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is now out, packed with contact information for galleries, museums, artists, curators, critics, and other professional arts services around the world.

Emirati Expressions
Valerie Grove

20 January – 16 April, 2009

Gallery One, Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi, UAE



Before I came to the UAE I knew there were at least 10 Emirati artists from a book published in 1982 by the Arab Bureau of Education for the Gulf States. However, on arrival in Dubai I faced a major problem — there was no National Gallery or Museum so no obvious place to find them.  Eighteen months later I am now aware of more than 200 and have seen the work of well over 50. This number has just increased thanks to an unprecedented exhibition in Abu Dhabi featuring 87 local artists. “Emirati Expressions” ranges from pioneers of contemporary art and veteran painters to a new generation of photographers, graphic designers, video and installation artists.

Moon 2, 2006. Photograph, 45 x 34 cm.

Following a national call for entries from the organizers, Dubai based Art Connection and the Abu Dhabi Tourism Development & Investment Company, work was curated by Anne Baldassari, director of the Musée National Picasso in Paris. Baldassari then transformed Gallery One at the Emirates Palace Hotel into a black box in which the spotlighted work seemed to glow in the context of entirely black walls, floor and ceiling. The smoked mirror across the end wall added a subterranean disorientation reminiscent of ghostly fairground attractions. This seemed particularly appropriate for Husband 1 and Wife 2 (both 2008) by Maisoon Al Saleh depicting two skeletons dressed for their wedding, although gothic sensibilities were also evident in the work of several others. Mostly these were atmospheric digital composites but Jalal Luqman took it to another level by housing his tortured figures in huge industrial metal frames. 

Figure, 1980. Acrylic on paper, 79 x 89 cm. Courtesy Sheikh Sultan bin Saud Al Qassimi.
Other works that looked very comfortable in the darkness were Jamila Al Suwaidi’s “Astro-photographs” (2005-2007) 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 also benefitted from the darkness but it was good to see works by veterans Dr. Najat Makki and Abdul Rahim Salem alongside younger painters such as Wasel Safwan. It was also good to see two pioneers of contemporary Emirati art, the brothers Hassan and Hussein Sharif, representing Dubai collective The Flying House.
Quran Verse, 2004. Mosaic, 96 x 121 cm.

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 Mubarak’s ornate and chunky book-like sculptures also used a very interesting mix of materials.

There was a predominance of photography, not all of it good, and a lot 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. As the Arab world’s most revered singer, Umm Kalthoum’s image is ubiquitous and often 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 to provide a long overdue and very personal introduction to Emirati artists and art.



Emirati Expressions:


The Flying House:



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