Showcasing ‘crude’ in Dubai group exhibition
DUBAI - The inaugural group exhibition “Crude: Oil as Archive, Infrastructure and Technology” brought together 18 regional and international artists at the Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai, showcasing works from the 1940s to the present.
The exhibition spread across five of the ten galleries of the centre with its 10,000 sq.metre dedicated space.
The history of oil is inextricably linked to colonial adventures, wars and coups and it has been a catalyst for nation-building, modernisation and development and a cause of terrible ecological disasters.
US- and UAE-based critic and curator Murtaza Vali presented, through the works of a wide array of artists, material that “lies buried in various national, corporate and media archives.”
“This exhibition showcases the works of contemporary artists that engage with these murky archives and histories, narrating an alternate and episodic material history of modernity in the region,” said Vali.
“The exhibition also includes works that reflect on some of the specific technologies and materialities that oil has enabled — from drills bits and automobiles to synthetic petroleum products — and their longstanding sociological, cultural and environmental effects across the region.”
Among the earliest works are seven black-and-white photos by Latif al-Ani, known as the “father of Iraqi photography.” The photos “capture the spirit of oil-led modernisation” and the “aerial perspective shows Iraq’s changing topography,” Vali said.
Alessandro Balteo-Yazbeck’s “Last Oil Barrel (Date postponed)” is a miniature barrel of oil in limited edition and can be bought at the Jameel Art Centre’s gift shop. Its price changes according to the daily price of oil on the American market. It reveals the intricate relationship between the worlds of finance, petroleum and contemporary art.
Balteo-Yazbeck’s “UNstabile-Mobile” references American sculptor Alexander Calder’s work to unearth how the United States used abstract expressionism to advance its interests during the Cold War and links it to the Western intervention in Iraq, with its major aim being the country’s oil resources.
Hajra Waheed’s “Plume 1-24″ is a series of images of clouds of thick smoke from oil fires. The images are cut off from their source and context and exude a sense of awe as well as evoking memories of the oil fires in Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation.
Waheed in “The ARD: Study for a Portrait 1-28″ uses archives from Aramco’s Research Department (ARD) as a point of departure, combining visual and textual clues to provide an understanding of how such corporate messaging can shape our understanding of history.
Ala Younis’s sculpture “Al Bahithun” (“The Researchers”) investigates the knowledge of oil production and the tragic fate of those involved in the journey to a promised land.
Rayyane Tabet’s installation “The Shortest Distance Between Two Points,” comprising steel rings, references the specific location of the abandoned Trans-Arabian Pipeline, which stretched from Saudi Arabia to Lebanon. Tabet opens the history of this ambitious project while unearthing the network of oil extraction, processing and transportation before us into the gallery.
Monira al-Qadiri’s film “Behind the Sun” is also based on the Kuwaiti oil fires. Video footage by a local journalist is overlaid with recitation of Sufi poetry. Qadiri’s film references an earlier film by Werner Herzog on the same subject released two-and-a-half decades earlier titled “Lessons of Darkness.” While Herzog presented a Western mood of apocalyptic doom, Qadiri’s film conveys a sense of natural mystery and a sense of wonder.
This sense of wonder and dread is amplified in Qadiri’s other works at the show — “Flower Drills” and “OR-BIT 1.” “Flower Drill’ — three enlarged drill heads made of fibreglass and coated in automotive paint, exudes a lustrous sheen and its shape and size look unnatural and alien. “OR-BIT 1″ is a spinning drill head levitating mysteriously a few inches off its plinth, a result that is mysterious and fascinating.
Late Emirati artist Hassan Sharif’s “Slippers and Wire” is a colourful monument and a critique of rampant consumerism in Gulf societies, specifically as a result of oil wealth.
“Crude” is an encyclopaedic show that requires multiple viewing. “It explores oil as an agent of social, cultural and economic transformation across the Middle East and North Africa, as well as a driver of geopolitical upheaval,” said Jameel Arts Centre Director Antonia Carver. “The exhibition… is dynamic and expansive and offers a diverse array of entry points for conversation and connection. In ‘Crude,’ you have thematic of community, economics, sociology, documentation, architecture, cross-generational society, plus a wide array of mediums and perspectives.”
“Crude: Oil as Archive, Infrastructure and Technology” will be on display at the Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai through March 23, 2019.