Exploring geographical and cultural transitions in UAE
Sharjah - The effects of cultural diversity in the United Arab Emirates and the changes that mark the relatively short period since the discovery of oil and the formation of the UAE as a united country are illustrated in the works of nine Emirati artists on display at the Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah.
Al Haraka Baraka: In Movement There is Blessing explores the rich mix of cultures in the UAE, a magnet for migration that is home to more than 75 nationalities.
In addition to pioneering Emirati conceptual artist Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, the exhibition features newly commissioned works by contemporary artists Ammar al- Attar, Alaa Edris, Reem Falaknaz, Hazem Harb, Zeinab al-Hashemi, Tulip Hazbar, Hind Mezaina, Khalid Mezaina and Walid al-Waw. They use photography, graphic design, installations and even their own bodies to explore the waves of migrations and the vibrant synthesis of cultures that exist in the UAE.
Sponsored by UAE Unlimited Arab Exploration, the exhibition’s second edition was developed following 2015’s successful A Public Policy.
“This year, in our first collaboration with Maraya Art Centre, we wanted to explore more about the UAE, the different waves of immigration from the ’60s and the country’s historical past,” said Shobha Pia Shamdsani, project director of UAE Unlimited Arab Exploration.
For 40 years the country has been permanently under construction. Curator Alexandra MacGilp said she sought to unfold “the fascinating and unusual set of cultural conditions and the tangible feeling on impermanence and building and rebuilding”.
MacGilp’s familiarity with the work of young Emirati and UAE-based artists allowed her to develop the many themes as exemplified by the nine new commissions — the result of close collaboration between artists and the curator.
“Artists are filling the gaps in modern historical archives in the UAE. The artists in Al Haraka Baraka also draw attention to the overlooked buildings and narratives from the country’s history in their works, attempting to capture these memories in a fast-changing environment,” MacGilp said.
“Have we overtaken the future? Is life in the Gulf a prophecy for the world vis-à-vis our relationship with a harsh environment, globalisation and population movements?”
Ibrahim’s Fresh and Salt (2015) anchors the show. There is also a selection of photographic documentation from the artist’s collection of his land works from the 1980s, including his first documented land work Painted Stone (1991), in Khor Fakkan.
Ibrahim’s work, as MacGilp noted, “serves to remind viewers of the continuity of the concerns artists in the country are addressing, across the generations, such as the changing landscape as cities expand into the desert”.
Attar’s life is intertwined with memories of expatriates from India, Pakistan and the Arab world who have had a personal effect on him — from the neighbourhood grocer from whom he used to buy candies on the way from school to the family physician, tailor and baker. Attar seeks them out and the black-and-white portraits tell their journey as well as his.
Hazbar, who was born in Aleppo, Syria, but grew up in the UAE, records the music that Asian and Arab expatriates listen to as a reminder of their home culture, along with their personal narratives tinged with nostalgia. These soundscapes provide fascinating insights into the diversity of cultural life experience among the various nationalities living in Sharjah.
Khalid Mezaina, whose main mediums of interest are illustration and textiles, is constantly drawn back in time to Deira, “Old Dubai”, where he grew up. Formerly the centre of the city and the heartbeat of its trading and commerce, it is being sidelined by the postmodern structures of the city.
His Emirian comprises an acquired trolley from a souk, along with digitally printed stuffed textiles and wallpaper, with quintessential images of the trolley handlers in the textile souk who keep the flow of goods circulating.
Hind Mezaina, on the other hand, analyses media and marketing campaigns on the theme of Happy Dubai to find out if something that is intangible can be measured graphically. The result is six abstract images from early morning to night titled The Colour of Happy.
Edris, in the series States, manipulates photographs combining buildings constructed before the UAE was unified with elements from the present. In these images, “the past bleeds into the future, bypassing the present”.
Harb, shuttling between Dubai and Rome, is interested in architecture and urban development and his installation Unlimited Progress represents the interplay between time and urban change in Dubai, where city structures constantly encroach into the desert landscape.