‘Collectivity’ explores the world of art in the UAE
Sharjah - “Collectivity: Objects and Associations in the UAE Art World,” an exhibition curated by Laura Metzler at the Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah, is based on the theories of American sociologist Howard S. Becker, who approached art as “collective action” and an occupation.
The exhibition brings together works of art and objects from personal collections across the United Arab Emirates. Rather than being acquired from collectors, institutions or artists, the exhibited works come from the people who carry out the everyday labour that make the production, circulation and interpretation of art possible.
“The ‘Collectivity’ show is an inversion of the relationships we generally explore, a focus shift that allows for another way of understanding what ties us together as a community and industry,” Metzler said.
She referred to the processes behind “what makes an art work successful, how shows come together and how authority is developed.
“At the heart of it, there is always the artworks themselves but behind these objects there are chains of people carrying out tasks, building relationships and coming together to make the everyday business they navigate happen.”
Metzler used the format of the exhibition to experiment with tracing relationships within the UAE art world. She reached out to 298 people spanning more than 100 organisations in the country. These individuals were asked to invite anyone they think fit into the criteria of being part of the art industry.
Each was given the opportunity to lend artwork or art-related objects they own along with a text explaining how and why they acquired it.
“The interpretation of art work and art object was left up to the participants and there was no intervention in the selection process beyond providing the initial framework or the logistical limitations that are present with any project. Multiple objects were allowed as long as they could be explained in one text of up to 350 words,” Metzler said.
While in most exhibitions the primacy of the artist and the collector is highlighted, Metzler’s show aims to look “at everything that makes this exchange happen and fills in the route between them.”
Metzler received submissions from 84 people. They work in all sectors within the art world: From commercial galleries to non-profit foundations, art fairs to framers, freelance workers to museums. The way the show is organised, the viewer must visually respond and interact with the work to learn its story, piece by piece.
Each submission has a number that corresponds to a catalogue entry. No information about the artist is included in the hanging.
The exhibition must be navigated with a digital catalogue on a website that is accessible from any phone or computer.
The objects vary significantly in scale, fiscal value, medium and production year and location. The common thread, however, is a deep personal connection each lender has to the object they have contributed, which is revealed through the digital catalogue.
A primary theme of the show is the notion of family.
Miranda McKee’s contribution is an impressive photograph by Denis Dailleux that features a body builder with his mother, a typically masculine figure softened by their interaction. Curator and collector Shobha Pia Shamdsani’s contribution is the last piece her father collected before he died.
The personal connection with a particular artist is another important and common occurrence. Laila Binbrek submitted a work she purchased and an object she was given from the same artist. Sultan al-Qassemi contributed a group of four works that were given to him by artists.
There are many other ways the viewer can connect to these works. As Metzler said: “There are dialogues to be explored through the breadth of the medium and formal approaches, through the geographic references and larger discourses that are referenced by each artist.”
Giuseppe Moscatello, director of Al Maraya Art Centre, said he was enthusiastic about the show: “I am very proud of ‘Collectivity,’ which is a first of its kind, especially in this part of the world.”
He said the concept resonates with art enthusiasts and connects with individuals and groups who are the makers of the art scene and are not necessarily involved in art regularly.
“I’m looking forward to developing and producing more of these concepts and eventually evolving into new formats for alternative and new trends.”
The exhibition is to run through August 17.