Exploring UAE themes of landscapes and identity

November 27, 2016
“Leaves of Time” by Sawsan Al Bahar (Courtesy of Maraya Art Center.)

Dubai - The Place and Unity exhi­bition, which opened re­cently at the Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah, show­cases the works of 14 Emi­rati and UAE-based artists. Selected from the Portrait of a Nation exhibi­tion of the art collection at the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation (ADMAF), the works are tied to or done at a particular location and also express the idea of unity — of people of different nationalities with a specific focus on contempo­rary reality in the UAE.
“The show is an excellent exam­ple of collaboration, with artists, institutions and galleries support­ing each other. In my experience, they try hard to do that. Due to its diverse population, there is much scope for cultural exchange within the Emirates themselves,” curator Alexandra MacGlip said.
Home, identity, communication and nomadism are the themes the artists address as they refer to dif­ferent countries and cities: from the UAE to the Palestinian territo­ries, from Geneva to Shanghai.
The landscape and their own identity are perennial themes among artists working in the UAE. Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim con­tinues his relationship with his mountainous home landscape in Khor Fakkan through The Qubba Project. He invites the viewer to ex­perience his works through photos, or first hand by providing GPS coor­dinates to the site.
Paintings by Abdul Qader Al Rais and Khalil Abdul Wahid portray mosques and doorways that are at once universal and local. Al Fujai­rah Castle, the landmark featured in Obaid Suroor’s painting of the same name, and the views of the desert and the abra (small traditional boat) on Dubai Creek in Hind Bin Demai­than’s Sadu-Pixel work are veiled. The sites are only viewable through the red dots of a jellabiya (long robe) fabric in the former or through the cut out sadu-weaving (local textile) images in the latter.
“The playful collage effect in these works complicates a tradi­tional interpretation of Emirati her­itage,” observed MacGlip.
Sawsan Al Bahar, one of many Palestinians who have made their homes in the UAE, explores the diaspora experience in her poetic work Leaves of Time. Leaves from an old-fashioned calendar bearing significant dates from Palestinian history post-1947 are suspended in the air as if they have been lifted by gusts of wind, and with it our mem­ories too surge.
“As the dates recede in time, the ink fades. Al Bahar explores our poignant relationship with the past events that have shaped our lives; ever present but impossible to reach,” said MacGlip.
The late Emirati artist Hassan Sharif’s sculpture Shanghai is a tell­ing commentary on consumerism and its impact on our way of life, with a simple act performed on a found object. An aluminium baking tray, imported from China is bound with copper wire until it becomes distorted.
Amna Al Dabbagh’s wall-mount­ed work Unite speaks of what binds together people living in the UAE. In her acrylic mirror map, she has written the word “united” in all the estimated 53 languages spoken in the country and the size of the fonts mirrors the demographics of the various nationalities that speak the languages.
Sarah Al Agroobi has collected the seven sands of the emirates in Desert Rose. The different coloured sands are collected and categorised and bound together in her sculp­ture. The sand that lies beneath our feet unnoticed is turned into a dra­matic flower-like structure that we could come across suddenly in the desert.
Zeinab Al Hashemi’s kaleidoscop­ic satellite photograph of rapidly changing Abu Dhabi titled Coastal Collision continues her explora­tion of cityscape, giving us a bird’s eye view to the ground below and a blending of past, present and fu­ture, as it were
Ammar Al Attar’s archival project Reverse Moments delves into the documents of photography studios that have recorded the lives of peo­ple living in the UAE, who originate from all over the globe.
Baghdad-born artist and designer Rand Abdul Jabbar’s installation Foresta Sommersa occupies the cen­tre-stage at the Place and Unity ex­hibition. It is the culmination of the artist’s residency in Venice, inspired by the unique architectural features of the city, conjuring up the play of light and water. Her installation, a series of suspended light vessels in glass suggests an inverted land­scape and the shifting lights along with rhythmic background sounds prove to be an immersive experi­ence.
MacGlip stressed the importance of residencies to an artist’s develop­ment.
“In the present show itself the works by UAE artists, supported and facilitated by both ADMAF and Maraya, are evidence of the rich dividends in terms of outstanding work,” she said.
The Place and Unity exhibition runs until January 31st, 2017.