Abu Dhabi Art Fair is an interactive digital edition of Abu Dhabi Art bringing together galleries and artists from across the world in a number of curated gallery exhibitions and sectors. For the first time ever, six guest curators has worked with galleries and artists to present work online, each with a different geographic focus.
Our selection from galleries
Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde
In the set of six acrylic, gouache and collage on paper entitled Life Isn’t Too Big a Deal and Shouldn’t Be Painted as Such (2019), the artists capture a journey of documenting transient moments as the world unravels between their hands in the form of pages from the daily print newspaper The National. An act of both observing and participating in the world, the newspaper rectangular spreads become a Field of Negotiation* and the backdrop of their conversations about the recent books they’ve read or films they’ve watched, problems and memories held on their morning table. Painting or collaging on top of the spreads, they take photos of the process and re-collage it back into the same painting, so as to see, sometimes, the original strokes of acrylic and gouache and the printed strokes sitting side-by-side. Visibly, they capture highlights of the day, from flying the first UAE astronaut to the ISS in 2019, to Brexit updates occupying the headlines and the Iran-US mounting tension. *Field of Negotiation is a collaborative technique of creation by the trio which highlights the contributions of others, bringing a reality that interrupts the trio/collective language. The outcome, not predetermined and completely organic, allows for an opportunity to negotiate multiple perspectives. The negotiation field acts as an experimental ground, where alternative subjectivities emerge in the process.
Tawakol’s rich dark blue Jungle #2 is inspired by the captivating paintings of post-impressionist artist Henri Rousseau who never visited jungles but depended on his imagination of the exotic uncharted land which was entangled in a Western gaze. Orientalist iconographic repertoire of the ‘lure of the exotic East’ and the hyper ‘othering’ and sexualisation of women from the faraway land has contributed to the subjectivation and subjugation of the societies they depicted. Tawakol’s response to the exotic stimulus in the art of the intellectuals of the nineteenth century comes in the form of this impressive wall piece. The textile collage is made by stitching together the various elements of the palm tree in blue hues. The interwoven textures of the trunks, leaves, dates, and clusters of the tree do not allow our gaze to penetrate the space beyond, leaving it open to projection and the imagination. Tawakol draws from the visuals of the jungle to convey a similar sense of mystery with which her subject matters are regarded.
Using lithography on handwoven textiles, Untitled (2020) is inspired by carpet weavers in Iran who sing the patterns of their laborious and time-consuming work. This vanishing historical practice is called Naqshe Khani, a type of work song that guides the worker through their day in rhythmic instruction. This system for making the pattern itself, is a kind of call-and-response that guides the weavers in their collaborative labour. She first creates the pattern for the weavers, marking the rhythm on paper. Interpreting the artist’s draft, the weavers work within their own set of guided measures. Once the handwoven textile is returned to the artist, she applies the final stitches of lines and luminous lithograph imprints, completing her collaborative experiment developed within potential disorder.
Facade No.4 is from Divecha’s series entitled Variable Memories (2014), a set of monumental wall-mounted works in which Divecha photographed the glistening surfaces of modern buildings in Dubai which reflect old neighbourhoods. When such glass facades cover entire buildings, the neighbouring buildings begin to undulate on the reflective surface, becoming a metaphor on how we perceive old and traditional sectors of the city that get swept aside in the seemingly endless pursuit of all that is modern. In Divecha’s narrative, past gets documented on the contemporary, glossy Dubai facades, reflecting older counterparts i.e. the JLTs and Dubai Marinas mirror the Deiras and the Satwas. In Facade No.4 Divecha captures the reflection of a building from Al Muraqabat locality in the heart of eastern Dubai.
In his acrylic and ink on canvas series entitled Windows (2019-20), Kazem traces scenes from photographs he has taken around the UAE. The original photographs show construction sites, busy highways, tired workers seated at the side of the road, as well as the private and public social life of the country’s globalised population. But Kazem’s traced drawings lack colour and have a sense of anonymity and unnatural precision of line. He uses an intentionally cold and distancing manner to interpret his environment. The resulting anonymity of these traced, outlined scenes emphasises the artist’s own sense of distance and anonymity in relation to the drastic urban and social changes that the UAE has undergone in the last 12 years.
Aluminum (2014) belongs to his series of Objects which he started in the 1980s using found industrial materials or mass-produced items purchased in markets and stores around the UAE. Weaving these objects together with rope, coil and twine, the heaps and bundles that Sharif created became a visualisation of the surplus of mass-production – the commonly unseen by-product of the UAE’s globalised society. These works were a vital instrument in provoking and engaging UAE audiences with contemporary art in the 1980s questioning the material effects of extensive and rapid industrialisation, transforming cheap disused materials through repetitive actions into complex and obscure sculptures that comment on the drastic shift of the economic and social state in the UAE.
In his series of embroidery works entitled Dancing, Smoking, Kissing (2013), Yassin recreates scenes of lost family photographs based on personal recollection, his family’s memory and his imagination. Most of Yassin’s family photographs were lost due to frequent moving and displacement. These computer-generated illustrations are embroidered in a factory and produced on silk fabrics. The floating figures are layered on top of a kitschy floral print in a nostalgia for moments of intimate and celebratory interactions with relatives that are mostly remembered as temporary flashes of joy in the context of Lebanese civil war survival and its consequences on memory and emotional attachments.
Visual artist, Hazem Harb examines social, architectural and geographical spaces through his contemporary approach to collage and in doing so succeeds in materialising complex and unfamiliar terrain. Operating as a researcher, by collecting and synthesising archives of rarified ephemera including photographs, negatives and maps, Harb mediates his materials in a manner which dismantles them from a static space. Through collage he stitches them together to form fresh constructions that invite unheard discourses and a historical rethinking. Map of the Land #1 and 2 see figures from the artist’s social world cut-out, recoloured and reconfigured to form a new presence while for Eternal Map (2019) the artist traces white, red and green strings over a 1930s photograph of agricultural workers to form the twists and turns of his country’s map in its traditional colours. Hazem Harb’s use of collage allows him to construct a discourse that did not previously exist or was at least hidden. The artist imbeds old photographs and archival objects within his works, often rare pieces of the past that he cuts and inserts into conceptual compositions. Both the result and the approach relay a hidden story, the use of genuine historical sources summoning the past to the present – a solution proposed by Harb to reaffirm and reestablish the cultural and physical existence of his people. Hazem Harb’s use of collage allows him to construct a discourse that did not previously exist or was at least hidden. The artist imbeds old photographs and archival objects within his works, often rare pieces of the past that he cuts and inserts into conceptual compositions. Both the result and the approach relay a hidden story, the use of genuine historical sources summoning the past to the present – a solution proposed by Harb to reaffirm and reestablish the cultural and physical existence of his people.
Hyperrealist Samah Shihadi’s selected works for, Traces of The Land, draw from the artist’s personal narratives and her engagement with the physical space and natural environment as a site of connection with notions of the home, family and collective identity. The landscape is a backdrop upon which the concerns of social groups play out and fall in and out of focus with shifts of power, in this sense Shihadi’s natural surroundings are of deep concern to her. Shihadi’s family were farmers and their deep-rooted and powerful connection to the land which Shihadi shares is unleashed through rich symbolic elements. In a series of studies, the cactus or sabre is, for example, employed as a symbol of resilience, indeed, and as a marker of ‘patience’. While in other works her country’s ubiquitous olives speak out to confirm the artist’s cultural identity. Each work selected for Traces of The Land has been painstakingly produced over several months. Shihadi’s work oscillates between classical-figurative realism, which dutifully captures and records that which surrounds her and fantastical surrealism that draws from the artist’s preoccupations with mysticism. Shihadi employs a dramatic approach to hyperrealism sketching using chiaroscuro to form a magical reality which blends both fiction and fantasy. Symbolism – religious, ritualistic, political, and cultural – is interwoven into much of Shihadi’s work, forming complex layers that the viewer must unpack in order to absorb deeper meanings. Tali Tamir quoted Palestinian artist, Abu-Shakra saying that: “The cactus fascinates me because of its amazing ability to flower out of thorny death.” The Christian motifs that characterise many of Shihadi’s works are even closer to those of Walid Abu Shakra, who etches a journey between the spiritual and the political seeking to extract the hidden and mystical forces of his native landscapes, which also include depictions of olive trees and cacti.
In her recent artwork series titled Tensegrity, Ruba Salameh breaks the rules or rather breaks free from the authority of the art form. Salameh builds concrete structures of abstract arrangements compromised of geometrical shapes using cold pastel colours and distributing the shapes carefully and minimally on the canvas. Yet, this monotonous harmony is disrupted suddenly and in a rather unexpected way. Salameh discretely introduces hordes of small chaotic ants crawling about in curiosity, assembling around the shapes as if trying to jointly carry them away. They gather in the corners as if stuck in search for their nest or are scattering around in conflicting paths. The artworks bring to mind a striking similarity of the notion of resilience of an indigenous population in a situation where their own living space diminishes continuously as a result of an incessant expanding domination by a colonial power. Slowly and discretely, the indigenous population daily motions transform to a form of disruption to the supremacy of the dominant power.
Nabil Anani introduces new materials in his series Olive Groves, using natural desiccated plants, straw, and mixed media. His artworks capture an empty semi-arid landscape in which plants grow scarcely while olive trees thrive. The scenery of olive groves spreading over the horizon through the Palestinian landscape reflect the sturdy nature of this plant that remains rooted in the earth despite adversities.
In Sliman Mansour’s artworks, the combination between areas painted in acrylic colours and areas of cracked mud is focal. This combination of two contrasting materials emphasises the tension between the roughness of the mud cracks which is dominant, and the contrasting adjacent areas of smoothly painted acrylic colours. Mansour’s paintings could be a representation of the stalemate situation in the Palestinian current reality and the changes that permeate the nature of Palestinians as people. His figures as if transforming slowly and discretely from being colourful and vibrant into disintegrated and fragmented characters broken into colourless pieces. Yet, it’s not all dim and gloomy, his Temporary Escape gives some hope that this transformation is only transient.
Richard Atugonza, an exceptional sculptor who has recently joined our gallery. Atugonza’s current body of work from the series Imperfection perfections encompasses a selection of portraits depicting people in his life whom he sculpts in ubiquitous materials such as plastic bottles and charcoal found in his immediate environment to capture proportion, body movement and posture using the reverse technique. This begins with dressing his models with bandages to get the negative, after which he manipulates through clay as an ‘editing’ process to capture the figure’s expression in order to make a cast.
Abushariaa Ahmed who works with inks on paper. In the series “Sudan 06-19”, the artist depicts the role of women in the Sudan revolution which reached its peak around June 2019. Women like Alaa Salah who led powerful protest chants that helped fuel the revolution that ousted President Omar al-Bashir from 30 years of authoritarian rule came to symbolise the integral role women played on the front lines of the pro-democracy protests, where they often outnumbered men.
Gulay Semercioglu’s work Mediterranean evokes the geographical-cultural position of the artist’s country of origin. The work is inspired by traditional Turkish tile art. A motif from Seljuk and Ottoman stylised tiles is reinterpreted with wire weaving which is a technique identified with the artist. Semercioglu takes inspiration from a legend about the traditional tile art; once upon a time a woman believed to have mystical powers enchants the village people with her pottery, the villagers follow secretly the woman and discover that the woman use a special mud from Kutahya city. Similar legends around traditional Turkish tile art, also coverings and motifs of tile walls frequently used in Ottoman buildings and their vivid colours have influenced Gulay Semercioglu since her early years. The artwork, inspired by Mediterranean tile practice and brings together nature, geometry and light.
The semi-abstract compositions combine in unusual ways references to objects and architecture from both ancient cultures and contemporary civilisations. Recurrent references are to the transformed remnants of ancient civilisations: The gigantic sculptures of Mount Nemrut, Turkey, the belongings of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, and the artefacts of the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. To capture the three-dimensionality of her subjects, she often creates sculptures to model her paintings on. Maris’ works are described as the architecture of emotion. She builds emotions instead of physical constructions; she creates passages between the objects and figures, the past and today.
Mustafa Hulusi’s botanical painting depicts the beautiful yet toxic Oleander plant. Created in a hyper-realist style, it calls to mind both propaganda images from the early 20th Century to kitsch pastel coloured 1970s art. Rather than replicating an exact photographic image, the painting attempt to capture a memory and its internal perception. A sense of unease pervades the paintings; these are nostalgic images and express loss. They are an attempt to remember, not just a particular moment of intensity and aliveness, but also self-awareness – the ability to have this conscious thought in the first place.
Sultan finds himself in a sacred place and almost by chance, from a privileged perspective, he stops to observe what happens beyond a luminescent partition placed to contain and give order to the visitors. The result is a magical moment which Sultan records with his mobile phone. Moments reported in this vibrant installation. Hundreds of hands, faces, noses and gestures crowd, crawl and crush against this wall that has almost become the materiali”ation of the spirit. Everyone tries, after a long journey, to get in touch with Him. Each immersed in himself in search of his own answer, animated only by his own questions. All together with the load of gestures and humanity that make this moment universal. Hands in search of God, are the hands of visitors, in which the visitor can identify: a journey at the same time abstract and concrete towards the divine.
Agial Art Gallery
Abu Dhabi Virtual Art Fair is on view until the 26th of November.