Exhibition - Encounter: Listening to the City

Encounter: Listening to the City (image courtesy of Maraya Art Centre)

Encounter: Listening to the City (image courtesy of Maraya Art Centre)

Encounter: Listening to the City is a sound and video exhibition running in conjunction with Customs Made: Quotidian Practices and Everyday Rituals. It's in the Maraya Art Park in Sharjah (walking distance from Maraya Art Centre), featuring work by seven artists (including yours truly) curated by Alexandra MacGilp. 

It opened last month, on the same day as Customs Made: Quotidian Practices and Everyday Rituals and is on till 12th May 2014. 

The sound and video installations are in shipping containers and various points across the park. It's very refreshing to have an outdoor exhibition in a public space as it allows a wider audience to engage with the artist's work.  

Encounter: Listening to the City looks at how "sound, music and the spoken voice can create spaces of nostalgia, belonging and reflection".

Sounds, like rituals, can become a space where private meets public. The public can weave their individual beliefs into the fabric of the city they inhabit. Present and past meet aurally; a snatch of tune or a once familiar sound can trigger a memory. Using our auditory sense can make us more aware of ourselves, it can feel, intimate, almost covert or solipsistic.

The artists in this exhibition conduct research into belief systems, vernacular and popular culture, observing culture’s propensity towards transmutation. They are interested in elements that can be arranged or eroded by the individual within state-controlled parametres to create moments of joy, community, nostalgia, homesickness, contemplation or peace.

Below is the list of participating artists, and I've included extracts from the exhibition catalogue, which describes each work. The catalogue is co-joined with Customs Made: Quotidian Practices and Everyday Rituals catalogue, so two in one and worth getting. 

This exhibition has to be experienced in person, so block some time in your calendar and go to Sharjah for this.



Maitha Demithan


Maitha Demithan - To the Moon (2009) | Scanography 180 x 122 cm | Photo projected on water, image courtesy of Maraya Art Centre


Maitha Demithan - Ajyal (2012 ) | Scanography 90 x 76 cm | Photo projected on water, image courtesy of Maraya Art Centre

Maitha Demithan has two installations; one has her scanography works (Still Waters, Ajyal and To the Moon) projected onto the fountain on the lagoon in the park everyday at 8pm till 12th May 2014. 

Her second installation is a video.

Maitha Demithan's video Windows documents her family's summer travels in France and Switzerland. Looking out at scenery of greenery and cows the family elect to listen to Bedouin music, such as you would listen to driving to the desert. The longer they are abroad, the louder and more patriotic the music becomes. The Bedouin culture of nomadism now extends overseas but the lush landscape cannot dampen a yearning for home. 

Ala Ebtekar

Ala Ebtekar's project cylinder.us began life at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco on the occasion of its borrowing  of the Cyrus Cylinder from the British Museum. This 2500-year-old clay cylinder contains the decree of Cyrus the Great, Kind of Persia and it has been interpreted as the first declaration of human rights. 

In an initial series of workshops, young people were asked "If you were king or queen of the universe, what message would you inscribe on a cylinder like Cyrus' that would become your legacy for centuries to come?". The children's answers are poignant. Free of the pragmatism adults develop, they tell us we should treat others as we would like to be treated, feed the hungry and protect the environment. Their responses were worked into a sound composition by Ata Ebtekar (Sote). Its seven movements were recorded onto wax cylinders to be played on an Edison phonograph cylinder, one of the earliest technologies to record sound. 

The culmination of the project is a performance through a multi-channel sound and video installation using the phonograph cylinders within an extended electronic acoustic work. 

Kapwani Kiwanga


Kapwani Kiwanga - Tongue (2007) | Sound installation, 25 minutes loop

Kapwangi Kiwanga explores how culture mutates through its transmission. In Kiwanga's sound work Tongue, the artist repeats proverbs in Swahili, a language she does not speak, after her Swahili-speaking brother. She stumbles and hesitates over the pronunciation of the unfamiliar words and the proverbs are deformed as they pass from one person to the next.

Unless we speak Swahili, we cannot understand the words the artist attempts to get her tongue around. This inability to gauge the meaning of the words allows us to concentrate on the artist's attempts to emulate her brother. 

Kiwanga invites us to meditate on the transmission of culture through oral traditions as well as the importance of language to culture, and the pitfalls inherent in translation. 

You can listen to a few seconds of this sound piece here.

Hind Mezaina


Hind Mezaina - An Encounter with the Past (2014) | A visitor enjoying one of the seven video installations, image courtesy of Alexandra MacGilp

For her installation An Encounter with the Past, Hind Mezaina draws on memories of the music she listened to and watched on television during her childhood in the UAE. At that time, watching television was a shared family activity with only a handful of channels to choose from. Mezaina has selected Arab music videos from the 1970s and 1980s, as that was the avenue through which she enjoyed music from the region. Meanwhile, she developed her love of Western music from listening to the radio and buying bootleg cassettes. 

The videos will provoke smiles of recognition and pleasure for those over a certain age, as they offer a moment of intimacy and nostalgia. 

Mezaina's personal selection embraces traditional Khaleeji singers in shiny thobes and majlis settings performing folk songs and pop groups in flares fusing Eastern and Western influences. It offers a cultural snapshot from the beginning of an era of rapid change in the region that has never really slowed down. Television would take on the role of transmitter and preserver of culture as a more settled and sedentary lifestyle evolved. 

Here's one of the seven music videos featured in the exhibition, Al Bariha (Yesterday) by Saqr Al Saleh. 

Joe Namy


Joe Namy - Beneath Our Feet (2013/2014) | Installation: Container, wallpaper, 1m x 1m touch/sound sensitive dance floor + sound mix (56 mins) | Image courtesy of Maraya Art Centre


Joe Namy - Half Step (2013) | Image from the opening night courtesy of Maraya Art Centre.


Joe Namy - Half Step (2013) | A visitor trying to follow the dance steps | Image courtesy of Alexandra MacGilp

Joe Namy has two installations in this exhibition, Beneath Our Feet and Half Step. Half Step is one of my favourite installations, so I was glad I got to see it again at this exhibition. 

Beneath Our Feet is inspired by a mixtape phenomenon mkataa (مقاطع) that is distinctive to the UAE. Preview tracks on bootleg CDs with photocopied covers are a mash-up sampler of all the songs on the disc, sped up and mixed with sound effects such as cars revving and snippets from popular TV and radio shows. The songs themselves span genres and time periods, from Khaleeji (Gulf) songs to the latest Bollywood hits, via Persian and Egyptian classics. Namy's sound collage is constructed from excerpts of such music purchased. These mixes reveal the cultural fabric of the UAE, with its jumble of cultures and histories and Namy's remixing of these remixes adds a new voice to the conversation. 

The installation consists of a one-person interactive dance floor, covered with an image of clouds. The viewer is invited to step onto the floor and activate the light sequence, or simply observe it from afar as it responds to the music... Although today music is often used as an escape that detaches us from our environment, it is a shared isolation. The mixtape DJ, although separated by distance and time from his listeners, still influences them in a one-on-one relationship. 

In his performance and installation Half Step, Joe Namy brings together two seemingly opposed dance forms; traditional Emirati folk dance and breakdance. Namy juxtaposes the static nature of folk dance, which preserves the memory of what has happened over hundreds of years with breakdance, which is concerned with innovation and improvisation. 

On the opening night last month, there were two groups, the folk dancers and the breakdancers and they simultaneously performed to the live soundtrack of musicians playing a traditional rhythm called Al Harbeya. The floor installation, which framed the live event "consists of vinyl graphic signalling a basic step pattern, known as a two step shuffle, that is found in both dance forms. The performance activates the floor installation where "dance is a time-based medium and the footprints left by the dancers form the memory of the performance". 

Hans Rosenstrom


Hans Rosenstrom - In Dependent Structures (2012/2014) | Text based sound installation for a single viewer | Duration 4’30’’ min | Container, headphones, sensor, lights, light dimmer, DMX controller, Arduino | Image courtesy of Maraya Art Centre

Auditory perception makes us aware of our bodily presence in space and time. Listening to something is an ambiguous event, interpreted according to our individual memories, experience and imagination. In his poetic installations, Hans Rosenstrom constructs narratives within spatial experiences in public and private domains. He creates intimate encounters that can change perception of the moment and the individual occupation of it, questioning the relations between a subjective presence and the surrounding circumstances. 

In Dependent Structures is about presence, a situation where your senses are heightened and eventually through the illusion of another person you become aware of yourself and your body in the moment. 

Deniz Uster

Deniz Uster narrates myths of an unknown future. For her film Beyond is Before, Uster was inspired by the nomadic history of the UAE and its Bedouin oral culture that she sees as an intangible logbook with many voids left for her to fill imaginatively. 

Beyond Before is set in a post-apocalyptic future in a freezing cold Dubai, with neither water nor oil. The protagonist is a lone Pakistani survivor travellng with his pet kitten. Fortunately, the liquid of a spongy pink plant that grows beneath the desert provides both liquid sustenance fuel and a fish-plant can also be excavated to eat. 

The film will be screened on Thursday, 8th May 2014. 

Here's map of where you can find each installation in the park (click on the map to see the see enlarged version or you can see the larger version here). 

You can walk to the park from Maraya Art Centre (around 15 minutes), or you can ask for a complimentary ride on one of the gallery's buggy. It's a fun and scenic ride. 

Exhibition details
Date: On till 12th May 2014
Venue: Maraya Art Park, Al Majaz Waterfront, Sharjah  (location map)
Free entry.