Maya Allison and Emirati artist Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
National Pavilion UAE has announced the publication of the first comprehensive monograph for leading experimental Emirati artist Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim.
Titled Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim: Between Sunrise and Sunset/Works 1986-2022, the publication accompanies the National Pavilion UAE’s upcoming exhibition at the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia 2022 (Venice Biennale, Apr. 23 – Nov. 27, 2022). The monograph is the first comprehensive book on the Emirati artist’s body of work, featuring commissioned essays and interviews from experts in the field, as well as from his art community.
It covers his biomorphic abstraction paintings of the 1980s, his Land Art experiments and immersive installations of the 1990s, and the evolution of his papier-mache sculptures over the last two decades.
The monograph, co-edited by Maya Allison, curator of the National Pavilion UAE 2022 exhibition and Executive Director of The New York University Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, and Cristiana de Marchi, artist, curator and poet, will be published by Kaph Books. The publication will launch with the Pavilion’s exhibition in April.
Retracing Ibrahim’s body of work to date, the volume contextualises the artist within the UAE’s contemporary art scene and his contribution to its development over the last four decades.
Through a series of essays and interviews by prominent figures in the art world and in his own art community, the texts bring to life his journey, personality and work process.
The book tracks his early formation as an artist, framed against the historical backdrop of a country that came into being during his lifetime (the UAE was founded in 1971, a decade after his birth).
Laila Binbrek, Coordinating Director, National Pavilion UAE – La Biennale di Venezia, said: “Our annual publications are an important aspect of the UAE Pavilion’s legacy, as we proactively invest in contributing new researched materials to the local arts and architecture discourse. This year’s publication … uncovers interesting information about the UAE’s art movement since the late 1980s.”
Maya Allison said that “it has been a great gift to work directly with Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, to hear his history in his own voice, and to — I hope — be part of laying a groundwork to eventually fill the gap on the art history bookshelves, making visible and accessible the unique and complex history of contemporary art in the UAE, through the study of Mohamed’s life and work.”
Cristiana de Marchi said: “As editors of this publication, Maya and I hope to contribute to creating awareness about his practice in an academic yet lively documentation, and contextually to shed further light on moments and circumstances that have shaped the UAE’s cultural life and art scene.”
The publication starts with an introduction by Salwa Mikdadi, Professor and Director of the Arab Center for the Study of Art at NYU Abu Dhabi. The first section of the book, “Sunrise,” takes a scholarly and curatorial approach to documenting Ibrahim’s practice and journey.
It is followed by a comprehensive essay by Allison, examining the characteristics of the artist’s practice over the decades. Nada Shabout, scholar of Arab modern and contemporary art history, contributes an essay that situates Ibrahim’s work and his community in the larger history of the Arab region, while Venetia Porter, Curator of Islamic and Contemporary Middle East art at the British Museum, presents a study of Ibrahim’s works with paper.
The second part, “Sunset,” includes essays and personal reflections on the artist over time, penned by Ibrahim’s friends and close colleagues. It begins with a recollection by Fumio Nanjo, Senior Advisor of Mori Art Museum in Tokyo and Representative Director of N&A Inc, who traces a portrait of the nascent UAE contemporary art scene and the progressive institutionalisation of the art system, through informal meetings and gatherings with leading figures of the movement such as Ibrahim and Hassan Sharif.
Adel Khozam, a poet, composer, and journalist, reflects on Ibrahim’s practice and biography within the UAE cultural scene. Munira Al Sayegh, founder of the Dirwaza Curatorial Lab, recalls her discovery of Ibrahim’s art and world during her work on his 2015 A.i.R. Residency.
Vivek Vilasini, an artist who lived with this community during the 1990s, provides an “ecological” reading of Ibrahim’s practice, highlighting his deep connection to the natural landscape of his hometown, Khor Fakkan, a city harbouring beside the rocky Al Hajar mountains on the east coast of the Emirate of Sharjah.
In the final section, “Between Sunset and Sunrise,” an in-depth interview gives the readers a rare portrait of the artist by de Marchi.
The Between Sunrise and Sunset exhibition will also present new works of human-sized, abstract and organic sculptural forms. The work draws from Ibrahim’s deep connection to the local environment.
The exhibition marks a move toward a more artist-led approach by the National Pavilion UAE, where it first appointed the artist, who then nominated their curator for the project.
Ibrahim is known for being one of the UAE’s experimental artists and an influential member of the UAE’s now-historic avant-garde art community, which formed in the early 1980s.
Through his form-led practice and handcrafted works, he responds to his environment, with keen affinity for the natural landscapes of the UAE.
His work has appeared in numerous solo and group exhibitions internationally. Major institutions that have acquired his work include the British Museum, Centre George Pompidou, Sharjah Art Foundation, Art Jameel and Barjeel Art Foundation.
The National Pavilion UAE is an independent non-profit organisation, commissioned by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and supported by the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth.
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