Mohammed Ibrahim has been intuitively creating art for more than 30 years. He is one of the founding members of Emirates Fine Arts Society, a collective of Emirati artists that formed in the 80’s before there was a public appreciation for art or any possibility of compensation in sight. Mohammed first began giving performances on Sheikh Zayed Road decades back without access to the Internet or links to artistic communities beyond the UAE.
The artist is based in Khorfakkhan, a mountainous coastal region that is part of the Emirate of Sharjah. His art is deeply tied to the land that he calls home. Mohammed grows his own artistic materials in his yard—he plants seedlings, waits for the leaves to grow then fall, ferments the materials into clay, then sculpts the work and bakes it in an oven. Everything he produces is dependent on the seasons and the UAE geography.
Although Mohammed Ibrahim has never addressed it directly, it’s impossible to walk through the show at Cuadro without noticing the multiple phallic shapes and the struggle at play between male and female. In the gallery’s front window, an empty bowl is positioned below a 6 foot long hanging sculpture. Is this a mortar or pestle, an exploration of the balance between genders, or an abstract expression? There is not an accompanying essay to prescriptively tell us what we are viewing and the implication is that these works are what we make of them.
Nearby is a shelf of simple glazed clay objects found in Ibrahim’s studio and installed on a shelf below hieroglyphic drawings. There is something deeply primal about the materials and the linguistic symbols that both harken back to ancient desert caves and draw a parallel to the American artist Keith Haring’s urban drawings. In the gallery beyond is a marvelous installation in which the symbols have been playfully transformed in brightly painted clay. There is something wonderfully simple and open about this installation that is highly accessible as an entry point to the exhibition.
Cuadro Director Roberto Lopardo spelled it out, “We took on this show because it’s struck me as one of the more beautiful things that Mohammed has done. I can imagine him going up the mountain in Khorfakkhan near his house every night to collect these rocks, then sitting in his yard, and wrapping these stones in this warm, embracing copper.” The installation is about fastidiously clinging to a world that is rapidly changing, and fastening memories together that can never be erased, even as the land is developed beyond recognition.
A bench has intentionally been set nearby as if to invite viewers to linger in the space and reflect as though at a museum. The bench (unusual to find in a gallery, which at the end of the day is a place of business) is symbolic of Cuadro’s decision to run Primordialdespite most of the works not being for sale due to Mohammed’s deep attachment to them.
Good Ideas: Primordial will run at Cuadro Art in Dubai International Financial Centre’s Gate Village through 17 March, 2014. As always, appointments are not required and the gallery is open to families and the public. For more information go here.
Image Credits: Courtesy of the artist and Cuadro