Close The Language Door: Ala Ebtekar’s ‘Nowheresville’

Who hasn’t lain on their back, propped up on a rock or a mattress of grass and watched the clouds roll across the sky until the pinprick stars blink into inky evening, one at a time? Philosophy, astronomy, and the genre of Science Fiction come together to probe at universal celestial mysteries in Ala Ebtekar’s latest body of work, Nowheresville/ 'NÄ-KŌJA,-ABÄD at The Third Line in Dubai.

Zenith (IV), 2015, Acrylic over cyanotype on canvas, four panels, 182x92cm each, 182x368cm total

Zenith (IV), 2015, Acrylic over cyanotype on canvas, four panels, 182x92cm each, 182x368cm total

Although he has lived most of his life in the California Bay Area, much of Ebtekar’s practice has explored Persian mythology and ancestry with connections to American hip hop and pop culture. In ‘Elemental’ (2004), he famously whitewashed a replica of an Iranian coffee shop to represent the dying out of the traditional gathering spaces that had once given birth to Iran’s modern art movement and its significant discourses. With ‘Nowheresville’, the Stanford professor’s work has fully moved beyond group identity into the realm of the universally mystical. Our interview took place beneath a large-scale heptagon light sculpture. A NASA recording of the vibrations emitted by the rings of the planet Uranus, rose and fell eerily around us. It was conceivable that we could cross through one of the artist’s portals to the future at any second.

Untitled (Manuscript 14), 2013, Manuscript, 32x42cm

Untitled (Manuscript 14), 2013, Manuscript, 32x42cm

Here is what we discussed while we waited to embark on that journey:

Danna Lorch (DL): Tell me about Shahabuddin Suhrawardi, the 12th century Persian mystic philosopher for whom this show is named.

Ala Ebtekar (AL): First of all, there is very little academic work on Suhrawardi, although Henry Corbin has written about him and translated his books into English. To this day, most people don’t understand much of what was written. It’s philosophy, mainly [communicated] through stories, each containing triple or quadruple metaphorical levels of meaning, dealing with the idea that creation is based on light and transcendence goes back to filling yourself with light. Many New Age books today like ‘The Secret’ concern mindfulness, but here is someone who was talking about it in a relevant way in the 12th century.

Ala Ebtekar, Untitled (Manuscript 14), 2013, Manuscript, 32x42cm.JPG

Ala Ebtekar, Untitled (Manuscript 14), 2013, Manuscript, 32x42cm.JPG

DL: For the Manuscript series, you physically cut out portions of text from ancient illuminated manuscripts’ leaves. Are you looking at what is known through text and what can never be understood through language?

AE: Some people from the curatorial team at a museum visited the exhibition and looked at the series and assumed it was dealing with censorship. That actually wasn’t what I was going for. A lot of older Persian work is text-based. Walter Benjamin talks about how the aura is usually lost in translation.

Rumi has a very beautiful poem about the moon. He says:

“At night I wait for the moon to shine on my face.
Close the language door and open the love window.
The moon will only enter through the window.”

How do we close that language door? I attempted to capture the aura of these texts and created a window.

DL: Everything I’ve seen of yours relates to light, but in order for us to distinguish light we have to know darkness. In what way is darkness present in ‘Nowheresville’?

AE: Light has to have a contrast, so for that reason, the ‘Tunnel in the Sky’ works have a full book page behind them, which is from Robert Heinelin’s first 1955 edition. I’m exploring the tension between veiling and illuminating. In terms of the colour, there is a conscious transition from earth white to celestial blue.

Tunnel in the Sky (Variation 2, Chapters I-IV), collage cut mat over monoprint

Tunnel in the Sky (Variation 2, Chapters I-IV), collage cut mat over monoprint

Tunnel In The Sky (Variation 2 Chapters I-IV), 2015, Collage_Cut mat over monoprint on found book page, 62x49cm (detail)

Tunnel In The Sky (Variation 2 Chapters I-IV), 2015, Collage_Cut mat over monoprint on found book page, 62x49cm (detail)

DL: You and the Sun collaborated on the Zenith panels. How did that unlikely artistic dialogue come about?

AE: I challenged myself to find a way to contain light in an object without an electric plug. I came across the cyanotype process, which was developed in the 1800’s by an astronomer named Sir John Herschel. Process-wise, you treat the material with solution then create a negative that you place over it. You put the work in the sun and make an exposure depending upon the level of colour desired. In this case, that period lasted two hours. After you bring it inside, you wash and dry the material, and only then is the colour really evident. The idea of the work being touched by the sky is relevant to me. The work is conceptually born of light.

Installation shot at The Third Line

Installation shot at The Third Line

DL: How did you choose the heptagon shape for your installation, 'Sakina' around which the rest of the works are orbiting?

AE: This is a seven-sided heptagon shape and there are a lot of connections. This shape symbolizes the universe, the seven days, and the seven planets. Also it’s the first perfect number in mystical numerology.

Untitled, 2013, Manuscript, 42.5x32.2cm

Untitled, 2013, Manuscript, 42.5x32.2cm

Untitled (Manuscript 15), 2013, Manuscript, 42x32cm

Untitled (Manuscript 15), 2013, Manuscript, 42x32cm

DL: The brilliant thing is that although you’re mixing space discovery with Sci Fi kitsch and Persian mysticism there are a myriad of clear connections, one leading to the next.

AE: It’s true: The seventh planet is Uranus. The father of the astronomer who coined the cyanotype process was William Herschel, the same scientist to discover Uranus. Although it sounds like Tibetan bowls, the soundtrack we’re listening to is a 1986 NASA recording of the sounds made of the reverberations of the rings of that planet, taken by The Voyager.

Zenith (IV), 2015, Acrylic over cyanotype on canvas, four panels, 182x92cm each, 182x368cm total (detail)

Zenith (IV), 2015, Acrylic over cyanotype on canvas, four panels, 182x92cm each, 182x368cm total (detail)

DL: Also, in Sufism, seven represents the levels of heaven in Conference of the Birds. Spiritually and energetically anything is possible in this show. Seated here beneath this force field, we could beam up at any moment.

AE: That’s what ‘Nowheresville’ means and what Suhrawardi’s philosophy describes. In one of his stories, a young seeker asks a mystic, “So where is this ‘Nowheresville’ located?” the mystic answers, “It is the place your index finger can’t point to.” There is something nice about that place being different for everybody and the intention of the show is not for this show to be that place, which would be pretentious because it is different for everybody. I hope that audience will experience trying to get to that place on their own.

DL: I first encountered your work through your installation and phonograph cylinder performance at Maraya Art Park in Sharjah. Are you involved in any other public art projects currently?

AE: I teach at Stanford University and am currently working on a public art project that I was awarded for the city of Palo Alto. That is working with LED lights to illuminate the pedestrian walkway that leads from downtown Palo Alto to Stanford. Light is the medium but we’re working with different data to create an algorithm that will essentially influence the colour and intensity of the light depending on the date, time, or weather. In that sense, my art is headed in the direction of looking at how information can be displayed visually and become an experience.

In conversation with Ala underneath the heptagon

In conversation with Ala underneath the heptagon

 

Good Ideas: Nowheresville runs through 15 April, 2015 at The Third Line in Dubai.

Credits: Images courtesy of artist and The Third Line

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Typing Syria: Whatsapp as Performance Art or Awareness Campaign?

Typing Syria is a social experiment and performance piece running in a Whatsapp group through the month of April. Subscribers are not allowed to engage with the characters, and are encouraged to eavesdrop but not act. This voyeuristic relationship echoes the international community’s attitude towards the Syrian situation four years on, which can be likened to the screen saver that comes onto the iPhone after 30 seconds of inattention.

Typing Syria Screenshot 1

Throughout the performance, two old friends, fictional characters named Khalid and Sa’eed, separated by borders and time zones, type onto Whatsapp, trying to connect through limited words and an increasing divergence of daily lives. Just like any other young, unmarried guys, there is light discussion of beers and girls (perhaps in subtle reference to the largely secular nature of urban Syria before the conflict began). However, it becomes evident very quickly that Sa’eed is in Syria and Khalid is pursuing asylum in Holland. There are moments of universal relatable humanity, such as when Sa’eed’s female relatives bake pastries. These vignettes are interrupted by reality—the power goes out and the pastries cannot be cooked.

Typing Syria Screenshot 2

It’s oddly (and perhaps deliberately) unclear on which “side” of the conflict the characters sit. Khalid is rejected for an asylum visa in Holland. He wonders aloud, “its weird that weve come to this. Now I just wait. Syrians begging other countries for their rights.” Sa’eed tries to connect Khalid with friends in Italy, but refuses to leave Syria because he is in love with a girl whose “brain is a real machine” who used to wear the veil but recently removed it but has a brother who is “2/3 ISIS.”

Typing Syria Screenshot 3

When Sa’eed types that he wants to secretly live with this woman—a scenario that is implausible for a Syrian context before or after the conflict—the “performance” began to feel like an awareness campaign geared towards a Western audience that should have been titled, “Syrians: They’re Just Like Us.” The reality is that Syrians are diverse in belief and culture, as well as stories of survival, and by trying too hard to demonstrate that the characters are educated, secular, and hip, the artists risk viewers generalizing about an entire population. At a time when many people inside (and even outside) Syria do not even have access to basic food, water, and power, it is dangerous to focus exclusively on two relatively affluent, English-speaking characters. Perhaps this will be un-packed in further texts throughout the month. Nonetheless, the performance does a decent job of weighing the tensions between disconnection and connection, exile and domesticity, while probing the ways that today’s conflicts are mediated by social media.

Screenshot 4, Typing Syria

It is unclear why the artist or artists’ names associated with Typing Syria have not been mentioned, although a press release did mention support from NYU Abu Dhabi, and as the characters’ numbers are a +971 country code, it seems the project originates in the United Arab Emirates. Unless screenshots go viral later this month, it is doubtful that this performance will change the international community’s lack of response to the situation in Syria in any significant way. Will we all continue to look on with passive interest before scrolling through our social media feeds?

Typing Syria Screenshot 5

Good Ideas: For more information about the performance visit Typing Syria.

Credits: This review originally appeared in ArtSlant. All images are screenshots snapped on my phone from Typing Syria.

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Melting Machismo: Nadia Kaabi-Linke's Fahrenheit 311

Medically speaking, at precisely 311 degrees Fahrenheit, testosterone, the male sex hormone, begins to melt. With her second solo show at Lawrie Shabibi in Dubai, Fahrenheit 311: Seven Legends of Machismo, Nadia Kaabi-Linke presents eight place-centred works that each conduct an autopsy on masculine qualities and myths—from war and glory to violence and heroism. The seven deadly sins run in parallel. In case you need a re-cap of Dante’s Inferno, these are lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride.

Altarpiece.2015. Transfer print and acrylic on paper on canvas

Altarpiece.2015. Transfer print and acrylic on paper on canvas

Kaabi-Linke has a practiced knack for making the ugly shamefully beautiful, and this has never been more evident then with Impunities London Originals—a series of pretty smudges and creases on paper quietly installed along the gallery’s rear wall. As there is no accompanying wall text, it’s possible to casually view these without understanding that they are actually prints documenting the male-inflicted injuries that sent women to a domestic abuse shelter. With knowledge comes the guilty shock at what one is actually admiring.

Installation view. From left - right. Hardballs, Bangballs, Grindballs, A Short Story of Salt and Sun & Perspecive Bank Junction.

Installation view. From left - right. Hardballs, Bangballs, Grindballs, A Short Story of Salt and Sun & Perspecive Bank Junction.

 Impunities London Originals, 2012, Black powder on transparent film on paper. 19 x 25 cm

Impunities London Originals, 2012, Black powder on transparent film on paper. 19 x 25 cm

In Tunisian Americans, 400 tiny glass bottles intended to contain kohl (the ground mineral stibnite traditionally used to outline women’s eyes in the Middle East), have been clinically numbered and filled with soil from the graves of fallen American soldiers buried in a U.S.military graveyard in Kaabi-Linke’s native Tunisia. The soldiers’ dog tag numbers correspond to the identifications on their actual graves, which have each been compartmentalized here in an antique typesetting tray. Beyond the number, each life, battle, and loss are ultimately equal and indistinguishable.

Tunisian Americans. Detail. 2012. Wood

Tunisian Americans. Detail. 2012. Wood

It’s impossible to visit the show without being drawn like a believer on a pilgrimage towards Altarpiece, a gold leaf triptych that references a church’s iconography. The surface of the work is in the form of three imprints that have been taken from a Berlin bunker that still bears the battle scars of World War II, has survived various incarnations, and presently houses the Boros Collection. The doors to the icon can be closed with a creak and seem to question whether history and man’s errors can ever be fully concealed.

It’s not entirely clear exactly who Kaabi-Linke considers to be in power. In a show that focuses so wholly on male behavior and vice, it is thinkable to charge her with presenting a counter-myth of females as passive, sexual objects manipulated by male aggressors and structures. On the other hand, as Grindballs, Hardballs, and Bangballs bluntly suggests, it is also possible to view the show as the artist’s commentary on the ways society’s boxes and expectations crush and dominate male potency.

Altarpiece.2015. Transfer print and acrylic on paper on canvas

Altarpiece.2015. Transfer print and acrylic on paper on canvas

Good Ideas: Fahrenheit 311: Seven Legends of Machismo runs at Lawrie Shabibi in Dubai on Alserkal Avenue through 14 May, 2015.

Credits: This review was originally published on ArtSlant. Images courtesy of the artist and Lawrie Shabibi.

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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.

20150323110933-_UTA8803

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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