Selections takes a spin through Lawrie Shabibi’s roster in Dubai


Tucked away in a dark corner of Alserkal Avenue and sheltered from the incessant heat outside, Michael Jackson is back, and as messianic as ever. In Michael, Adel Abidin’s 2015 film, he chats to a generic U.S. host about his resurrection, in front of an empty TV studio. The interview is beamed to Times Square, where hordes have gathered to give praise. As time passes, it becomes clear that the riddles Michael is talking in are actually the lyrics from his scores of hit songs. Celebrity meets deity in this accomplished and unsettling video, which, along with work by seven other artists, forms Lawrie Shabibi’s summer group show Unseen, running from May 25 to September 8.

Hidden in a nearby alcove is another African American icon, Josephine Baker, immortalised in Liberte.Egalite.Fraternite by Farhad Ahrarnia. Embroidered with thread, and even needles, his subject is chosen because of the double life she led while in France, where she was both a nightclub performer and an ally of the French Resistance. Ahrarnia’s other works in the show are geometric canvasses using Khatam, delightful Iranian micro-mosaic. In earth tones of brown and grey made to shimmer with gold, they remain understated and masterly, recalling the 20th century Russian avant-garde.

Referencing a later movement of that epoch, of the minimalist Light and Space artists like Daniel Flavin, is Nathaniel Rackowe’s LP25, 2009-2014. Harsh light beams through four sheets of corrugated blue roofing in a meditation on architecture’s impossible dreams. Larissa Sansour presents a bemused take on utopia gone wrong in The Nation Estate project. With Poster, 2012, she takes the vintage travel depiction and replaces the destination with a single skyscraper surrounded by metal walls. It’s an imagined home for all Palestinians, with “Living the High Life” emblazoned below.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Urban Art Issue #37, on pages 18-19.