I recently visited the exhibition Sky Over The East in Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi. The exhibition is a collaboration between Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation and Barjeel Art Foundation featuring works from the collection of Barjeel Art Foundation.
The selection of works displayed provides a glimpse into the diversity of subjects that preoccupied artists in the Arab world over the past 86 years, while also highlighting relationships that existed among cultural production in different countries, and across several decades.
I hope that the exhibition encourages a wider discourse on Arab art and sheds light on the work of leading masters from the region, many of whom are still practicing today. Geographically spanning over 12 countries and two continents, the selection of art presented calls attention to a shared identity of Arab nations, while contributing to a wider public appreciation of the visual arts.
Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi - Founder, Barjeel Art Foundation
The Arabic title يا سماء الشرق (Ya Sama'a Al Sharq) is far more poetic and comes from the song دعاء الشرق (Dua'a Al Sharq) / Prayer of the East by Mohammed Abdel Wahab, based on a poem by Mahmoud Hassan Ismail. Here's a detailed explanation on why this title was chosen and its relevance.
Composed in 1953, Prayer of the East (Du’aa Al Sharq) made its way into thousands of Arab households in the few years that followed. Put to music and delivered by the renowned Mohammed Abdel Wahab, the lyrics are based on Mahmoud Hassan Ismail’s poem that highlights collective aspects of the Arab spirit and alludes to a shared metaphoric sky under which Arab communities exist. Broadcast via the newly established Sawt Al Arab (a radio channel set up in Egypt in the early 1950s under President Gamal Abdel Nasser) the song quickly gained popularity with the Arab audience and became akin to a universal Arab hymn of the latter part of the 20th century.
Since the 1970s, linguistic derivatives of the words ‘East’ and ‘Orient’ in relation to descriptions of land populated by Arab nations have been questioned and critiqued as terms linked to 20th-century colonialism. The title of this exhibition by no means attempts to serve as a geographical indicator defining physical territories inhabited by Arab societies. Rather, it aims to reference an instance in modern Arab history, when a cultural product served to unify distinct communities and entire nations under a single umbrella of shared identity.
Modes within which Modern Arab artists worked extended from naturalistic documentation of people and landscapes, to creating socio-political commentaries, exploring theological matters, and addressing intimate, personal narratives and concerns. In line with the song’s call to preserve collective memories, 20th-century Arab artists reflected on and re-examined their histories within the context of global developments. They tackled notions of Arab identity, while being influenced by the evolution of European Modernism and work of masters like Henri Matisse, Willem de Kooning and Antoni Tàpies among others. With no single thematic or stylistic thread running through this exhibition, there exist multiple links and relationships between individual works of art, which despite being separated by geography and time, often address similar questions, take on similar approaches and display a shared ethos.
Suheyla Takesh - Curator, Barjeel Art Foundation
The exhibition is on till 27th June 2014. I cannot stress enough how important this exhibition is. There is work that will make you smile, make you sad, make you think.
If you live in the UAE and interested in art, especially from the Middle East, then make sure you don't miss this. Below is a small selection of work from the exhbition and some of my favourites. I suggest you listen to the song دعاء الشرق (Dua'a Al Sharq) / Prayer of the East by Mohammed Abdel Wahab whilst looking at the images and reading about the artists.
Ali Al Abdan
United Arab Emirates. b. 1972
Ali Al Abdan is an Emirati artist, interested in documenting history and preserving traditions in visual, as well as written form. He often creates elaborate collages that tell stories of specific people, while shedding light on a larger picture of the times. He had a solo show entitled I am Ali Al Abdan at Emirates Fine Art Society, Sharjah in 2010. He has also written a book on the history of art in the UAE.
Baya was born at Bordj El Kiffan in Algeria in 1931, and by age five had lost both her parents. She was looked after by her grandmother, and subsequently adopted by a French woman Marguerite Benhour, who took her to Paris. In 1947 Benhoura arranged for the talented 16 year old Baya to have her first solo exhibition at the Galerie Adrien Maeght in Paris. Her work was widely praised and admired for its childlike quality and naiveté by the likes of Pablo Picasso who, following their meeting in Paris, became Baya’s good friend.
Born in Alexandria, Hamed Nada was inspired by the dichotomy between hardships of impoverished people he witnessed on a day-to-day basis in his home country, and the traditional folk tales that held in them worlds of fantasy and encouraged daring flights of imagination. A lot of his work draws references from Western artistic styles, and is likened to the work of European masters such as Henri Matisse.
United Arab Emirates. b. 1951
Hassan Sharif is widely recognised as the grandfather and pioneer of conceptual and experimental art in the UAE. Rather than working within a single discipline, his practice unites various media and approaches, such as performance, installation, photography, painting and drawing, among others. Much of Hassan Sharif’s work explores notions of consumerism and obsession with commercial goods. The greyscale composition on paper reflects his experience of working on caricatures for local newspapers and magazines in the 1970s.
Khudair Shakirji graduated from the Fine Arts Academy in Baghdad, and subsequently joined the Baghdad Modern Art Group, being influenced by artists like Shakir Hassan Al Said and Jabra Ibrahim Jabra. Shakirji’s work often draws references to Arab traditions and folklore, while being distinguished by modern compositions and approaches. He had five solo exhibitions at the Iraqi Artists Society, and his work is in the collection of Iraq’s National Museum of Modern Art.
Palestine. b. 1940
Palestinian artist Laila Shawa is known for her use of bold colours and illustrative designs to tackle issues of violence, political turmoil, the plight of children and resistance in her native country. Shawa paints, photographs and uses silk screen prints in her work. The artist studied in Cairo, Rome, and Austria, and worked for United Nations children’s art programs in Gaza in the 1960s. Her work has been exhibited around Europe, the Arab world, Russia, China, Malaysia and the United States.
Layla Al Attar
The late Iraqi artist Layla Al Attar was revered during her life as a gifted painter who hosted five solo exhibitions in her homeland and served as director of the Iraqi National Art Museum. The primordial forest, as well as representations of Adam and Eve are recurrent themes in Al Attar’s work. She often uses distortions of space and light to point to the sense of unreality of this world. Al Attar lost her life in an explosion that also killed her husband during the bombing of Iraq in 1993.
Depictions of banal daily struggles and the social and physical deprivation of the masses intertwine the artwork of Syrian painter Louay Kayyali during his iconic, short-lived career. The Aleppo-born artist began painting at the age of 11 and held his first solo show at 18. Highlighting the individual struggles evident on the fringe of larger socio-political realities in the Arab region, Kayyali’s artwork provides a window into the lives of the deprived majority. Woman Sewing captures a fleeting moment of a seamstress’ ascetic routine of stitching clothing.
Mahmoud Said was a lawyer who worked at the Mixed Courts in Alexandria until the late 1940s, only painting in his spare time. He subsequently decided to quit his desk job, in order to dedicate himself fully to art and explore his passion for painting. Like many of his contem- poraries, Said was fascinated with depicting Egyptian landscapes and picturesque coastal areas around the Nile. He often painted on very small canvases, later reworking his sketches onto a larger scale in his studio.
Mohammed Issiakhem spent most of his childhood in Relizane, Algeria. He started his artistic training at the École des Beaux-Arts, Algiers in 1948, where he studied fine art and miniature painting. He co-founded the Union Nationale des Arts Plastiques in 1963, and from 1964 to 1966, he was the director of the École des Beaux-Arts in Oran. In 1971, he was professor of graphic art at the École Polytechnique d’Architecture et d’Urbanisme, Algeria. Much of Issiakhem’s work centres around the depiction of women and drawing references to Algerian traditions.
Before beginning his art education in Florence in 1910, Mohammed Naghi studied law at the University of Lyons in 1906-10. In 1919 he spent some time in France, developing his painting skills with Claude Monet and working on depictions of the French countryside. Mohammed Naghi returned to Egypt shortly, becoming involved with the 1919 revolution. This experience helped him get closer to the population and enriched his appreciation of Egyptian heritage.
Egypt. b. 1917
Sabry graduated from the Faculty of Arts in Cairo and continued his studies in Madrid at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando. In 1952 he attained a professorship there, and in 1988, he was awarded the Queen Isabella medal by the King of Spain. Born in 1917, Sabry has witnessed almost a century of political and social history, and this certainly reflected in his work as an artist. A lot of his work was executed in the impressionist style, and depicted Cairo, Aswan, as well as Spanish scenery.
Born in Alexandria into an aristocratic Egyptian family, Wanly was privately tutored in art. In his portraits we often find characters in self-reflective gestures, detached from their context. While some of his paintings capture live entertainment, theatre and musical performances, Wanly’s primary concentration was to depict daily life.The artist established an art studio in Cairo in the 1940s with his brother Adham Wanly that was open to the public and any-one interested in the arts.
Palestine. b. 1947
Among the most recognised and distinguished Palestinian artists is Suleiman Mansour, who has tailored his comprehensive portfolio around the Palestinian struggle, portraying peasants and women in traditional dress in his early work. For Mansour, art aids the continua- tion and revival of Palestinian identity, particularly as it captures images of the land and people working on it. By keeping his artistic roots in the ancestral homeland, the artist enables Palestinians to continue to lay claim to it.
Date: On till Friday, 27th June 2014 between 12:00 pm-8:00 pm
Venue: Emirates Palace Gallery, Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi (location map)
Lest We Forget: Structures of Memory in the United Arab Emirates at the 14th International Architecture Biennale
Three days ago I wrote about the upcoming 14th International Architecture Biennale in Venice and its overall themes. Today I will share with you what to expect from the UAE pavilion and some thoughts and questions.
This week, the United Arab Emirates will make its debut at the 14th International Architecture Biennale in Venice, from 7th June till 23rd November 2014 (with a VIP opening on Thursday, 5th June).
The UAE first took part in the Venice Biennale in 2009 and after last year’s announcement of a permanent pavilion in Venice, the UAE is looking to make a mark at the Architecture Biennale.
The UAE Pavilion is one of the 66 national pavilions (and the 3rd Gulf country after Bahrain and Kuwait) that has responded to the theme Absorbing Modernity put forward by the biennale director Rem Koolhaas.
"Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014" is an invitation to the national pavilions to show, each in their own way, the process of the erasure of national characteristics in architecture in favor of the almost universal adoption of a single modern language and a single repertoire of typologies – a more complex process than we typically recognize, involving significant encounters between cultures, technical inventions, and hidden ways of remaining "national".
"Lest We Forget: Structures of Memory in the United Arab Emirates" presents the seminal findings of a larger initiative to archive the history of architectural and urban development in the UAE over the past century. With a concentrated emphasis on the 1970s-1980s, the exhibition examines how public and residential architecture, built within a rapidly expanding urban context, shaped the newly established federation and prepared the foundation for its emergence on a global stage.
The exhibition covers four periods with an emphasis on the 1970s-1980s:
- 1914-1949 Vernacular Architecture, examining indigenous architectural traditions of the UAE.
- 1950-1970 Infrastructure and Urban Development, exploring the early urban master plans of the Emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.
- 1971-1994 Structures of Modernity, showcasing key buildings from the UAE’s initial encounter with modernity following the union of the Emirates.
- 1995-2014 Retrospective and Innovation, highlighting conservation and adaptive reuse efforts aimed at preserving modern heritage buildings and planning for a sustainable future.
These four periods will be exhibited via three main components:
- Drawers containing materials like architectural and engineering renderings, documents and photographs.
- Filmed conversations projected on large screens above the drawers (featuring UAE’s leading professionals in architecture, engineering, education, conservation and culture).
- A comprehensive timeline with info-graphic maps and diagrams that will correspond to the four periods captured in the drawer units, including significant buildings of the UAE within the context of regional and international political and economic events as well as architectural developments.
I’m very happy there will be an emphasis on the 1970s-1980s, some of the key buildings that will showcased from that period include the Cultural Foundation and National Library and Zayed Sports Stadium in Abu Dhabi, Dubai's World Trade Centre, Dubai Petroleum’s headquarters and Sharjah's Blue Souq. I also find it ironic there’s a concentrated emphasis on the 1970s-80s architecture considering this is the period that has been and continues to be easily demolished to make way for new developments across the country.
When I first heard about the theme "Lest We Forget" at a talk in January this year with Rem Koolhaas, Michel Bambling and Adina Hempel (UAE Pavilion's Head of Research), I felt very were apprehensive about it, especially since this is also a title of a project worked on by students from Zayed University overseen by Bambling from few years ago. I couldn’t help but think why such an elementary approach to this biennale. Here's a quote from an article about the Zayed University project from 2013.
…lamenting the dearth of published vernacular photography in the UAE, I decided to ask students in my curatorial practices course if they would like to embark on a study of photographs taken by Emirati people over the course of the second half of the 20th century. Published photographs of the UAE have largely been taken by non-local, professional photographers or by missionaries, oil companies, the media and the Royal family for purposes quite different that those of ordinary citizens. Michele Bambling via The National
Needless to say, I kept wondering who is "we" that will be represented in Venice. An Emirati only point of view of architectural heritage, culture and history, which is normally romanticisied? Or a more academic approach that will give visitors an objective overview of the UAE’s architectural history to help put the present into context that not many (outside and even inside the UAE) really understand, before even looking at the future. .
Since then, and after reading more about the UAE Pavilion and having discussions with members from the UAE Pavilion, I’ve been told Lest We Forget is a long term project that will continue its research, part of a "larger initiative to archive the history of architectural and urban development in the UAE over the past century".
According to Bambling, "Much of the diverse material has been gathered, created for the exhibition or shown to the public for the first time -- content that is typically hidden within in files of architectural and engineering firms, and in municipal and federal archives, in Emirati family photo albums, on travelers’ post cards, and in photographic collections."
The core elements of this exhibition will be in the drawers and visitors will be expected to explore these drawers to find different objects and documents. I have yet to see the pavilion, but based on what was described to me along with the drawings that have been shared, it feels like the pavilion has a very "closed door" feel to it. It’s like a shy teenager that doesn’t really want to talk about itself and will only answer questions when asked. Even the pavilion design concept sketches (featured above) have hints of this closeness.
A closed object. Like a metaphor: You have to access UAE culture carefully
How to show documents: like private items found in a domestic space
I can see why the the curator would like viewers to discover, engage and interact with the pavilion, but in the context of a biennale – with 66 national pavilions, each one trying to stand out with its own statement, will this work? The biennale doesn’t just attract architects and academics, this edition particularly aims to attract the wider public.
Is this year’s participation more about preserving ephemera and memory versus the preservation of physical buildings and locations? I hope the pavilion will help play a role in more than just creating a memory bank. I hope (and wish) it will have a role to play in physically preserving and honouring whatever still remains from the 1970s through to the 1990s, and not by just exhibiting objects, documents, blueprints, and preserving a handful of buildings.
Will the UAE Pavilion succeed in telling its story of absorbing modernity in the past 100 years? I hope so. I am really looking forward to the response it gets after the official opening, and hope I get a chance to visit it myself.
During the press meeting I asked what would be recommended to a visitor if she/he had just 30 minutes at the pavilion. The answer was to look at the timeline and based on the period the visitor is interested in, she/he can go to the relevant corresponding drawers that will have more information.
On that note – here are some of the featured buildings and objects you will find at the pavilion (all images supplied by the UAE Pavilion). If you go, let me know what you think and I will keep an eye on reviews and feedback from friends that will be attending.
Zayed Sports Stadium, 2014 (photograph courtesy of Marco Sosa)
Cultural Foundation and National Library, opened 1981, TAC The Architects Collaborative formed by Walter Gropius (photograph courtesy of Dr. Mohammed Al Mansoori)
Ibrahimi Building, Abu Dhabi, 1980s
(photograph by Marco Sosa)
Ibrahimi Building, Abu Dhabi, façade, 1980s
(photograph by Marco Sosa)
Dubai World Trade Center, opened 1979
(photograph courtesy of John R Harris and Partners)
Sheikh Rashid Tower of the World Trade Center Complex, façade detail. Architect John R. Harris and Partners, Dubai, 1979 (photograph courtesy of Micro Urban)
Blue Souk, Architect Michael Lyell, Sharjah, 1978 (photograph by Marco Sosa)
Personal objects photos/postcards:
Finish of a camel race, Dubai, 1950 (photograph by Ronald Codral. Courtesy of Codrai Gulf Collection - Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority)
Blue Souk Visit, 1984 (photograph courtesy of Khaled Hadi Bin Sumaidaa)
National House - My father’s friend Ahmed Abdulla Al Jassasi, Al Shahama, 1980
“I love how the person who took this photo created a panoramic view by taking two photos that show the newly built house given by the government and showing the lady by the station wagon. Notice that the telephone wire reached the house before the paved road” (photograph provided by Houreya Naser Musabah Khamis Al Kalbani)
Sheikh Rashid Tower, Dubai, 1983 - FRONT of Postcard
Postcard labeled WTC, written by Dutch expat written in Dutch, sent from Dubai to Holland (postcard provided by Adina Hempel)
Sheikh Rashid Tower, Dubai, 1983 - BACK of Postcard
Postcard labeled WTC, written by Dutch expat written in Dutch, sent from Dubai to Holland (postcard provided by Adina Hempel)
The UAE Pavilion will be open to the public from Saturday, 7th June till Sunday, 23rd November 2014, from 10am till 6pm. It is located in Sale d'Armi Nord, Arsenale, Castello, 30122 in Venice.
If you are interested in the other participating national pavilions, My Art Guides has put together a very good summary for all 66 pavilions.
Sixty six countries are be taking part, including three countries from the Gulf - Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The UAE will make its debut at the Architecture Biennale this year, along with nine other countries (Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, New Zealand and Turkey). Expect a separate post about the UAE Pavilion later this week.
This year’s edition is titled Fundamentals, directed by Rem Koolhaas who wants this biennale to be research-centered, about architecture and not architects. Fundamentals will consist of three interlocking exhibitions, Elements of Architecture, Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014 and Monditalia.
Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014, Elements of Architecture and Monditalia – together illuminate the past, present and future of our discipline. After several architecture Biennales dedicated to the celebration of the contemporary, Fundamentals will look at histories, attempt to reconstruct how architecture finds itself in its current situation, and speculate on its future.
Here's an overview of the Architecture Biennale and you can read more more details below. Look out for the embarrassing slide where "Middle East" is listed as a country.
More information about the three interlocking exhibitions:
Elements of Architecture in the Central Pavilion
Elements of Architecture will pay close attention to the fundamentals of our buildings, used by any architect, anywhere, anytime: the floor, the wall, the ceiling, the roof, the door, the window, the façade, the balcony, the corridor, the fireplace, the toilet, the stair, the escalator, the elevator, the ramp.
Traditional architectural elements – the ceiling and the window, but also even the façade – now belong to advanced technological domains, yet the fundamental elements of architecture endure, albeit in sometimes radically different forms. By looking at the evolution of architectural elements shared by all cultures, the exhibition will expand the architectural discourse beyond its normal parameters, and include a broad public in an exploration of the familiar, the erased, and the visionary dimensions of architecture.
Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014 at the National Pavilions
In 1914, it made sense to talk about a 'Chinese' architecture, a 'Swiss' architecture, an 'Indian' architecture. One hundred years later, under the influence of wars, diverse political regimes, different states of development, national and international architectural movements, individual talents, friendships, random personal trajectories, and technological developments, architectures that were once specific and local have become seemingly interchangeable and global. Has national identity been sacrificed to modernity?
Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014 is an invitation to the national pavilions to show, each in their own way, the process of the erasure of national characteristics in architecture in favor of the almost universal adoption of a single modern language and a single repertoire of typologies – a more complex process than we typically recognize, involving significant encounters between cultures, technical inventions, and hidden ways of remaining 'national'. In a time of ubiquitous google research and the flattening of cultural memory, it is crucial for the future of architecture to resurrect and expose these narratives.
By telling the history of the last 100 years cumulatively, the exhibitions in the National Pavilions will generate a global overview of architecture’s evolution into a single, modern aesthetic, and at the same time uncover within globalization the survival of unique national features and mentalities that continue to exist and flourish even as international collaboration and exchange intensify…
Monditalia at the Arsenale
Monditalia dedicates the Arsenale to a single theme – Italy – with exhibitions, events, and theatrical productions engaging architecture, politics, economics, religion, technology, industry. The other festivals of la Biennale di Venezia – film, dance, theatre, and music – will be mobilized to contribute to a comprehensive portrait of the host country.
In a moment of crucial political transformation, we decided to look at Italy as a 'fundamental' country, completely unique but showing certain features – particularly the coexistence of immense riches, creativity, competences, and potential combined with political turbulence – that also make it a prototype of the current moment.
Throughout the Corderie, exhibitions and a series of theatrical productions and events will unfold, engaging architecture, politics, economics, religion, technology, industry. Each one could leave a physical trace in the form of sets, objects, written material, projections, or the extended presence of people. The Corderie would be imagined as a multidisciplinary work in progress, constantly evolving and on permanent display, with varying degrees of activity and varying scales of productions taking place in its different sections.
I leave you with a behind the scenes look at the biennale preparation. I've never been to the Architecture biennale and this one sounds like it will be a good one. I hope I get a chance to visit it. More posts about the biennale coming up later this week.
The Carton magazine has taken over the Project Space at thejamjar since 26th May 2014 for a four-week residency aimed at instilling the idea of mobile office space. The Carton is an independent quarterly magazine that tells the story of Middle Eastern culture through its food (I recently wrote about their last issue, "Jazz Manouche" here).
The residency is titled عصرونية (pronounced "asrouniyeh").
Titled ‘Asrouniyeh’, the topic of The Carton’s 10th quarterly edition explores the Middle Eastern version of the British afternoon tea and the Italian aperitivo.
From 28th May, the public is invited to watch the process of finalising this issue, witnessing the deadline week and finally to the launch day, which will take place in thejamjar on 25th June 2014.
Jade Georges, editorial director and cofounder of the independent publication explains more,
“When we established our publishing house Art And Then Some in Beirut, we had the idea of mobile offices in mind. We turned a 1960s Beirut apartment into an organic and inspiring office space and called it our hub. And with the target of helping Middle Eastern food culture reach as many territories as possible, our next stop was the UAE where we’ve set up flexible spaces for the past two years to encourage conversations around the culture aided by these moving creative spaces.”
During the residency which will go on till 25th June 2014, The Carton’s readers are welcome to witness the process of the editorial and creative creation of the upcoming issue. And over the next four Wednesdays this month, The Carton will be hosting a ‘asrouniyeh’ starting at 4.15pm, inviting everyone to bring homemade afternoon-tea delicacies representing their culture.
I love this idea for a residency and looking forward to seeing how it turns out. If you are interested in attending one of the asrouniyehs on Wednesdays, send an email to email@example.com.
The fourth edition of Abu Dhabi Film Festival at The Space for the month of June will feature films that "made the journey to Cannes".
The 67th annual Cannes Film Festival completed last month but we invite you to explore highly original films and masterful filmmakers who made the journey to Cannes. Directors Jeff Nichols, Annemarie Jacir, Pablo Larrain, Cherien Dabis and Hugh Hudson each created innovative, daring and highly memorable stories that have left an indelible impression across the world.
Here's the line up for June. All screenings are free, but you must RSVP in advance. The screenings take place every Monday at The Space in Abu Dhabi, starting at 7pm, except on 30th June, the film will be screened at 5pm (due to Ramadan hours).
Monday, 2nd June 2014 at 7pm
Salt of this Sea (Milh Hadha Al Bahr) by Annemarie Jacir (Palestine)
Drama/Romance | PG | 109 minutes | Arabic with English Subtitles
Soraya, 28, born and raised in Brooklyn, decides to return to live in Palestine, a country that her family was exiled from in 1948. On arriving in Ramallah, Soraya tries to recover the money left in an account by her grandparents but meets with refusal from the bank.
Her path then crosses that of Emad, a young Palestinian whose ambition, unlike hers, is to leave the country for good. To escape the constraints linked to the situation in Palestine but also to earn their freedom, Soraya and Emad take things into their own hands, even if this means breaking the law. In this quest for life, we follow their trail through the History of a lost Palestine.
Monday, 9th June 2014 at 7pm
Take Shelter by Jeff Nichols (USA)
Thriller/Drama | 15+ | 121 minutes | English
When Curtis (Michael Shannon) begins having nightmares of an encroaching, apocalyptic storm, he refrains from telling his wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain). To protect her and their six-year-old deaf daughter Hannah, Curtis starts focusing his anxiety and money into the obsessive building of a storm shelter.
While Hannah's healthcare and special needs education has resulted in financial struggle, Curtis' seemingly inexplicable behavior concerns Samantha and provokes intolerance among co-workers, friends and neighbors. However, the resulting strain on his marriage and tension within the community doesn't compare to Curtis' private fear of what his disturbing dreams may truly signify.
Monday, 16th June 2014 at 7pm
No by Pablo Larrain (Chile)
Drama/Politics | 12+ | 108 minutes | Spanish with English Subtitles
In 1988, Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet, due to international pressure, is forced to call a plebiscite on his presidency. The country will vote YES or NO to Pinochet extending his rule for another eight years.
Opposition leaders of the NO vote persuade a brash young advertising executive, René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal), to spearhead their campaign. Against all odds, with scant resources and under scrutiny by the despot's minions, Saavedra and his team devise an audacious plan to win the election and set Chile free.
Monday, 23rd June 2014 at 7pm
Amreeka by Cherien Dabis (USA)
Comedy/Drama/Family | G | 97 minutes | Arabic/English with English Subtitles
Muna Farah, a Palestinian single mum, struggles to maintain her optimistic spirit in the daily grind of intimidating West Bank checkpoints, the constant nagging of a controlling mother, and the haunting shadows of a failed marriage.
Everything changes one day when she receives a letter informing her that her family has been granted a U.S. Green Card. Reluctant to leave her homeland, but realising it may be the only way to secure a future for Fadi, her teenage son, Muna decides to quit her job at the bank and visit her relatives in Illinois to see about a new life in a land that gives newcomers a run for their money.
Monday, 30th June 2014 at 5pm
Chariots of Fire by Hugh Hudson (UK)
Drama/Sports | G | 124 minutes | English
A cinematic masterpiece that earned four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, CHARIOTS OF FIRE recounts the widely celebrated, inspiring true story of two British runners competing in the 1924 Olympic Games.
Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), a driven athlete of Jewish ancestry, runs to overcome prejudice and to achieve personal fame; his rival Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), a devout Scottish missionary competes for the glory of God. An inspirational story of spirit and strength in the face of enormous odds, the film combines the finest elements of athletic competition and human drama to create a compelling and timeless classic.
The Saturday, 31st May 2014, Sharjah Art Foundation will screen two short films in the outdoor Mirage City Cinema in the Sharjah Art Foundation Art Spaces.
Al Intithar (The Waiting) by Mario Rizzi
Arabic with English subtitles
Colour, 30 mins, 2012
Al Intithar (The Waiting) is the first part of the trilogy Bayt (House) about the emergence of a new civil consciousness in the Arab world, which also looks at the social implications of the end of post-colonialism in these countries.
The short film Al Intithar presents itself as an excerpt; it records fragments of the life of Syrian refugees in Camp Zaatari, which lies seven kilometres to the south of the Syrian border in the Jordanian desert. The film’s protagonist is a widow from Homs whose husband was killed in an attack by the Syrian army. The film follows her life at the camp for seven weeks. Life’s rhythms are dictated by the place, and life is all about waiting.
Monopoly by Bader AlHomoud
Arabic with English subtitles
Colour, 23 mins, 2012
Monopoly is a mockumentary that depicts the housing crisis in Saudi Arabia, revolving around a man who decides to live in a van due to escalating property prices.
The film raised high awareness about a crisis that affects 70% of the population in Saudi Arabia, and as a result received over a million views in its first week.
Date: Saturday, 31st May at 8.30pm
Venue: Mirage City Cinema, SAF Art Spaces, Behind Al Zahra Mosque, Sharjah (location map)
Sad news about Maya Angelou, but her legacy will live on.
There are countless of obituaries, but I really enjoyed Maya Angelou, Lyrical Witness of the Jim Crow South, Dies at 86 by Margalit Fox. This video, Farewell to Maya Angelou is from the same article.
I strongly suggest you read this interview from 2003, Growing Up Maya Angelou about her childhood, her writing and the importance of family. There are some very beautiful and touching answers in it.
On a lighter note, watch this video of Maya Angelou discussing how she coped during the years she stopped talking till she was 13, about being human and about language. It includes a funny story when she was in Cairo as a dancer, when on one night when she was asked to sing, despite not being a professional singer. She sang a song her mother used to sing every Sunday and impressed the audience, "4500 Arabs jumped up and hit the floor 'w'Allah azeem, w'Allah azeem'". The trained singers that performed before her looked at her with envy and she responded, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I have the glory."
RIP Maya Angelou, 1928-2014.
Sharjah Art Foundation's March Project features the work of seven young artists who were part of an educational residency programme organised by the foundation. During this residency, the artists had the opportunity to research, realise and present site-specific works through a series of professional development courses, seminars, exhibitions, site visits and talks led by art practitioners over a five month period.
The selected artists included recent graduates from institutions such as Slade School of Fine Art (UK), MASS Alexandria (Egypt), Al Riwaq (Bahrain), Higher Colleges of Technology (UAE) and Zayed University (UAE).
Their work is installed throughout Sharjah Art Foundation Art Spaces and Bait Al Shamsi, in the Arts Area since 16th March 2014 and on till 16th June 2014.
The works realised in this exhibition draw upon the role of architecture, space and movement in the hybrid culture and society of Sharjah. The interactions in Sharjah between residents and its private and public spaces, as well as the occupation and use of these places, play a central role in these site-specific works installed throughout SAF Art Spaces and Bait Al Shamsi, in the Arts Area.
Here's a video of the works, plus interviews with some of the artists talking about their work (click on "Captions" to watch it with English subtitles).
Below is the list of artists and detailed information about each installation. Block some time (preferably in the evening since it is very hot during the day), go to Sharjah and walk around the Art Space and Arts Area and enjoy the sights and sounds.
Noor Al Bastaki - Sawalef (Tales)
2014, installation, video
Location: SAF Art Spaces, Sharjah Heritage Area
In this work Noor Al Bastaki explores how society is defined by the public interactions between different types of people. Influenced by Al Majis Al Shaabi, a popular meeting place in the traditional Heart of Sharjah, Al Bastaki’s installation re-creates a local café with synchronised video recordings from coffee shops in both Sharjah and Bahrain.
Marcela Florido - Contos
2013-2014, oil on canvas, oil and charcoal on paper
Location: Bait Al Shamsi, Sharjah Arts Area
The formal and aesthetic decisions are a direct response to Marcela Florido’s experience in Sharjah: the bold use of raw pigment on canvas and the predominance of hot colours such as orange, pink, yellow and red, the contrast between light and shadow reflect the landscape of Sharjah through the medium of painting.
Ahmed Fouad Rageb - Untitled
2014, installation, 20 radio transmitters, 20 mp3 players and 5 radio receivers
Location: SAF Art Spaces, Sharjah Heritage Area
Ahmed Fouad Rageb's 22 radio transmitters are distributed around SAF Art Spaces, transmitting pre-recorded audio interviews with a range of Sharjah Art Foundation staff members, who have a strong relationship and familiarity with the area.
The viewer moves through the spaces catching different radio frequencies, streaming different ‘channels of consciousness’, examining the relationship between the subconscious mind and the space. Rageb’s work is inspired by the numerous Sharjah radio stations that stream in different languages, each addressing a specific demographic.
Frank Harris - Spaceship Sharjah
2014, installation, wood, lenses, paint
Location: SAF Art Spaces, Sharjah Heritage Area
Frank Harris' Spaceship Sharjah invites the viewer to enter and consider potential futures. Shaped like a rocket, its faceted sides facing the Corniche, the local mosque and the Heritage Area, it sits between some of the most important influences on any society: the outside world, religion and tradition.
Using a camera obscura, the oldest device for capturing the world as an image, Spaceship Sharjah combines and warps the images of these symbolic structures, posing the question: "what aspects of our current society will we take with us into the future and how will they combine, evolve or disappear?"
Spaceship Sharjah represents the process in which culture, religion and tradition contend with each other, constantly negotiating, combining and evolving, by capturing and distorting images of one particular location through multiple camera obscuras mounted inside a space shuttle bound for the future. Upon entering the structure the viewer sees "where shall we go?" painted on the steps, putting them in the position of a modern day Noah.
(images via frankbuildsthings.tumblr.com)
Holly Hendry - Homeostasis
2014, installation, metal pipes, pillows, wadding, meranti wood, fan
Location: SAF Art Spaces, Sharjah Heritage Area
Fascinated with the history of these architectural forms and their function, Holly Hendry uses the traditional form of the Barjeel as the conceptual framework in this installation. Historically, the Barjeel was used as a form of ventilation, working as a mechanism to capture and circulate air through a building. With modern air conditioning, the towers have become decorative features representing a local and historical identity. In Homeostasis, Hendry creates an oversized replica of an air conditioning system’s inner workings offering a commentary of the UAE’s modernisation.
The overall aesthetics of the work speaks of the body, conceptually and physically attempting to turn the architecture into a form of fragmented human form. A wooden framework supports aluminium ductwork and acts as the ‘bones’ of our private domains. Wedged between the wooden structures and the metal ducting, oversized cushions represent domesticity and the warmth of home, creating a visual tension within the installation.
Nourine Shenawy - Closed Letter
2014, installation, paper, cardboard, foil, pencil
Location: Bait Al Shamsi, Sharjah Arts Area
In Closed Letter, Nourine Shenawy asked people for short texts that describe their thoughts before falling asleep. Printed and handwritten in black foil or pencil on black paper, from a distance the work appears to be an oversized ‘censored’ letter. On closer inspection the words become legible and reveal to the viewer these personal thoughts.
Eman Youniss - The Sacred Room
Location: Bait Al Shamsi, Sharjah Arts Area
The Sacred Room is a replica of Eman Youniss’ grandfather’s room—his private domain, complete with original objects and belongings. During his lifetime, Youniss was the only one allowed to enter the room and invade her grandfather’s privacy and solitude. This work recreates the room from the eyes of a child and offers viewers a glimpse into the artist’s personal life.
[all images via sharjahart.org unless where stated]
The Lost Empire by the prolific Lebanese photographer Fouad Elkoury is the latest exhibition at The Third Line. The exhibition features photos of abandoned soviet military bases where he visited dozens of military bases in Poland, Hungary, Estonia and East Germany between 2010 and 2011.
Most were aviation fields; others served separate purposes. And despite having being told there was nothing to photograph there, Fouad found the abandoned desolation far more captivating.
Deserted and invaded by nature, a force far more primal and stronger than weapons of war, the bases have become unserviceable areas of land. The utter silence and emptiness left Fouad the only protagonist in the plot, searching for abandoned stories, and his only ally was light, without which nothing could be seen.
I got a chance to meet Elkoury at The Third Line a few weeks ago and we talked about his career, photography and Dubai. Here are some of the highlights.
In addition to photographing in various cities around the world, Elkoury has been documenting Dubai for almost 10 years, you can see some of his work here. It's been a few years since he came to Dubai, so during this visit, he used every chance he had to photograph the city, despite the heat.
When I asked him what his impressions are of Dubai during this visit, he said he hoped there would have been an organic growth in the city after the economic crisis from a few years ago, but instead, he sees a lot of “constructed” growth which feels messy and chaotic. During his visit to Downtown Dubai around Burj Khalifa, he said that although he was impressed to see so much has been built in a very short period, but it "feels fake".
I tend to agree with Elkoury and told him I don’t feel lessons were learnt after the crisis and Dubai is very much in construction overdrive mode, especially after the World Expo 2020 in Dubai announcement.
When it comes to photography, Elkoury took it up based on instinct; it has and continues to play an important part in his life and work.
When we discussed the role of photography in the Middle East and its appreciation, or in most cases, lack of appreciation, he agreed with me that photography doesn’t get enough acknowledgment or recognition as an art form.
He pointed out that throughout history, artistic expression in the Arab world was found in literature, poetry, painting, sculpture and music; and in cinema during the past century, which took off in the Arab world when it was introduced, but the same cannot be said about photography. Somehow, photography is still struggling to be seen as a respected and serious art form in this region.
During his early days of photography, he was considered a "spy or following a disrespectful hobby". Again, this was another point we agreed on, and I was glad he validated my thoughts on how photography is perceived in this part of the world. There is distrust when it comes to photographers, especially when found in non-touristic sites. And there isn’t the same level of respect when it comes to photography as art and we wondered if it's due to the fact that in this day and age, everyone with a camera phone is a photographer, documenting and sharing a constant flood of images on social media? Or is it to do with the fact that photographs sold in galleries are in editions, and buyers prefer unique pieces, hence the popularity of paintings and sculptures?
About empty places
Before meeting Elkoury, I spent a lot of time looking at his work on his site, which goes back to the 1980s. I noticed a lot of his work does not show people, where he’s more of an observer or a quiet participant. For his Lost Empire series, I told him my first reaction to the work was categorising it as “ruin porn” photography. But as we discussed his work, I realised it was simply a case of Elkoury seeking quiet and peaceful places, an appreciation that has come with age. He described the places he photographed for The Lost Empire series as “beautiful”, whereas most people think of them as ruined and abandoned. He prefers to go to places without people, to enjoy nature, silence and his surroundings.
On that note, I leave you with some of Elkoury’s photos from the exhibition, accompanied with Negar Azmi’s eloquently written essay about this series (included in the exhibition catalogue). Negar Azimi is a writer and senior editor at Bidoun, an arts and culture magazine based in New York.
Grab a coffee/tea/drink, sit back, read and enjoy the photos. If you are in Dubai, the exhibition is on till 29h May 2014.
Mute Witness by Negar Azimi
He always arrived with a bottle of whiskey and a smile, just in case he had any problems getting in. Some encounters were more strange than others. In Hungary, he found dozens of menus scattered around, traces of soldiers’ mess halls from five decades before. In Germany, he walked into a warehouse stocked with crisp never-before-used officer fatigues. Somewhere else — he can’t remember where — he found young men racing their motorbikes along ancient airplane landing grounds. More often than not, sleepy sentinels—for there were often guards standing about the derelict architectural carcasses — raised their shoulders in sulky indifference to indicate that these abandoned military bases were not of their moment, but rather, that of their parents and grandparents. This was just some job. They didn’t have answers to the questions.
It is a queer thing to trace the footprints of great historical epochs. Unlike the photojournalist who yearns to be there in the moment – as the wall falls, when the dictator flees, amid the crowds heaving – the photographer of traces takes his time, thinks hard about the where, and sets out on a long walk. These walks take hours or weeks. Sometimes they take years, for if anything, they are not “timely.” The photographer says he has a sort of predisposition and sympathy toward these liminal spaces (for it is not clear if these sites are in a state of becoming or unbecoming). Maybe, he says, it’s a sort of a natural affinity. He has set out on journeys not unlike this one in Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt and Nicosia. In all of these places, the quality of the sound is the same, he says. Silence, it is thunderous, wraps around you like a blanket.
History becomes a puzzle to decipher. Sometimes, a place might unleash an avalanche of memory. When Jacques Austerlitz comes to know pieces of his occluded past in the novel of the same name by W.G. Sebald, he says of a gloomy room in London’s Liverpool Street station that it seemed to hold “all the hours of my past life, all the suppressed and extinguished fears and wishes I had ever entertained.” Sebald, the Bavarian author who passed away in 2001, may have been the last century’s great writer-historian. While his immediate concern seemed to be the still-fresh ravages of the second world war in Europe, it is in and around the gaps of his narratives that this vexed history speaks. Silences are pregnant. Past traumas are subtly alluded to. Objects can be bearers of riddles. Throughout his novels, one encounters ghosts, obfuscations, retellings: the landscape is littered with them. Nothing is addressed head on. There is no clarity. Here he is again, in another novel, Rings of Saturn: “We, the survivors, see everything from above, see everything at once, and still we do not know how it was.”
We do not know how it was. Elegant understatements of past horrors, Elkoury’s photographs offer themselves up as Sebaldian traces. And like Sebald’s principle character in Rings of Saturn, who walks for the length of 300 pages in a heroic zigzag through the British countryside, Elkoury, too, walks. He finds memories jaded. People have died. The curious few are left to sift through the inscrutable wreckage of this modern life.
Sometimes, Elkoury’s ruins, if you can call them that, take on the appearance of other ruins we have known. In Kluczewo, two bunkers sit in the back of the frame, a little like the squat Mexican pyramids of Teotihuacan. In Furstenwalde, pillars from a now-destroyed structure (or was it never built?) approximate long discarded Greco-Roman pillars holding up nothing but sky. And everywhere, there are strange stand-ins for the human forms that once populated these abandoned spaces. In Gross Doln, over-tall lamps stand out like attenuated bodies. In Juterborg, two ventilators on the side of a building take on the aspect of ancient eyes.
Somewhere between becoming and unbecoming. And yet, one of the defining characteristics of these remnants of a Soviet past is that they exist in spite of the world. Everywhere in these photographs, a persistent grass grows — invading concrete crevices and cracks or inching along retired walls — as if reminding us that these wars, these empires, are mere specks on the historical record. The history of humans is a small thing. Nature persists.
One final image. Two boulders lie casually on a promontory, before a lake. There is no trace of the retired military base that is surely in the surrounds. The boulders appear to us as mute witnesses, having been here for decades, if not centuries. And while they are likely to hold many answers — for we came here with questions — it seems all too evident that they are not about to reveal a thing.