Abu Dhabi Art 2023: Interview with Venetia Porter

The Gateway Exhibition is a platform that highlights local and international artists. What motivated your choice to curate this year’s exhibition and to present a survey show for Emirati artist Hashel Al Lamki?

I was invited to curate this year’s Gateway exhibition by Dyala Nusseibeh, Director of Abu Dhabi Art and was delighted to be asked. I quickly decided that I wanted to work with a single artist – someone from the UAE. I had seen the work of Hashel Al Lamki at the Lyon Biennale and happened also to meet him there with his mother. I thought the work was extraordinary and wanted to learn more.

Could you share your initial impressions and insights upon encountering Hashel Al Lamki’s work, especially his installation “Rodinia,” at the Lyon Biennale?

Hashel Al Lamki Red Roundabout

I was interested in the fact that he is primarily a painter – a terrific colourist and that his work is bold and strong. RodinialookedincredibleintheGuimetmuseumwhere it was installed. Created for the space, I was blown away by the great panels evoking landscapes, fabric at the top, video screens on the ground. It was very immersive. When we first spoke by phone about the idea of this exhibition, Dyala and I caught him walking down a busy street in Tokyo, he was spending some weeks in Japan learning about materials and pigments (he is keen to go back there and pursue this).

I then spent a couple of fun days with Hashel in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, and got to know more about his work. I was intrigued at the range of what he had done from painting to sculpture and video. I knew that he had done a great solo show at Warehouse421 in 2020, The Cup and the Saucer, working with Munira Al Sayegh, and had featured in the Portrait of a Nation exhibition curated by Maya El Khalil – some of the works in the present show were shown in both these exhibitions. But as I spent time in his studio, I realised that he had lots of works hidden away that had not been seen and so I thought it would be interesting to try and put it all together including giving new life to Rodinia and to show his most recent video work, Desert Hay. The idea, therefore, was to tell the story of Hashel and his work so far.

What I also found very interesting is that he is extremely keen on sustainability. This very much governs his thinking, He dyes his own fabrics, for example, works with natural materials dies, and his sculptures are made from recycled materials.

Hashel Al Lamki’s fascination with the geology and history of the UAE is mentioned. How does this fascination manifest in his art, and what themes or elements of the natural landscapes and human intervention can visitors anticipate exploring through his creations?

As I got to know Hashel, I became fascinated by his own story which really begins in Al Ain. He grew up in the district of Al Maqam which he evokes in works which includes the Versailles Series (2018-2019). The series takes different forms from a large brilliant coloured canvas featuring the dramatic landscape of Jabal Hafit to small canvases which are inspired by the local housing developments in and around Al Maqam. But we also see a personal side, touching works inspired by the sudden passing of his father. Hashel has been absolutely fascinated by the geology of Abu Dhabi, and the colours he finds in these ancient landscapes completely inform his thinking and his colour palette.

For Rodinia, which is named after a supercontinent that formed millions of years ago, he spent a lot of time studying this ancient history.

The Day We Met Thomas_(diptych)_2021_Private collection

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