UAE’s Al Dhafra Festival captured in Greek artist’s photographic exhibition

Friday 01/04/2016
A visitor at the Million Street exhibition in Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi - Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Mod­ern Art Gallery recent­ly had an exhibition showcasing the work of cutting-edge Greek pho­tographic and visual artist Yiannis Roussakis.

The event, titled Million Street, focused on the 2015 Al Dhafra Festi­val, an annual event that celebrates Emirati heritage and brings togeth­er camel herders and farmers from across the Gulf and North Africa.

During the festival, camels are traded and used in a number of competitions, including a beauty contest. Roussakis, who is based in Abu Dhabi, spent ten days in the camps beside Million Street and produced a series of images captur­ing the atmosphere and emotion of the event.

Born and raised in Athens, Rous­sakis has spent 12 years producing art all over the world, including South-East Asia, Qatar, Mexico, Ghana, India, Oman, Scotland and London. Roussakis said he strives to explore the surreal nature of seemingly trivial objects, spaces and moments, reflecting the idea that our personal reality is a state of dreaming.

The photographer has presented work in solo and collective shows in London, Athens, Glasgow, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. He was commend­ed at the 2012 Sony World Photo Awards and included in the final show at Somerset House in Lon­don.

Roussakis’s artwork is mainly carefully considered and stylised imagery, mostly in black and white, often with the addition of colour layers, digital elements or collage techniques. For Million Street he often switched to a more realistic, documentary style to capture the moment and depict what was hap­pening at Al Dhafra Festival.

In a recent interview regarding his time at the festival, Roussakis emphasised that the event was much more than a camel trade show.

“After a few days, it became clear to me that, although they were there to trade camels, the real reason people were there was to express their joy for life,” Rous­sakis told Abu Dhabi’s the National newspaper.

“These days, it is very rare to find people who are not overly self-con­scious regarding their appearance — not thinking about how they are perceived and just living life for the joy of living. I saw a huge release of emotions all around me and it didn’t need to be intellectualised or justified — these people were sim­ply happy.”

Commenting on the art scene in the United Arab Emirates, Rous­sakis, in an earlier interview with the National, said: “Anyone who is involved in art in Abu Dhabi should take an extra step to contribute to the growth of the scene. It is im­portant for all artists to move in different directions, to show in gal­leries and to the general public.”

The contemporary art scene in the UAE is arguably the most cut­ting edge in the Middle East. Gov­ernment initiatives supporting the arts, coupled with a vibrant expa­triate community have allowed the UAE to prosper.

Additionally, in its efforts to pro­mote the arts, the UAE is later this year to unveil its own Louvre mu­seum in Abu Dhabi. The project, a result of a 30-year agreement be­tween Abu Dhabi and the French government, is part of a $27 billion tourist and cultural development that will showcase works from a number of prominent French mu­seums, including the Louvre, the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Mu­sée d’Orsay and Palace of Versailles.

Another boon to the art scene in the UAE is the Art Dubai Fair. The annual event, which had its tenth instalment in March, saw a diverse line-up of about 90 galler­ies from the UAE and around the world.

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