Dubai’s Cuadro Gallery ran three distinct solo shows simultaneously this winter, presenting a trio of artistic visions of the UAE
This winter, Cuadro Gallery presented three simultaneous yet distinct solo shows from the next generation of Emirati artists — Nasir Nasrallah, Ammar Al Attar and Zeinab Al Hashemi. The three bodies of work, on show from December 9 to January 4, were connected by the artists’ obsession with compelling viewers to pause and heavily re-think common UAE topography, objects or rituals.
As a boy, Nasir Nasrallah grew up cannibalising old machines in his grandfather’s antique shop, which lay in the souk in the heart of Sharjah. Today the artist’s studio perches just metres away. In Every Page a Piece of Me featured a wall of offbeat works on paper — from a floating beauty with a garden planted in the crown of her head, to blueprints for a purposeless machine involving a Cyclops and a showerhead. It’s easy to understand Nasrallah as equal parts industrialist and storyteller, an artist who is entranced by human collections and the urban Emirati landscape, but also has the capacity to transport viewers to another universe altogether.
Whether described as a designer or a conceptual artist — a label that she dismisses as irrelevant in the first place — Zeinab Al Hashemi breaks the rules of time in her work, taking earth-bound elements of UAE life, from the desert to construction zones and the country’s geography itself, and transforming them into futuristic new forms. In Constructionism, Al Hashemi presented five digital ‘scanographies’ from her ongoing Urban Phantasmagoria series, in which she manipulates satellite shots of UAE geography to create kaleidoscopic photographic tapestries. These pieces were complemented by experimental concrete on canvas works, in which the artist rediscovers the country’s map by becoming both labourer and urban planner, using pieces of charcoal to mark space. These new pieces felt experimental and rough, as though we were spying on Al Hashemi in the midst of her next precocious breakthrough.
Ammar Al Attar’s Salah was significant because it marks a transition from emerging documentary photographer to a larger, more sure-footed photographic practice that is inevitably going places well beyond a supportive UAE collector base. Here Al Attar explored rituals in Muslim prayer by photographing himself in each gesture and meta-movement of the ritual, taking great effort to decipher meaning, as much as action. The show was poignantly installed directly above the mosque in DIFC and stood in clever contrast to his previous Prayer Rooms series, which uninhabited prayer spaces.
A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Interventions Issue #34, on page 28.