Independent curator Tarek Abou El Fetouh seeks inspiration in Abu Dhabi as he searches for work that takes performance art in daring new directions

“I have this curiosity and I want to show it to the audience as well.” Tarek Abou El Fetouh is one of a handful of curators seriously and repeatedly engaging with the region and creating programmes that use performance to deepen our engagement with time and place. He was born in Cairo and is based in Brussels. His ideas come from a wealth of different experiences; as an architect rehabilitating abandoned buildings, allocating grants via the Young Arab Theatre Fund and curating the first four editions of the multidisciplinary, itinerant biannual festival Meeting Points in Amman, Alexandria, Cairo, Tunis and Damascus. It is the city of Abu Dhabi that has been his muse over recent years, as he enters his fourth year as curator of Abu Dhabi Art’s performance programme Durub Al Tawaya. The title suggests a meandering Bedouininspired journey through the desert, from well to well, while in classical Arabic “tawaya” can be translated as unfolding: ideas, concepts. “The cities in the gulf have huge possibilities for the future, more than any other cities that I work in,” Abou El Fetouh explains. “You can see the future is happening, the idea that Saadiyat Island is the extension of the city, urban planning is being developed right now.” Investigating our engagement with the city and the different trajectories of cosmopolitanism have been key motivators each year. A hugely successful project in 2015 came from German collective Rimini Protokoll, who created Remote Abu Dhabi, the 25th version of a two-hour walking tour of a city. The fact that the performance was a sellout and engaged a new audience has encouraged Abou El Fetouh to continue in radical directions for 2016.

The upcoming programme will explore how artists are thinking of the human body and its future in a highly connected society through seven new commissions with an incredibly global scope. Lebanon’s Raed Yassin will perform with a liwah traditional music group; Miet Warlop from Belgium presents The View, merging human forms and objects; Italian artist Anna Rispoli will offer a boat trip investigating how to send a message to aliens; the 3D humanoid persona Japanese pop star Hatsune Miku will perform an opera questioning the possibility of her death. Another major highlight is set to be a performance from Beijing’s TAO Dance Theater. What is evident here, and also in the artists chosen for The Time is Out of Joint at the Sharjah Art Foundation (the second phase of an exhibition that started at Homeworks 6 in Beirut in 2013), is that Abou El Fetouh is looking to Asia more and more. But he also explains that “today the contemporary art world is so connected you cannot separate what is coming from where. I try to think there is no borderline between regions or disciplines now.” The project Abou El Fetouh is most proud of commissioning won a prize at the Sharjah Biennial 9, for which he was a curator of the section Past of the Coming Days. Through its ongoing investigation of trade routes between Sharjah and Somalia, Wharfage, Sharjah by CAMP studio is hard to define as a distinct performance. This very fact proves how broadly Abou El Fetouh defines performance art. “It needs to include contemporary dance, classical theatre, music concerts, screenings and, and, and…..” he trails off, overwhelmed with possibilities.

By Laura Egerton

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Performing Arts Issue #39, pages 66-67.