Abu Dhabi
Xavier Mascaró’s fleet of iron and bronze boats will spend the summer at Warehouse 421 in Mina Port, Abu Dhabi

While the desert is a central fact of life in the Emirates, there’s just as strong an attachment to the sea. As a trade hub, pearling and fishing were at the core of traditional Emirati economies. So where better a mooring place for Xavier Mascaró’s fleet of iron and bronze boats than Warehouse 421 in Mina Port, Abu Dhabi? Entitled Departure, the exhibition will feature 26 of his rusted vessels in an array of sizes, and will remain on show until September 4. These works have previously been shown at the Saatchi Gallery, and Mascaró has also had monumental shows in Paris’ Palais Royal Gardens and Madrid’s Prado Museum.

The Spanish sculptor takes his inspiration from Egyptian, Greek and Phoenician maritime histories, but imagery like this has meaning for all, whether it’s a ghost ship, a shipwreck or, of course, the current exodus towards Europe. They’re confidently figurative and have a material boldness that recalls masters of 20th century sculpture, like fellow countryman Eduardo Chillida. The armada stands steady on stilts, reminiscent too of Salvador Dali’s Don Quixote. But there’s also a duality where they could be matchstick models, or charred remains. It’s important for Mascaró that each boat is cast by hand using sand, as it gives the piece a more textured and therefore “organic” finish.

Ruminations on sailing, travelling and longing are captured in accompanying texts, poetry and songs. A staggering majority of the population arrived here from other lands, so the imagery of constant flux resonates on many levels. “To me, they are related to the present and time that flows constantly,” the artist says. “We are crossing time, transported by time, and sort of fossilised. The way I present it, it’s as if it’s seen from the future and it’s archaeology of the present. It’s a metaphor for life.”

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Creative Issue #36, on page 28.