‘Collectivity’ explores the world of art in the UAE

Sunday 09/07/2017
Shift of focus. Artworks on display at the Collectivity Exhibition in the Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah.
(Provided by N.P. Krishna Kumar)

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.