Hady Boraey, The Promised Land, 2021. Acrylic on canvas, 130 x 200 cm

New Year, new exhibitions! Prepare yourself for an artistic tour around Dubai city. The next couple of months are set for exploration, from Osama Said’s journey Through the Colour Terrain at Zawyeh gallery to Muatasim Alkubaisy’s cartoon characters at Ayyam gallery.

Over at Fann Á Porter, Eden Dance exhibition is born from the pandemic and Hady Boraey’s desire to reconnect with nature that constitutes a major component in this years exhibitions. End to End exhibition at Tashkeel prompts the viewer to question mankind’s synergy with the natural world.

We continue our tour with Nasser Almulhim who mines the perspectives of Swiss Psychologist Carl Jung, specifically, his reflections on Shadow Work, at Tabari Artspace. Isabelle van den Eynde’s 184 Nails is a non-static exhibition featuring works by Hassan Sharif that will be replaced at the end of every week.

At Carbon 12, the works created specifically for Staying With the Trouble exhibition by three Austrian-born or Austrian-based artists, Monika Grabuschnigg, James Lewis, and Laurence Sturla, share the use of “traditional”-looking materials like clay and concrete, while their unusual, almost uncanny styles harbor a common interest in science fiction. Nevertheless, Jitish Kallat’s oeuvre sits between fluid speculation, precise measurement and conceptual conjectures producing dynamic forms of image-making, his exhibition Order of Magnitude at Ishara Art Foundation will be accompanied by physical and virtual tours, educational and public programmes, a newly commissioned text by Amal Khalaf and artist conversations over the duration of the exhibit. We finish our tour by the second solo of Goa based artist, Shreyas Karle at Grey Noise gallery.

“Through the Colour Terrain”
Artist: Osama Said

Gallery: Zawyeh Gallery
Date: 15 January | 26 February
Osama Said, Through The Color Terrain #17, 2021. Oil on canvas, 120 x 100 cm
Osama Said, Through The Color Terrain #17, 2021. Oil on canvas, 120 x 100 cm

Titled Through the Colour Terrain the exhibition presents a series of abstract works where reality is mixed with illusion depicting fleeting images from the artist’s memory. The exhibition is part of a process of exploration with colours, textures, and light, using predominantly tones of blue, red, purple, and yellow. He executes his works using unrestrained high intense colours, painting wide areas with free spontaneous brushwork and generous paint application capturing the essence of memory rather than its details.

(t)irony
Artist: Muatasim Alkubaisy

Gallery: Ayyam Gallery
Date: 12 January | 1 March
Muatasim Alkubaisy, Drums of war, 2018, Bronze, Edition of 8, 46 x 37 x 42 cm
Muatasim Alkubaisy, Drums of war, 2018, Bronze, Edition of 8, 46 x 37 x 42 cm

(t)irony features Alkubaisy’s largest body of work yet, composed of a selection of figures, portraying those that have been ruined by power. These non-deserving and corrupt characters utilise their positions to suffocate and belittle the common man. The artist transforms misery and discrimination into sophisticated and intricate characters through a delicate yet deliberate touch. He magnifies and exaggerates traits creating caricatural portraits, presenting a sarcastic consciousness, and exposing the arrogance of their behaviours and practices.

The figures are merely cartoon characters with puffed bellies and swollen jugular veins. Concealed by dress, their physical deformities, malignancy, and evil schemes still show through the bronze’s smooth surfaces. The intimidation, evil, and terror are deprecated into mockery, becoming objects.

The characters are situated in different environments, positioned with different stances, alone or in groups. Some read a paper or are on the toilet, trivialising and making them more humane, more attainable. Embedded, are tokens of symbolism, the rats representing vermin qualities such as filth, cruelty, and disease.

“From End to End”
Group exhibition

Gallery: Tashkeel
Date: 18 January | 1 March
Mousa Al Raeesi, The Big Tree, 2020
Mousa Al Raeesi, The Big Tree, 2020

Curated by Founder and Director of Tashkeel, Sheikha Lateefa bint Maktoum and veteran Emirati photographer Jassim Al Awadhi, the exhibition features a series of thought-provoking images that demonstrate the ever-evolving process of art and creation by six Emirati photographers: Ola Allouz, Yagoub Al Hammadi, Mousa Al Raeesi, Faisal Al Rais, Mona Al Tamimi and Maitha Bughanoum.

From End to End prompts the viewer to question mankind’s synergy with the natural world. With selected works depicting intimate aspects of human existence spanning vast geographical distances from the streets of Satwa to the remote mangroves of Al Dhafra and the bustling coastlines of Zanzibar, the subtle details of each work highlight man’s unrelenting disruption of the environment around him: The microparticles of plastics worn by fisherwomen drifting into the seas; the remnants of fishing nets deposited in the seas of the Arabian Gulf; the dredged tidal flats off the shore of Abu Dhabi; and the plastic waste generated from communal feasts. While in an untouched area of Dubai nests an owl and her chicks. As their existence and that of their species hangs in the balance, the images stand as a bold reminder of the fragility of the natural world and the need for mankind to step up and fulfill its unequivocal moral duty to protect and preserve it for all time.

“Shadow Work”
Artist: Nasser Almulhim

Gallery: Tabari Artspace
Date: 9 February | 3 March 2022
Nasser Almulhim, The title of this random painting is who cares, 2021. Acrylic, oil pastel, charcoal and colour pencil on canvas, 150 x 150 cm
Nasser Almulhim, The title of this random painting is who cares, 2021. Acrylic, oil pastel, charcoal and colour pencil on canvas, 150 x 150 cm

Shadow Work comprises a selection of 10 acrylic on canvas works in both large and small scale, divided into two sections, which place the artworks into dialogue with one another. Almulhim understands these works on canvas as the materialisation and negotiation of the thoughts and emotions that pass through his mind, particularly relating to personal struggles with depression. One group of works offer up a feeling of weightlessness and comprise pared-back, minimalist compositions while the other is charged and chaotic; an amalgamation of the fleeting sources of inspiration that the artist encounters in his daily life absorbed from local architecture, nature, light as well as intimate spaces in the home.

Almulhim approached painting as a mode of healing from mental trauma in his youth. Embarking upon a journey to heal the mind, Almulhim explored and drew from various schools of thought that span Eastern mysticism and spiritual practices – from Sufism to Buddhism -, as well as western philosophies and approaches to psychoanalysis particularly the Jungian approach.

Almulhim mines the perspectives of Swiss Psychologist Carl Jung, specifically, his reflections on Shadow Work. In The Philosophical Tree (1945), Jung asserts that: ‘One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.’ Like Jung, Almulhim understands the shadow as a subliminal self hidden within. The shadow is that which is deemed profane by society, but by integrating the shadow into the self one can transcend into a state of wholeness. This series, Shadow Work, is an attempt to tackle both the shadow and the light in Almulhim’s world while negotiating and exploring complex connections between spirituality, emotion and cognitive processes.

“Order of Magnitude”
Artist: Jitish Kallat

Gallery: Ishara Art Foundation
Date: 16 February | 1 July
Jitish Kallat, Detail view of Covering Letter (terranum nuncius), (2018-20). 116 parallax barrier multi-scopic prints on plexiglass with programmed LED, circular wooden table, wooden bench, 4 horn speakers, video projection, display dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the artist
Jitish Kallat, Detail view of Covering Letter (terranum nuncius), (2018-20). 116 parallax barrier multi-scopic prints on plexiglass with programmed LED, circular wooden table, wooden bench, 4 horn speakers, video projection, display dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the artist

Jitish Kallat’s oeuvre sits between fluid speculation, precise measurement and conceptual conjectures producing dynamic forms of image-making. Using abstract, schematic, notational and representational languages, he engages with different modes of address, seamlessly interlacing the immediate and the cosmic, the telescopic and the microscopic, the past and present. In Order of Magnitude, one finds a contemplation of overarching interconnectivity on the individual, universal, planetary and extra-terrestrial dimensions.

The viewer is first confronted with Integer Studies (Drawings from Life), which run through the space resembling both the horizon and the equator. Since the beginning of 2021, Kallat followed a ritual of making one daily drawing as part of a durational study in graphite, aquarelle pencil and gesso stains. Each work comprises diverse forms anchored by the same three sets of numbers: the algorithmically estimated world population, the number of new births, and the death count noted at the particular moment of the work’s creation. Human life and death are abstracted in drawings that are both graphic and painterly, prompting questions of extinction and evolution.

Seen alongside these studies is a wall-sized painting titled Postulates from a Restless Radius, whose perimeter takes the form of the conic Albers projection of the Earth. The work begins as an unstable, cross-sectional grid (in aquarelle pencil) that opens up the globe on a flat plane. There is no cartographic intent here; in place of planetary geography it assembles signs and speculations, at once evoking botanical, suboceanic, celestial, and geological formations. Postulates from a Restless Radius is an exploratory abstraction of forms that suggest signatures of growth and entropy.

Placed centrally are four double-sided and multi-scopic photo works titled Epicycles. This series began during the early days of the pandemic in 2020 with a hand-drawn journal capturing minute changes in Kallat’s studio – such as cracks surfacing on walls. Kallat embeds these chance encounters with iconic pictures from the Family of Man exhibition organized by photographer Edward Steichen at the MoMA, New York, in 1955. The resulting prints combine the artist’s everyday observations with archival images of human solidarity taken by photographers from around the world. Meticulously composed on a lenticular surface, the depicted figures appear and disappear as one moves around the work, yielding a complex portrait of time in its transience and ephemerality.

A new iteration of Kallat’s immersive installation Covering Letter (terranum nuncius) occupies Ishara’s mezzanine floor. Images from the Golden Records that travelled as part of NASA’s 1977 Voyager 1 and 2 space mission rest on shelves along two opposite walls. Placed inside programmed LED frames, 116 parallax prints flicker in a breath-like cadence. They include scientific, anatomical and cosmological diagrams as well as flora, fauna and architecture, in an attempt to encapsulate a summary of life on Earth. Permeating the exhibition space are the sounds of salutation to the universe that were on the Golden Records in 55 languages. As the two Voyagers continue their journey in space, now over 14 billion miles away from Earth, this work is a reminder of an epic presentation of “our” world to an unknown other. At a time when we find ourselves in a deeply divided globe, Kallat foregrounds these images and reverberations for a collective meditation on ourselves as residents of a single planet, where the ‘other’ is an unfamiliar ‘intergalactic alien’.

An obsolete map of our cosmic neighbourhood, the return address marked on the Records is projected within the installation facing a bench in the shape of the Doomsday Clock. The symbolic clock proposed by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is reset every year, representing our growing proximity to a hypothetical man-made global catastrophe that is expected to strike at midnight.

Finally, a site-specific intervention by the artist titled N-E-S-W serves as an allusive clue to reading this exhibition. Embedded within the foundation’s architecture, a functional magnetic compass is inset within the flooring. N-E-S-W summons the cardinal directions of the Earth, aligned to invisible force fields, rendering both the exhibition and Ishara into planetary surveying devices.

“184 Nails”
Artist: Hassan Sharif
Curated by Vikram Divecha

Gallery: Isabelle van den Eynde
Date: 13 January | 26 February
Hassan Sharif, One 2 Four, 1984. Lost and reconstituted in 2007. Set of 7 sheets, Ink on paper, 59.4 x 42 cm each. Accompanying 1 of 52 draft papers of 1984, 29.7 x 21 cm each
Hassan Sharif, One 2 Four, 1984. Lost and reconstituted in 2007. Set of 7 sheets, Ink on paper, 59.4 x 42 cm each. Accompanying 1 of 52 draft papers of 1984, 29.7 x 21 cm each

184 Nails is a non-static exhibition featuring works that will be replaced at the end of every week. Twenty-one works selected from Hassan Sharif’s ‘Semi-Systems’ series will be rotated across the gallery walls at least twice during the seven-week exhibition run. Works not exhibited will be stored in a shelving unit in the gallery space until their return. ‘Draft papers’ from separate works will be exhibited in a continuous procession across the gallery walls. Respective ‘artworks’ will be exhibited alongside this chain of ‘draft papers.’ A random system determines the order of the works on the gallery walls.

Rope presented Sharif a constant invitation to tie a knot. Corrugated board, to repeatedly fold. Wire, to endlessly bend. Mathematics was another generative material for Hassan Sharif (1951-2016), which he exhausted to create his ‘Semi-Systems’ series. These seminal works were produced in two phases. Beginning in 1982 at The Byam Shaw School of Art, London where Sharif was a graduate student, and continuing in Dubai until 1985 after Sharif had returned home. He returned to ‘Semi-Systems’ in 2006 and continued expanding this series for a decade until his demise in 2016. The Semi-System works often comprise two elements, the ‘draft papers’, and the resultant ‘artwork.’ The draft papers are where the work initiates – Sharif would conduct mathematical exercises on inexpensive A4 paper to search for a formula, which would then turn into a tool to explore the possible permutations. Utilising numbers or numerals to count, measure or move, Sharif studiously applied himself as a way to seemingly abdicate himself from thought itself. A momentum and rhythm arise through the nature and behavior of the systems he invents: they begin to guide Sharif’s hand and mind to arrange, order, group, sort and organise. Graphic shapes enter a synchronised choreography—lines begin to turn at sharp angles, rhomboids begin to swivel, cubes begin to stack up, numbers begin to shower. For his work titled One 2 Four (1984, reconstituted in 2007), Sharif generated fifty-two draft papers. These papers, when laid out in succession, conjure a storyboard of automated thought, indicating scenes from the subconscious. Or are these images of exuberance, of Sharif bending, folding, twisting, but in his mind?

Sharif was constantly on the run. Evading arrest from stasis. Rummaging in search for autonomy. An autonomy of thought. Not to forget an autonomy from function for his selected materials, as well. This stasis-versus-movement dynamic materialises in 184 Nails as the exhibition performs as a contradictory system. In the small exhibition space at the back of the gallery, non-exhibited works (waiting for their turn) will be stacked in a shelving unit, as if sitting in an archival repository. A conflicting format will be on display in the main gallery hall, where the works are thrown into a swirling state of restlessness. This shape-shifting action points at a proposal: can something new arise from the churning of this momentum? While Sharif’s legacy is cemented, the question at stake is how his archive can be made available to generate new ideas. Can we reconsider Sharif’s work as raw material instead? 184 Nails acts as a trigger for new possibilities interdisciplinary short circuits have been made with different departments at American University of Sharjah. Two professors in architecture have identified a recurring fundamental absence in the Semi-Systems works, which has led them to investigate systemic interdependence. Based on the variations in Sharif’s graphic numerals, an ethnomusicologist is attempting to dismantle a maqam ensemble to generate a serialism score. A mathematician is exhausting a Semi-Systems formula to push the limits of permutations in a quest for mathematical beauty. These inquiries will surface in the gallery, not as attempts to decode or commemorate Sharif’s work, but as their own experiments. As Nietzsche would have argued, history is not an archive to be preserved. But a storehouse/baqala/bodega with an endless supply of material that needs to be ransacked to generate new meaning.

“Staying With the Trouble”
Curated By Marianne Dobner
Monika Grabuschnigg, James Lewis, Laurence Sturla

Gallery: Carbon 12
Date: 10 January | 20 February
Staying With the Trouble, installation view, carbon 12
Staying With the Trouble, installation view, carbon 12

Staying with the Trouble—Reading the Present through the Past and the Future

“We […] live in disturbing times, mixed-up times, troubling and turbid times. The task is to become capable, with each other in all of our bumptious kinds, of response. […] Our task is to make trouble, to stir up potent response to devastating events, as well as to settle troubled waters and rebuild quiet places. In urgent times, many of us are tempted to address trouble in terms of making an imagined future safe, of stopping something from happening that looms in the future, of clearing away the present and the past in order to make futures for coming generations. Staying with the trouble does not require such a relationship to times called the future. In fact, staying with the trouble requires learning to be truly present […].”

In Staying with the Trouble, theoretician Donna J. Haraway imagines a world in which we live together with various planetary organisms in a sustainable way. She does not put humans at the core of her thinking but coexistence with other species and creatures. The eponymous group exhibition deals with the Chthulucene, an age established by Haraway, in which the human and the inhuman are inextricably linked: “Chthonic ones are beings of the earth, both ancient and up-to-the-minute.”2 A theoretical structure that allows for reflection on our present oscillating between utopia and dystopia, reality and fantasy, this is an attempt to read the present through the past and future and to have them enter into a dialogue with each other.

“Our task is to make trouble” 2019 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the world wide web. A technological revolution that has become indispensable in our daily lives—and yet we are already envisioning a reboot. Social networks dictate our life. “Fake news” and populist systems are gaining the upper hand. Yet, none of this is new. Let’s remember how drastically the first industrial revolution in the second half of the eighteenth century changed our economic and social system, as did the transition from monarchies to democracies. A look into the past teaches us that change seems to be the only constant in our society. All the more important, then, is a critical examination of artistic positions that enable us to change our course, develop new ways of thinking, and look inconvenient realities straight in the eye.

The works created specifically for this exhibition by three Austrian-born or Austrian-based artists, Monika Grabuschnigg, James Lewis, and Laurence Sturla, share the use of “traditional”-looking materials like clay and concrete, while their unusual, almost uncanny styles harbor a common interest in science fiction. This is also reflected in the technoid soundscape pervading the Carbon 12 exhibition space. James Lewis culled twelve hours’ worth of crackles, beeps, and buzzes from an open-source archive. This sonic environment turns out to be an arrangement of various water noises: human-made on the one hand, as in the case of a sewage system or a flushing toilet, and natural on the other, as in the case of a burbling stream. The sound can be traced back to three manhole covers cast from aluminum that are tagged with almost unpronounceable numbers of seconds, which correspond to the average duration of various everyday activities, and which are surrounded by an architectural structure. Lewis’s installation addresses not only the ambivalent relationship of two clashing realities—culture vs. nature—but also the confrontation of individual and communal interests. The sound emanating from the depths of the space symbolizes a kind of invisible danger that raises the question of whether such noises will soon be a thing of the past, or whether surmounting individual needs might still lead to change for the sake of the common good.

Whereas Lewis’s structure calls an existing system into question, Sturla toys with the idea of a contaminated history and the relics of a no-longer-extant industrialized world. In their mode of production, the ceramic sculptures tie in with historical boatbuilding techniques and heating constructions. They evoke ruinous fragments visualizing a bygone time in their overfired, scorched surfaces covered in cracks and residual salt lines: origin and function uncertain. Sturla dares to attempt to recall a forgotten age with all its tried-and-true techniques and formal repertoires while at the same time directing our attention to an elusive future. Not least, he demonstrates this in the deliberately chosen contrast between handmade ceramics on the one hand and an appearance reminiscent of industrial engineering on the other.

Utopia and dystopia are also close neighbors in Monika Grabuschnigg’s work. The historically fraught symbol of the Atropa belladonna —better known as deadly nightshade—runs like a thread through her new work group. Originally, the plant, which bears black cherrylike fruit, was associated with a feminine beauty ideal, as the sap had a pupil-dilating effect—an aesthetic kinship that is reflected in the plump, oversize form of the bouquets modeled from clay. In her works, Grabuschnigg plays with the ambivalent appearance of nature, which may generate both pleasure and unease in us humans. This is also evident in the deliberately ambiguous choice of subject matter: While belladonna was initially known as a medicinal and magical plant with aphrodisiac effects, it turned out to be deadly in higher doses. Nature presents itself not only as a “victim” of human endeavors but also as an autonomous trigger of uncertainty and danger. The bouquets in their fiery-red, lasciviously rose-gold form are equally attractive and uncanny, harmonious and melancholy.

In this world split by contradictions, Haraway’s wish “to be truly present” requires not only breaking with common patterns of thought but especially not viewing dichotomies like fantasy and reality, utopia and dystopia, nature and culture as separate from each other and instead—as Lewis, Sturla, and Grabuschnigg demonstrate—allowing them to blend with each other.

“Eden Dance”
Artist: Hady Boraey

Gallery: Fann Á Porter
Date: 26 January | 28 February
Hady Boraey, The Bliss Dance, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100 cm
Hady Boraey, The Bliss Dance, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100 cm

Hady Boraey is an independent visual artist as well as a lecturer for the Fine Arts department at Alexandria University. Boraey has amassed a world of artistic knowledge in the past 20 years as he experimented with painting, drawing and sculpture. Despite his affinity for experimentation, Boraey consistently seeks to take his viewers on a journey, opening the mind to new perspectives and blurring the lines between physical and psychological.

His latest exhibition, Eden Dance is born from the pandemic and a desire to reconnect with nature. In classic Boraey fashion, the collection depicts a rich and textured fantasy world. Stoic figures feature center-stage in almost every artwork. Sharp-edged facial features are made sharper by their geometric figures — a stark contrast to the muted backdrops that lay behind them. Cacti, leaves, and budding plants, not surprisingly, are present in many of the pieces as well, denoting the obvious desire to rejoin not only nature, but the outdoor world beyond the confines and isolation of lockdown.

The sun, stars, and birds make an appearance in a few of the paintings, breathing life into the collection and suggesting the figures are, in fact, outside. In some pieces, the figures look up longingly to the starry or sunny sky, in others, they dance in an almost spiritual appreciation of the great outdoors. And in yet others, they simply appear at peace.

“Shifting the Center Table”
Shreyas Karle

Gallery: Grey Noise,
Date: 15 January | 31 March
Shreyas Karle, Close window at twilight, 2021. Pen on paper, 15 x 11 cm
Shreyas Karle, Close window at twilight, 2021. Pen on paper, 15 x 11 cm

The idea, image and actual objecthood of this central table, with the arrangement of garment, coverings and a small object on it, embodies both the meanings (literal and perverse, see note 6) and the limits of the word, practice. This table is at once a
desktop (the work of thought)
working surface (the work of making)
dining table (domestic work)
center-table (domestic and curatorial display)
operating table (medical/therapeutic work)
dressing table (folding, covering, clothing, unclothing)
bed (resting, sleeping, mortality)
art object (aesthetic and symbolic work)
altar (ritual)
container (folds up into a box for transporting the work)
cage (metaphorically, for moving domestic animals)
four-legged beast of burden
(Domestic Animals by Aveek Sen, 2020)

In its various yet simultaneous guises, the table straddles the entire spectrum of idea, form and function, from the practical and the domestic to the spectacular, the symbolic, the performative, the therapeutic, the museological and the numinous.

‘Shifting the center table’ exhibits the unmethodical, unmeditated gathering of objects & trivial ideas imagined and produced on multiple timelines- all realised under the pretext of a show. It does not take into account the studio paradigm but rather is a churning out of all unnecessary particulars which constitutes valuably towards the functionality of certain domesticity. Does it matter anymore if the center table is shifted towards the wall? Does the center table lose its value if shifted towards the wall? does the wall gain value if it harbors the table? This exhibition summarises these marginal & valuable inquiries through pedestalised and non-pedestalised displays that co-exists with the vertical curtains, horizontal table cloths and folded bedsheets.

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