Khalid Al Banna, In absence of thinking during a time of fear. Ink on paper and collage.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Tashkeel Studio and Gallery, Nad Al Sheba, Dubai, presents ‘COVID Conversations’, a group exhibition by UAE-based artists and designers (till Jan. 4, 2021) that reflects upon the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. By focusing on creative acts that seek to explore, understand and process responses and reactions to the virus, the exhibition aims to examine the highs and the lows of the psychological impact, and creativity born from the challenges of limitation, isolation and change, whether positive or negative.
The exhibition features visual artists of all disciplines, graphic designers, product designers and other creatives with finished works, experimental outcomes and research, in a range of mediums realised during the period since March 2020, when restrictions on movement and engagement were first introduced. ‘COVID Conversations’ is being accompanied by a programme of talks, tours and workshops during the exhibition period, which are being delivered both online and at Tashkeel, subject to social distancing measures.
Lateefa bint Maktoum, Founder and Director of Tashkeel, notes that the past twelve months have been exceptional and extraordinary. “The hopes and aspirations we shared at the beginning of this year, not only for ourselves but for each other, stopped. In a time of confusion, we readdressed our lives,” she says. Since the lockdown in March, people, including artists, have gone through a mental journey — as individuals, families and communities.
Almost every aspect of our lives became swiftly reconfigured in light of the pandemic: from the way we work to the way we spend our free time; from the way we conduct relationships with friends and family to the way we engage with and are part of wider society. “Some journeys have had a debilitating effect, while others have been transformative.
But without doubt, both the psychological as well as the physical toll has been profound. “This exhibition is a snapshot of the response to this crisis and seeks to highlight the importance of creativity in times of adversity, as a means to comprehend, console, archive and endure” and “an effort to reassure others that no one is alone”. Following an open call in early October, Tashkeel received more than 160 submissions from artists and designers across the United Arab Emirates.
The selected works by 42 practitioners bear witness to the capacity of humanity to endure and overcome. ‘COVID Conversations’ is an archive of experimentation, exploration and resilience relating to the COVID-19 and its impact. Celebrating the power of self-expression in times of crisis, it reflects the multicultural nature of the country’s creative community, with works conceived and created by artists and designers from the UAE, Tunisia, Yemen, Morocco, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, India, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, UK, Ireland, France, Spain, USA, Canada, South Korea and South Africa.
It seeks to explore, understand and process responses to the pandemic, born from personal experience. Works in a diversity of media explore issues such as mental health, mortality, loss, faith, isolation, family, identity, escape and persistence, as well as material and collaborative experimentation realised during the lockdown and subsequent events.
By sharing such journeys, the exhibition seeks to offer solace and reconciliation to all those affected and afflicted by the pandemic. Participating artists include Abdessalem El Felah, who is a visual artist and academic from Tunisia. He currently lives in Abu Dhabi. Abeer Al Edani is an Iraqi artist based in Dubai.
Self-taught, she is inspired by her attraction towards the culture of homeland, customs, women, happiness and suffering. Her style ranges from impressionistic to abstract, usually on large canvases, working with all kinds of materials, including oil, acrylic, pencil and mixed media.
Azza Al Qubaisi is a jewellery artist, sculptor and product designer and is most often referred to as the UAE’s first Emirati jewellery artist. She enjoys exploring and experimenting with metal and natural materials. Born in Sana’a, Yemen, Boushra Almutawakel holds a BSBA in International Business from the American University, Washington, DC. She is a founding member of Al Halaqa artists’ group in Sana’a. Throughout her career, her photography practice has remained dominant and in 1999, she was honoured as the first Yemeni Woman Photographer by Sana’a University.
Becky Beamer is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, book artist and Fulbright Fellow. For over fifteen years, she worked on documentary television for National Geographic, Smithsonian, Discovery and PBS, among others. She holds a BFA from Pratt Institute and an MFA from the University of Alabama. She is an Assistant Professor at the American University of Sharjah, Department of Art & Design. Rakhi Sawalani was born and raised in Barcelona.
She founded Desert Art Collective in the UAE with art teacher Marina Roussou, to conceive and create new works with a diverse group of local artists. The Collective organises workshops, including drawing, acrylic painting, watercolour painting and Arabic calligraphy. Khalid Al Banna is an Emirati artist who uses collage to explore themes related to the history and rapid transformation of the UAE. Drawing primarily from elements of design, he is known for his black and white collages and vibrant textile compositions. Juma Al Haj’s work is derived from spiritual experiences that come from texts that have significance to the artist or a spiritual historic reference. They range from ancient religious texts, personal diaries, notes, letters or any such that evokes a sense of peace, longing or belonging. He is a native of Sharjah.
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