Installation by Afra Al Dhaheri titled To Detangle.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Abu Dhabi Art, organised by the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi), has become the first art fair in the world to collaborate with London’s new exhibition space and membership organisation Cromwell Place, with an exhibition event in the British capital as part of the fair’s official programme (June 2 -13).
It is also Abu Dhabi Art’s first ever exhibition abroad, and it is presenting commissioned works created in 2020 as part of the annual programme Beyond: Emerging Artists. The three emerging artists included in the exhibition — Hind Mezaina, Afra Al Dhaheri and Afra Al Suwaidi — are all from the UAE, and were supported in the development of their commissions in 2020 by curator Maya El Khalil. Their works are being shown alongside presentations of UAE-based galleries Tabari Artspace, Lawrie Shabibi, The Third Line and Isabelle Van Den Eynde, across five galleries in 2, 3 and 4 Cromwell Place.
Beyond: Emerging Artists was curated by El Khalil in 2020 and first shown at Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi, the same year. The commissions explore in diverse ways the theme of memory with the artists’ works. Alongside the new commissions and by invitation from Abu Dhabi Art, Tabari Artspace is showing recent works by emerging performance artist Maitha Abdalla, who crosses mediums to explore adolescence and transitional moments. Lawrie Shabibi is showing works by the UAE’s most established contemporary artist, Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, who will also represent the UAE at the Venice Biennale in 2022.
Dubai-based galleries The Third Line and Isabelle Van Den Eynde are presenting a selection of MENA-based artists including Anuar Khalifi, Sara Naim, Sophia Al Maria and Manal AlDowayan. Since opening its doors in 2020, Cromwell Place has become one of London’s most exciting new arts destinations. Providing its members flexible, pay-as-you-need services, it is the home and base to a local and international community of arts professionals.
Art dealers, advisors, curators, collectors and institutions have year-round access to exhibition space, viewing rooms, offices, art storage and logistical support, bringing to London a programme of art and antiquities, all accessible to the public. Beyond: Emerging Artists is exhibiting alongside shows from members, whose specialties range from antiquities through to Contemporary art. Dyala Nusseibeh, Director of Abu Dhabi Art said that “our annual initiative Beyond: Emerging Artists takes a step forward this year in becoming a programme that exhibits abroad, enabling emerging local artists that we have commissioned and supported, to gain valuable international exposure for their work. “Cromwell Place was a natural partner for our first exhibition abroad, as several of our gallery exhibitors at the fair are also members at Cromwell Place.
“They are ready to join us in an art week that highlights emerging and established UAE-based artists and galleries to a UK audience, as London comes out of lockdown. “The community models emerging from a challenging year of the pandemic for artists, galleries, curators and even fairs, are here to stay and this is a positive new development for the wider art market. Our exhibition at Cromwell Place offers us a vital connection with our network in the UK and kickstarts a year of adaptation and growth for us as a fair.”
May Calil, Membership Director, Cromwell Place said: “Cromwell Place has become a new community in central London with flexibility and collaboration at the heart of our business. “We are thrilled to partner with Abu Dhabi Art fair, and to provide a home for fairs looking to connect with UK audiences, collectors and clients. “I am excited by this opportunity to debut commissioned works by emerging UAE-based artists in our galleries alongside complementary exhibitions from some of our members, including Tabari Artspace, Lawrie Shabibi and The Third Line. “This collaboration presents a wonderful opportunity to showcase the ingenuity and flair of the UAE’s artistic landscape. We look forward to welcoming visitors back to Cromwell Place with exhibitions that highlight dynamic and exceptional talent by emerging artists from the UAE.”
Mezaina uses multimedia archival materials, such as photography and archival film, to express elements of collective memory, masculinity, heritage, and the UAE. She often describes her work as a form of ‘visual archaeology’.
As a starting point to explore identity formation, Al Dhaheri disorders hair strands, using her own reclaimed hair, which she collects once it has fallen out.
Beyond exploring self-identity, her work draws on broader social associations and inhibitions related to female hair and the restrictions it faces. Al Dhaheri uses mixed media to render nuances of memory and time. Al Suwaidi, meanwhile, reconstitutes fragmented visual memories, rendering lines of trauma as embodied in domestic architectural forms. She presents her work through a process of collage. In her work, time is caught in a fugitive state but also pushed further away, to elsewhere. Abu Dhabi Art 2021 will return to Manarat Al Saadiyat in a physical format this year (Nov. 18 – 21), with an opening event on November 17. It will also have a strong digital presence through a number of online initiatives.
Nusseibeh has been the Director of Abu Dhabi Art since 2016. Having graduated with a BA from Cambridge University and a MLitt (with Distinction) from Glasgow University, she spent a year at the Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi, followed by four years at the Saatchi Gallery, London, as Head of Education. Here she organised annual student shows, the education programme at the gallery and a travelling exhibition of works from the Saatchi collection to Ipswich in order to broaden outreach.
In 2013, she became founding Director of ArtInternational Istanbul, managed by leading fair organisers Angus Montgomery, a position she held until 2016 when she joined the Department of Culture and Tourism — Abu Dhabi.
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