Friday, 30 January 2009

Emirati Expressions Exhibition

This is the biggest show to date of Emirati artists and Abu Dhabi has gone for it a big way. It runs until April 16th at Gallery One in the Emirates Palace Hotel, features 64 artists, a programme of events and an unusually impressive website! The show was organized by Dubai’s Art Connection and the Abu Dhabi Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC), and was curated by Anne Baldassari, director of the Musée National Picasso in Paris.

Baldassari has transformed Gallery One into a walk-in black box and the spotlighted work seems to glow in the context of entirely black walls, floor and ceiling. The smoked mirror across the end wall adds an extra subterranean disorientation reminiscent of ghostly fairground attractions. This is particularly appropriate for Husband 1 and Wife 2 by Maisoon Al Saleh depicting two skeletons dressed for their wedding but the dark and gothic sensibility I have noticed before in Emirati work is also evident elsewhere in this show. This is mostly in the form of atmospheric digital composites but Jalal Luqman takes it to another level by housing his tormented figures in huge industrial metal frames.

Other works that looked very comfortable in the darkness were Jamila Al Suwaidi’s ‘Astro-photographs’ of lunar and solar eclipses and other astronomical events, and Abeer Al Tahlak’s transparent multi-layered installation with superimposed text. Some of the painting benefited from the darkness but it was good to see work by veterans Dr. Najat Makki and Abdel Rahim Salem alongside newer painters such as Wasel Safwan. It was also a relief to see contemporary art pioneers Hassan and Hussein Sharif especially given doubts about the participation of any Flying House artists in this show.

Several of the artists in this show had also participated in Suhoor: an Emirati Exhibition in Dubai last December and many were showing exactly the same work. In most cases it was the best of the work from the Suhoor show but the repeat performance was a bit unimaginative. The most notable addition to this previously shown work was Reem Al Ghaith’s impressive wall installation Dubai: What’s left of her land? a piece that will also feature in the Sharjah Biennale later this year.

Much of the calligraphy also had a contemporary twist. Mohammed Mandi’s painted works on leather looked like prints, while Nassim al Majed used brass and Italian glass mosaics to create script on Indonesian volcanic rock. Faiza Al Mubarak’s ornate and chunky book-like sculptures also contained a very tactile and interesting mix of materials and the larger sculptures, like Azza Al Qubaisi’s metal works and Mohammed Yousef’s smooth wooden thumb, provided some quirky dimensional diversity.

There seemed to be a lot of photography, not all of it memorable, and a predominance of work influenced by technology and graphic design. This perhaps reflects the greater availability of education in these subjects in the UAE and graduates from the American University of Sharjah’s, School of Architecture and Design were particularly well represented. One of these was Khuloud Sharafi whose series of mixed media works depicting Umm Kalthoum were one of the show’s highlights. Umm Kalthoum’s image is ubiquitous and has often been used in art from the region which makes new depictions a risky undertaking. However, Al Sharafi’s simple association of her image with the audio technology of her time worked very well and using a transfer print and etching on an old vinyl record was inspired.

Also inspired was a video made by filmmakers collective
The Circle which featured cut up sound bites from interviews with all the participating artists. In an environment where local artists have had little public exposure and where art is a relatively new career choice, the video and exhibition combined provided a very personal introduction.

Emirati Expressions: Art from the heart of the Emirates
Gallery One, Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi
Until 16th April 2009
Thanks to Govind Dhar for photos

Friday, 2 January 2009

Let's hear it for shouting ...

Prompted out of my post-New Year apathy by a comment from Moryarti posted on my previous blog entry, I am happy to report that a three pronged deposit recovery strategy has been successful. After a couple of extremely civil visits to the office we started setting dates when were coming in and expecting to get the cheque. We then called shortly before each appointed time and date to make sure and on being told the cheque still wasn't ready we started some serious shouting. Over a few days we relentlessly bruised the eardrums of every single hapless member of staff in turn. The final call contained the word 'rent committee' several times and by the end of that day we received our first ever call back informing us the cheque was ready! On our way to a friend's house on Christmas Day we dropped by the office and the Al-Sharafi Santa and his little helpers gave us the goodies!

Thanks to all on UAE Community Blog for advice received! HAPPY NEW YEAR!