Pioneering Emirati artist Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim stands out with unique vision

Ibrahim likes to leave the interpretation of his work open-ended, maintaining that viewers are free to draw their own conclusions.
Sunday 17/06/2018
Creative forms. Mixed-media Installations by Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim. (Sharjah Art Foundation)
Creative forms. Mixed-media Installations by Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim. (Sharjah Art Foundation)

SHARJAH - A major solo exhibition of the works of Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, one of the pioneers of the contemporary art movement in the United Arab Emirates, covers three decades of the artist’s practice, which includes paintings, drawings, sculptures and installations.

Curated by Hoor al-Qasimi, director of Sharjah Art Foundation, “Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim: Elements” traces Ibrahim’s use of primordial symbols, various permutations and repetitions and his abiding interest in the detrimental effects on the natural environment that accompanies urban development.

Born in 1962, Ibrahim is largely self-taught. He said he draws his inspiration, ideas and materials of his art from the surroundings of his birthplace, Khor Fakkan, where he lives and works.

Because art education was unheard of when he was growing up and scholarships to study abroad were not easily available, Ibrahim studied psychology at Al Ain University, graduating in 1986. He was also producing traditional art, mainly portraits and landscapes.

His acquaintance and friendship with pioneering Emirati avant garde and conceptual artist Hassan Sharif, who had returned from studying in the United Kingdom, was to be a turning point in shaping Ibrahim’s ideas, concepts and techniques.

He became largely known for his “land art,” often utilising organic material and creating artworks inspired by primitive symbols and his home town’s environment.

Ibrahim once said that “inspiration always comes from things that nature creates and the artist can only care about and be in harmony with the spirit of the site.”

Qasimi, in a Sharjah Art Foundation release, noted that “as one of the UAE’s pioneering conceptual artists, Ibrahim has developed a contemporary visual language where the primordial and the subconscious intersect. For over three decades his work has addressed the alarming effects of urban development on the natural environment, raising critical issues that affect us all.”

“For another body of work titled ‘The Line’, Ibrahim initially found inspiration in the trails that ‘Kandari’ or ‘al-Sakai’ (‘Water Sellers’) make on the walls of houses, while distributing water. The artist expanded on his observation of this simple gesture and extended his exploration of line to the vertical human body, buildings, urban transformation and horizontal expansion of UAE society and its landscape,” Qasimi wrote, explaining how Ibrahim draws inspiration.

Ibrahim likes to leave the interpretation of his work open-ended, maintaining that viewers are free to draw their own conclusions, according to their ideology or inclination.

The colourful oil painting titled “Primordial” is rich in symbols, shapes and patterns, without detracting from the masterly abstract treatment. A close look reveals the outpouring of Ibrahim’s creative forms within the painting done three decades ago.

Most of his “land art” involves mountains around his home, done without disturbing nature and which he documents through photographs and videos.

“Known and Unknown” (2014), comprising stone and marble bonded with copper wire; “Hanging Stones” (2014) made up of stones hanging from cotton ropes; and “Rocks Tied with Wire” (2006) are presented in the exhibition.

In the series, “Sitting Man” (2010-15) comprising three big and eight medium-sized canvases, Ibrahim throws off all restraint to explore colour, as if the anonymity of the subjects, gives him new found freedom.

Works titled “Watermelon Tree” (2013), “Fruits” (2011) and “Fruit Basket” (2011) are colourful, mysterious and highly tactile, fashioned out of discarded plastic bottles, plastic cups, paper, glue and clay.

The black-and-white Indian ink symbols, lines and geometric shapes are drawn from within his psyche and the rural vernacular architecture in Khor Fakkan and can be seen in innumerable works.

The symbols, patterns and shapes take on a life of their own in other works and become objects that border on the utilitarian, into cascading structures and architectural forms. They take on insect-like appearance and, in the recent “Robot” series (2018), take on an autonomous mode — as if in a science fiction plot in the rarefied atmosphere around a magical Khor Fakkan.

Ibrahim candidly expressed concerns about such focused scrutiny, which he said pushes him to the crossroads of not knowing which direction his art will take next.