A view of an untitled artwork by Maisoon Al Saleh.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Emirati artist Maisoon Al Saleh’s works are currently on view at Agora Gallery, New York City (Mar. 16 — Apr. 6).
Her latest digital art series titled Watching Over You is an aestheticised representation of the human condition as experienced by almost all mankind during various stages of social distancing, quarantines or total lock-downs, caused by the global pandemic.
By turning to Nature as a source of her subject matter, Al Saleh continues a tradition in symbolism, as old as poetry and art itself. The insects and flowers depicted in her series such as butterflies, bees, flies or moths, have been used as symbols for various aspects of human life and living. They have been historically used to represent characteristics, emotions and even carry spiritual connotations.
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In Al Saleh’s digital artworks printed on uniform, square-shaped backgrounds, the main motifs are forced into a restricted space, just as people around the world had to retreat into their homes, cocooned and eagerly wait for the world to open up again.
“The colourful backgrounds of the images are just as varied as the cultural landscape of each one of us, sharing the same experience as a global community,” says Al Saleh.
The disembodied cats’ eyes floating above the naturalistic images look at the observer with hopeful curiosity. The questioning look of these mysterious, invisible creatures, are mirroring the gaze of the viewer. What do you see? A better, kinder, more aware future?
The artist employs a variety of mediums across her works, which include acrylic on canvas, mixed media for installations, fibreglass and mixed media for her sculptures. She is also known for painting under seawater. Her style is surrealist, with strong influence and commentary on modern Emirati culture. Her art dives (sometimes literally, refer above) below the obvious meaning residing on the surface of stories and accounts of the past.
She is interested in the ‘bones’ of a subject, the aspects that transcend age and gender, which often includes actually using skeletons as figures, to tell stories that get to the meat of the meanings.
“Through her work,” Agora Gallery says, “Al Saleh bring viewers into a discussion about the importance of Emirati history in order to challenge how we think about our history, memories and representation”. “Identifying mostly with Surrealism,” says Heather Zises in art-mine.com, “her art excavates topics that lay well below the picture plane. Compositions of faceless portraits, fragmented landscapes, and subversive playing cards all function as devices that seek to reveal a deeper meaning of humanity.
“A self-proclaimed storyteller, Al Saleh’s cloaked narratives investigate Emirati culture and aim to unpack societal views about how it is portrayed by the mainstream media”.
Al Saleh is also the Founder of the online platform, The Paintly Store, where she shows and sells artwork from global artists.
“The Paintly Store,” she says, “was established back in year 2018 and has been supporting emerging artists, by promoting and selling their work and supporting the younger generation of talents”.
She wasn’t in the picture most of the time, she recalls, because she was mostly working behind the scenes to support the creative community, as much as possible. “The company’s name came from the word ‘paint’ and I’ve added “ly”, reflecting my playful character”, she says.
She has also created an account to sell her artworks on NFT (non-fungable token), making her the first Emirati artist to do so. She does this through OpenSea, said to be the world’s largest digital marketplace for crypto collectibles and NFTs.
NFTs transform digital works of art and other collectibles into unique verifiable assets that can be traded through blockchain technology which changes the way we make, trade, and enjoy art. With provenance recorded and stored on a distributed ledger, blockchain allows market power to shift back to the creators.
Born in 1988, Al Saleh is active in her practice both in Dubai and internationally. She graduated from Zayed University in 2010, with a degree in Interior Design.
She has had four solo shows, and about a hundred exhibitions so far in seventeen countries, such as Emirati Expressions at Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi; Macedonian Museum, Greece; Palazzo TE Museum, Italy; CICA Museum, South Korea; Art Science Museum, Singapore; ART NOMADS - MADE IN THE EMIRATES exhibition presented by Etihad Modern Art Gallery in partnership with MOMENTUM and The Sovereign Art Prize at Kunstquartier Bethanien, Berlin.
In 2008, she was selected as one of the best sixty four artists in the UAE and invited to exhibit her works at the group exhibition, Emirati Expressions.
Several galleries have represented her work at international art fairs in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Europe. In 2016, she participated in an art residency programme with Art House Düsseldorf, Germany, “which was one of the many ways I continue to seek out new challenges in my artistic career,” she says.
Agora Gallery is located in the heart of New York City’s renowned Chelsea art district, home to some of the world’s most prestigious galleries. It was established by visionary founder, the late Miki Stiles, MFA, to provide opportunities for artists entering the global art market.
The exhibition explores the theme of ‘Placeless Place’ by way of materials, bodies, and surroundings. The showcase included original pieces by Sara Ahli, the first Emirati artist to exhibit a full series in the space.
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