the earth’s umbilical cord and will one day return to an original source. There is a sense of primal Creation taking place before our eyes, albeit mysteriously in a gallery based within Dubai International Financial Centre, to an audience of business people in crisp white shirts, whose daily lives are as removed from touching the dirt of the land as possible.

Forms VI. Acrylic on paper, 2009

Forms VI. Acrylic on paper, 2009

Born in 1962, Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim came of age as an artist in the UAE in an era in which the visual arts were not yet valued culturally or taught in university degree programs. In 1986 when he met the conceptual artist Hassan Sharif and became a founding member of the Emirates Fine Art Society, Ibrahim was pulled out of an isolated practice and carved out unshakable friendships and collaborations that have formed the foundation for the robust creative community that defines the UAE today:

Sheep (Medium), Clay and wood, 2014

Sheep (Medium), Clay and wood, 2014

DL: Because you are a land artist, it is only appropriate to begin our conversation with deference to the land itself. How does Khorfakkan call to you and why has it formed you into an artist?

MAI: Khorfakkan is surrounded on three sides by mountain and one side by sea. We cannot see the sunset, because the mountain is hiding it. We can only see the sunrise. This special lighting affects people’s moods. I grew up looking to the mountain and when I became an adult I noticed that it was still the same and hadn’t changed. During childhood, I had imagined the mountain as a living creature—he could grow up and get old.

DL: But the mountain hadn’t changed. Only you had changed.

MAI: I go camping alone for a week or ten days at a time on the mountain. I began to scratch away at it. The first thing I noticed was how the face of a rock exposed to the sun is a different colour from the bottom side that has been touching the ground. I began to turn stones upside down over a huge area.

Rocks Wrapped With Rope, Digital C-prints, 1994-1995

Rocks Wrapped With Rope, Digital C-prints, 1994-1995

DL: You changed the mountain that could not be changed. Was this in the 80’s?

MAI: Yes. One time I took Hassan Sharif with me and we spent a full day on the mountain. He saw what I did and he told me, “What you are doing is land art.”

DL: He named it for you.

HS: He named it. Then I started to learn more about land art through reading and discovered that Robert Smithson founded the movement in America. I fell in love. From that time onwards, I brought nature into all my work.

DL: How do you grow the materials for your objects in your garden?

MAI: I try not to bother the land by breaking branches or cutting grass. I only use what I can glean from the ground.

DL: Does that mean that you sometimes wait months for the right materials to fall?

MAI: I forage leaves from the louz (almond) tree and use their dye to colour my paper. After the growing season I gather grass cuttings or dried flowers and use them to make my objects. I have to watch for the grass to dry from green to brown. I go to the mountain to bring the clay down, and then work on a few objects at a time. I have to wait while the clay dries for up to a week in summer or an entire month in winter.

Untitled oil on canvas, 1988

Untitled oil on canvas, 1988

DL: You were an artist in the UAE in the 80’s when there were no galleries or museums and only a small community. Did people find it strange when you began exhibiting work?

MAI: There was no knowledge about art here when I began this work—no Internet, no media, and no books. When I graduated high school, I tried to study art outside the country since there was not yet any university here. Unfortunately, there were no scholarships. I studied psychology instead. In 1986 I took my paintings to Emirates Fine Art Society, where I met Hassan Sharif, who had just completed his studies in England. We became close and he loaned me his books. I read about art and we began to meet each other almost daily. We are still best friends to this day.

DL: I’ve heard you referred to as “Keith Haring in the desert.” Did the New York street art movement that was taking place concurrently influence you?

MAI: I only found out about these artists later and then I realized I was not alone—
There were other people who shared my feelings in America and Europe. This gave me the power to continue at a time when people in this region still had a very narrow idea about art. They only understood paintings of landscapes or calligraphy. Even abstract was strange to them. At my first exhibition in the 80’s, the curator separated my work from the other artists’ and hid my abstract oil paintings behind a curtain so dignitaries would not see it.

 

Forms IV, posca marker on paper, 2012

Forms IV, posca marker on paper, 2012

DL: That confusion continued well into the 90’s.

MAI: In 1999 I felt disappointed because Sharjah took back my studio where I’d been teaching art lessons and holding exhibitions. At that time, all my work, which was inside this building, was loaded into two pickup trucks. The drivers asked me where to take the canvases and I didn’t have a place, so I had them take my work to the mountain, where I burnt it.

DL: Did you experience regret afterwards?

MAI: Perhaps it was a scream to society for not respecting my work. After the paintings were gone, I began new artwork right away. The emotion had passed. I filmed the fire, and the video was exhibited in the Abu Dhabi platform at the Venice Biennale in 2009.

DL: Your work speaks in codes and characters that have an archaeological quality. There is something primal and intuitive about them that everyone can grasp and yet also something secretive about them that perhaps, only you, their scribe, can understand. Are you willing to break the code?

MAI: I don’t fully understand them either. I work in the narrow space between the eyeball and the eyelid. When you close your eyes, your vision does not stop—you see circles and other shapes depending upon the light. It’s a kind of meditation for me. I don’t think about the shapes, the start, or the finish. I use a fountain pen with Indian ink because it dries to give you a surface you can run your finger over.

Line Drawing IV. Indian ink on paper, 1992

Line Drawing IV. Indian ink on paper, 1992

DL: Do these characters have emotions?

MAI: I work with them for hours and hours. I can read the story in it; I can hear the music in it. The creatures are full of emotions, sometimes shouting, other times silent.

DL: Repetition in nature is something you are quite attracted to either in the lines you often draw on paper or in the 3-d objects you form of clay. This was evident in Primordial (your 2014 show at Cuadro) and is also at the core of Turãb.

MAI: At first, there appears to be repetition, but if you look more closely you will notice that there is actually none. For example, if you draw two lines, they will never be fully identical. Also, each line was drawn at a different time and occupies a different space. In our daily lives we live in a routine, yet inside this structure there are constant variations.

Mountain Rocks Wrapped in Copper Wire,  2007

Mountain Rocks Wrapped in Copper Wire, 2007

DL: You sometimes build installations on the mountain then leave them to nature.

MAI: Originally I added colour to rocks on the mountain with water-based paint. Eventually I stopped that because it didn’t make sense to add artificial beauty to the place when there was already so much there naturally. I began to make art purely from the land’s materials. I made mounds with rocks, and what I titled ‘Khorfakkan Circles’.

DL: What is a Khorfakkan Circle’?

MAI: I measure a circle with my feet, outline it with rocks, then clean inside. The largest circle is 6 metres in diameter.

DL: Do people notice the circles, and do they recognize your hand in changing the mountain in these places?

MAI: I have a funny story about that. Once when I was camping near the village of Al Bideyeh, I wrapped a huge mound of rocks in yellow, plastic rope and then I Ieft them there. The villagers did not catch any fish for two days. In our tradition when this happens we say in Arabic, “The sea has been captured”. Someone found the yellow rope and thought that it was a sign that someone had set a magic spell against the fishermen. Their mutawa’a burnt the ropes one by one. Five days of work, burnt!

Installation shot from Turab at Cuadro Art, 2015. Image: Danna Lorch

Installation shot from Turab at Cuadro Art, 2015. Image: Danna Lorch

DL: Do you fear that your land will be changed by the country’s growth in the coming years?

MAI: At the moment, the nature of Khorfakkan has already been disturbed. The mountains are vanishing because they are dug up and taken to Dubai and used to create cement blocks for buildings. They have been turned into concrete mountains elsewhere.

DL: Would you say that your largest installation to date, ‘Stones Wrapped in Copper Wire,’ is symbolic of your attempt to capture the memory of a space before it is changed forever in this way?

MAI: That is part of my thinking. We need to devote more attention to our environment. This development is not only harming the mountain but also disturbing the animals, insects, plants and other nature.

Male Female (from Primordial), clay, paper, leaves, and glue, 2001

Male Female (from Primordial), clay, paper, leaves, and glue, 2001

DL: I heard that you want your larger works to stay in the UAE or the region, rather than being acquired by a museum abroad. So you wouldn’t be willing to send the mountain to Paris permanently?

MAI: Everything has to be saved for our next generation. This work belongs to them. They are open-minded, know about art, and can decide what to do with it. I don’t want to waste our country’s heritage.

Installation shot of Turab at Cuadro Art, Katea, 2014

Installation shot of Turab at Cuadro Art, Katea, 2014

DL: Sheep follow one another in a line like schoolchildren. You’ve created a flock of 14 of them here. Is this continuing with your love for repetition?

MAI: Sheep have a boss whom they follow blindly.

DL: While they were drying in your studio, did you feel that 28 eyes were on you?

MAI: Yes. I spoke with them and sometimes I sang to them. I worked on the creatures two or three at a time and then waited for the clay and materials to dry. I created the entire show in one year.

DL: Do you feel that each of your creatures has a soul?

MAI: Each has a spirit. There is a moment at which it receives a breath.

 

Good Ideas: Turãb, Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim’s solo show opened at Cuadro Art in Dubai on 16 March and will run through 9 April, 2015. 

Credits: This conversation appears in Vol XVI of Contemporary Practices: Visual Arts from The Middle East. Images appear courtesy of Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim and Cuadro Art.

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A Love Letter to Color: Art Dubai 2015

Art Dubai has developed a reputation as a global art fair, which also happens to show the largest concentration of Middle Eastern art in the world. Each year, I cram my press pass, gold flats, dictaphone, 2 pens (in case one dies mid-interview or worse yet, explodes…been there, done that!), and try to get in as many interviews with artists as possible.

Slim little season that it is, Spring has Sprung here in Dubai, and by association I found myself pulled to a palate of verdant greens at the opening of Art Week. Of course my dress just happened to match:

Shaun McDowell, Loverman 2013 Oil on board. Hannah Barry Gallery, London

Shaun McDowell, Loverman 2013 Oil on board. Hannah Barry Gallery, London

Strike an arrow through my heart. Shaun McDowell’s ‘Loverman’, at Hannah Barry Gallery (London) is an abstract ode to true love. His previous series, ‘Confessions and Love Pictures” took on the poetic task of using abstraction to reinterpret the physical and emotional kaleidoscope of feelings accompanying infatuation. What a fresh way to name what is perhaps the most human emotion of all—L-O-V-E.

Studying a Jamil Molaeb at the Galerie Janine Rubeiz boooth in the Art Dubai modern section

Studying a Jamil Molaeb at the Galerie Janine Rubeiz boooth in the Art Dubai modern section

Here’s a Secret Art Confession (shhhh!): When it comes to Arab art, the work I covet for my own collection is more often modern than contemporary. There’s something about 80’s era abstracts that move me to art love. I’m hooked on roundness, texture, and vibrancy. I appreciated the warmth of this Jamil Molaeb at Galerie Janine Rubeiz (Beirut). I stood in front of it asking questions as though we were in conversation. The artist, who was born in Lebanon in 1948, is known for his connection to Druze mysticism. A series of etchings floating in contemporary frames were every bit as relevant now as they were when conceived in the last century.

Registering to bid for an original postcard at RCA Secret Dubai

Registering to bid for an original postcard at RCA Secret Dubai (Stelli dress and bag, kate spade new york)

As a writer, I’m a sucker for handmade, handwritten postcards, so I immediately art crushed on the 3,000 of them so cleverly offered at RCA Secret Dubai, each displaying a tiny masterpiece, and each sold democratically at auction for AED 500 on the 21st to benefit the Royal College of Art in London. Big international names like Paul Smith participated alongside solid UAE-based artists like Alia Dawood, Hadil Moufti, and Ruben Sanchez. Here’s the catch: the artist’s signatures were not visible on the postcards, so collectors were forced to play a guessing game. More than 1,000 people registered to bid.

 

Paul Smith's original postcard was auctioned off at RCA Secret Dubai. Image courtesy of RCA Secret

Paul Smith's original postcard was auctioned off at RCA Secret Dubai. Image courtesy of RCA Secret

Closeup of an RCA Secret Dubai postcard later revealed to be by the Dubai-based artist Alia Dawood

Closeup of an RCA Secret Dubai postcard later revealed to be by the Dubai-based artist Alia Dawood

I became an embarrassing mess of a fan girl upon encountering a pair of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s shoes at the Ota Fine Arts booth. Judging by the title of the work, “High Heels for Going to Heaven,” I suppose these are the red party shoes Yayoi expects to wear as she ascends into the clouds. Precocious toddlers raced around the booth, dangerously close to the work. The gallerists stayed enviably cool. I’ve been obsessed with Yayoi’s practice ever since I viewed ‘Polka Dot Superstar’ the BBC documentary that dug deep into her child-like imagination and the neurosis that she refuses to let debilitate her imagination.

I tried on Yayoi Kusama's shoes and wished they fit better

I tried on Yayoi Kusama's shoes and wished they fit better

It was the highlight of my 2014 to interview the abstract Palestinian painter Samia Halaby at Ayyam Gallery in Dubai. I’ll never forget how she played with a piece of yarn as we spoke about her 5 decade long practice. I could have stood in front of these two Samia paintings tucked in a nook of the Ayyam booth for an entire prolonged afternoon and still felt there was more to see and understand. Imagine my surprise when I snuck back into the booth on the last day of the fair and discovered they’d been replaced by an even larger painting by the same artist. Were my eyes playing tricks on me?

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Both: Samia Halaby at the Ayyam Gallery booth, Art Dubai

Both: Samia Halaby at the Ayyam Gallery booth, Art Dubai

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I was honored to interview Dia Azzawi at Meem Gallery on the same day as Art Dubai's opening. 'Something Different', which runs through 25 April, includes a series of new tapestries. It's exciting to see a legendary artist experimenting with a new medium 40 years into his career.

I was honored to interview Dia Azzawi at Meem Gallery on the same day as Art Dubai's opening. 'Something Different', which runs through 25 April, includes a series of new tapestries. It's exciting to see a legendary artist experimenting with a new medium 40 years into his career.

A Little Note Introducing My Collaboration with kate spade new york

The pattern from my kate spade New York Stelli dress

The pattern from my kate spade new york Stelli dress

I’m thoroughly delighted to be collaborating with kate spade new york! This brand is all about art, handwritten notes, playfulness, and real, ambitious women. The feminine, slightly retro designs fit my personality and Danna Writes down to the last (&) ampersand and I love that kate spade is regularly quoting feminists like Gloria Steinam and plucky female literary figures like Dorothy Parker.

Full disclosure: Fear not, Loyal Readers, my blog is not a money making enterprise, and I am not getting paid for this collaboration, although I will be dressed by kate spade new york (thanks, Mall of the Emirates store team!) for a number of artsy UAE events. I adore the Stelli dress I wore for this post to the opening of Art Dubai, and the vivacious floral pattern made me feel confident in a sea of baggy art fair linen. Ps: It has secret pockets!

kate spade New York

kate spade new york

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Sharjah Biennial 12: The Right to the City

It is a pity for someone with a good sense of direction to visit Sharjah Biennial 12 (SB12) at Sharjah Art Foundation. You are given a map with free admission, but I advise that you leave it folded in your back pocket, because the best part of the Biennial involves getting lost in the maze of coral-walled alleyways leading to contemporary galleries that shock in their contrast to the heritage area in which they sit. Turn a corner and you might hit a dead-end; or you could find yourself face to armpit with a nine meter section of Danh Vo’s life-size copper replica of the Statue of Liberty, reassembled under the title of ‘Come to where the flavours are’ in a historic courtyard.

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Both: Haegue Yang, An Opaque Wind, 2015. Mixed-media installation. Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation. Courtesy Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris;  Greene Naftali,New York; Kukje Gallery, Seoul; Galerie Wien Lukatsch, Berlin; and the artist. Installation view, Sharjah Biennial 12  Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation. Photo by Deema Shahin.

Both: Haegue Yang, An Opaque Wind, 2015. Mixed-media installation. Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation. Courtesy Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris; Greene Naftali,New York; Kukje Gallery, Seoul; Galerie Wien Lukatsch, Berlin; and the artist. Installation view, Sharjah Biennial 12. Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation. Photo by Deema Shahin.

Curator Eungie Joo (formerly of the New Museum) and Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, the progressive head of the foundation (and trustee of MoMa Ps1) clearly have a taste for minimalism, and this Biennial is more understated and less interactive than those that came before it, a fact that reflects the maturation of the UAE art scene and its growing ability to grasp art that takes some digging to appreciate. The Biennial’s curatorial concept, The past, the present, the possible was born from a conversation between Joo and Vo dissecting French philosopher Henri Lefebvre’s theory of “The Right to the City,” a call to action for city dwellers to collectively shape their own urban environments.

Enter 51 artists and collectives, 36 commissioned by SB12 to create site-specific works following investigative trips or residencies in Sharjah preceding the opening. This was not yet one more example of a wealthy foundation importing the most prestigious contemporary art on the market and cutting and pasting it onto pedestals. This was personal.

Eduardo Navarro, XYZ, 2015. Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation. Courtesy of the artist. Session with Delhi Private School, Sharjah Biennial 12. Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation. Photo by  Deema Shahin

Eduardo Navarro, XYZ, 2015. Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation. Courtesy of the artist. Session with Delhi Private School, Sharjah Biennial 12. Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation. Photo by Deema Shaun

The real strength of SB12 is the conversation that many of these 36 works seem to be having with Sharjah itself: Eduardo Navarro’s XYZ, involving groups of Emirati school children being led in various games with a giant blue ball, claims a courtyard for play bordering on performance art. Rirkrit Tiravanija recreated a rosewater distillery inspired by the 14th century model found in Sharjah’s Museum of Islamic Civilization. Lebanese artist Rayyane Tabet’s Steel Rings, installed beneath classical Arabesque arches, continues for what feels like infinity in remembrance of the Trans-Arabian Pipe Line Company, an ultimately defunct endeavour to link five Arab states through an underground pipeline that aimed—perhaps naively—for technology to cross borders that civilians could not.

http://sharjahmuseums.ae/Inner-Pages/Our-Museums/Sharjah-Museum-of-Islamic-Civilization.aspx?lang=en-us

http://sharjahmuseums.ae/Inner-Pages/Our-Museums/Sharjah-Museum-of-Islamic-Civilization.aspx?lang=en-us

Joo astutely layered these contemporary commissions with work by modern masters—many of whom have roots in the Arab world—including paintings by the poet Etel Adnan, an entire gallery of Princess Fahrelnissa Zeid’s paintings and glass sculptures, and a copper pipe sculpture of conceptual Emirati artist Hassan Sharif who paved the way for coming generations of UAE artists by founding the Emirates Fine Art Society in Sharjah back in the 80s.

Papy Ebotani, Fanfare funérailles [Funeral brass]. Performance. Produced by Studios Kabako. Performance view, Sharjah Biennial 12, 2015.  Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation. Photo by Alfredo Rubio

Papy Ebotani, Fanfare funérailles [Funeral brass]. Performance. Produced by Studios Kabako. Performance view, Sharjah Biennial 12, 2015.
Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation. Photo by Alfredo Rubio

While the curatorial concept is in theory apt for a government-funded foundation set in the heart of the emirate, there were very few city dwellers to be found taking part in the three-day opening. This lack of interaction between visiting art world elites, the UAE arts community, and everyday working residents of the local neighborhood calls into question the audience of this biennial—and of biennials in general.

Abdullah Al Saadi, Scarecrows, 2013, Mixed-media installation. Courtesy of the artist. Installation view, Sharjah Biennial 12.  Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation. Photo by Alfredo Rubio

Abdullah Al Saadi, Scarecrows, 2013, Mixed-media installation. Courtesy of the artist. Installation view, Sharjah Biennial 12.
Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation. Photo by Alfredo Rubio

It wasn’t until I walked the gritty streets of Sharjah in an artist’s funeral procession that I began to grasp the relationship between the Biennial and the city. No one died at the Biennial, but Papy Ebotani and a troupe of performers did throw a full-on Congolese-style funeral titled Fanfare funérailles (Funeral brass) which began just outside Sharjah Art Museum, where around 200 artists, writers, and curators stood in head-to-toe baggy linen (I must have missed that memo) and watched as local musicians sang and beat metal drums, while the artist and two dancers moved their bodies in time, opening their shiny suit jackets to draw attention to high street labels. Were we mourning the loss of a friend or the demise of a country’s youth to materialism and corruption? The performers began to walk towards downtown Sharjah with all of us trailing behind.

Nikhil Chopra, Use Like Water, 2015. Performance and mixed-media installation. Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation. Courtesy of the artist. Performance view, Sharjah Biennial 12. Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation. Photo by Alfredo Rubio.

Nikhil Chopra, Use Like Water, 2015. Performance and mixed-media installation. Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation. Courtesy of the artist. Performance view, Sharjah Biennial 12. Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation. Photo by Alfredo Rubio.

It was Friday—the only day most working people have off in the week. Men in white undershirts crowded onto balconies to take photos with their flip phones, then dressed hurriedly in shalwar kameez and joined the throng. Plucky kids marched along, mimicking the musicians. The dress and auto shop owners lined the sidewalks. The procession ended up at the heart of the Biennial’s exhibition spaces—and for the first time in two days I felt as though the city came to the Biennial and the Biennial came to the city.

Hassan Sharif, Drum (Barrel), 1985, cardboard, paper and paint, 150 x 70 x 70 cm (reconstituted in 2011), photographs and pen on paper mounted on cardboard, 84 x 50.5 cm each. Courtesy Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde and the artist. Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation. Photo: Alfredo Rubio.

Hassan Sharif, Drum (Barrel), 1985, cardboard, paper and paint, 150 x 70 x 70 cm (reconstituted in 2011), photographs and pen on paper mounted on cardboard, 84 x 50.5 cm each. Courtesy Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde and the artist. Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation. Photo: Alfredo Rubio.

Impressive site-specific installations at The Flying Saucer and the old Kalba Ice Factory, which are spaces newly acquired by SAF in areas of the emirate that have not had easy access to the arts to-date, demonstrate the more inclusive direction in which the Biennial is headed. Let’s hope there is a local audience to match.

Good Ideas: Sharjah Biennial 12: The past, the present, the possible runs at Sharjah Art Foundation through 5 June, 2015. Admission is free of charge, as are the Saturday bus trips to The Flying Saucer and the old Kalba Ice Factory.

Credits: This post was first published on ArtSlant. Stunning images courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation.

 

 

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Flawed Beauty: In Conversation with Mohammed Hindash

Beautopsy marks Mohammed Hindash’s first solo show and the painter’s visual autopsy of society’s obsession with physical perfection. It’s highly unusual for a student to land a solo show at a gallery, and as a senior at American University in Dubai (AUD) and the former recipient of the prestigious Sheikha Manal Young Artist Award, Mohammed is certainly an emerging artist to watch. Beautopsy opens 16 March at FN Designs on Alserkal Avenue.

Before the exhibition was installed, we sat down at the gallery with Mohammed’s canvases leaning against the walls and shared an informal morning conversation in between our first and second cups of coffee. Here is how our interview unfolded:

Plaything, From the 'Beautopsy' series, 2015

Plaything, From the 'Beautopsy' series, 2015

Danna Lorch (DL): Your work centres around notions of beauty. What pulls you to that theme again and again?

Mohammed Hindash (MH): When I reflected upon society’s obsession with beauty, the first thought that came to mind was plastic surgery. People alter themselves now more than in any other time in history.

DL: There is tremendous pressure to attain physical perfection.

MH: It stems from insecurity. A minor physical flaw is not even noticed by anyone else, but can become a personal obsession every time you look in the mirror.

DL: How did you begin to refine these thoughts into the show’s concept?

MH: Initially, I experimented with the dots that a cosmetic surgeon applies during a consultation. Then I worked with the idea of cutting in a more abstract sense, to show how every person has multiple facets.

DL: Which painting is the show named for?

MH: Beautospy talks about the human desire for pure aesthetic perfection. It is made up of 19 separate canvases that extend 7 metres in length and are 2 metres in height, and this work will be the main focal point inside the gallery.

DL: Did you paint each canvas separately or simultaneously?

MH: I tried to become a human printer as I worked on this, painting a layer on each canvas, then looping back to the first until the entire image became clear.

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DL: Are these portraits and studies of people you know or strangers you have imagined meeting?

MH: I always work on portraits of friends or people that I know in some way. This series actually incorporates a self-portrait, but it is not done in an obvious way. You’ll have to really look for it.

DL: How did receiving the Sheikha Manal Young Artist Award grow your practice?

MH: It made me take my art even more seriously and enrol in university to work towards my first solo show. Before I won the award I took a couple of gap years and studied illustration at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I used to only work in ink. When I returned [to Dubai] I began painting for the first time. I had always been very much against it in the past.

DL: Why did you have such strong feelings for ink and an aversion to paint?

MH: Ink felt more personal. I was always hovering over my drawings at the table. I thought that paint could never be as expressive in intricate details. But when I applied the techniques I’d learned with ink to painting, I was surprised to discover that I’m actually a painter. Now, I never work with a brush that is wider than two inches and I believe that I would not have been able to paint if I hadn’t first worked in ink.

DL: Your work always orbits the concept of beauty in one way or another. Where did your obsession begin?

MH: I’ve actually been heavily influenced by advertorials. They sell an idea of beauty that is not real and it fascinates me that millions of people fall for it even though we know that the models have been PhotoShopped. Yet we still go to buy these products, just hoping.

DL: Are you working out of a studio at AUD or from your room at home?

MH: My canvases are too big to fit at home these days, so I use space at the university.

DL: What were you listening to in the studio while you worked on this show?

MH: I’ve been painting to a lot of Tori Amos and American Hi-Fi, which is what I liked when I was 12 or 13. I like listening to things that bring back memories of when I was sitting and drawing in my room as a teenager.

DL: Have you suffered periods of creative block?

MH: Once I felt that way for an entire year. I spoke with a friend’s mother who is a life coach. She said something really interesting that I still remember: “Not doing anything is a creative process on its own, because ideas are building up subconsciously in your head.” She suggested that I embrace these dry periods. Right after that talk I painted again.

Studio shot at AUD

Studio shot at AUD

Good Ideas: Beautopsy opens at FN Designs on Alserkal Avenue the evening of 16 March. This interview appears in Issue 20 of AMOR (amagazineofrandom).

Image Credits: Courtesy of Mohammed Hindash and FN Designs.

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