A close up of Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim’s installation.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
The National Pavilion of the United Arab Emirates has unveiled its exhibition at the Biennale Arte 2022, Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim: Between Sunrise and Sunset. It was inaugurated by Noura Al Kaabi, UAE’s Minister of Culture and Youth. Curated by Maya Allison, Executive Director of The New York University Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, the exhibition presents a major new work by Emirati artist Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim - a room-filling sculptural form made up of 128 abstract and organic elements.
Al Kaabi said: “The Ministry of Culture and Youth has always considered the UAE’s participation in Venice as a point of pride for the nation and a vital element of our cultural narrative. “Between Sunrise and Sunset weighs in on the cross-cultural exchange. Furthermore, it celebrates our identity in a creative fashion. This exemplifies our approach as regional cultural leaders, while also accelerating grassroots institutions’ roles as a bridge from the UAE to the world.”
The new work resonates with La Biennale’s theme The Milk of Dreams, which focuses on the connection between bodies, the earth, and metamorphosis. Ibrahim’s sculpture clusters human-sized, tree-like forms to fill the exhibit space. The commissioned artwork is derived from the artist’s deep connection to the physical environment of his hometown of Khor Fakkan – a city at the edge of the rocky Al Hajar mountains where they meet the waters on the east coast of the Emirate of Sharjah in the UAE.
The title, Between Sunrise and Sunset, refers to his experience of the light there, where the mountains cast the town in afternoon shadow, obscuring the sunset on the west coast of the UAE. The colour of the sculpture shifts from bright playful hues and forms to subdued black and white elements, and suggests undulating movement of bodies, mutation, and metamorphosis.
The artist created the work from raw papier-mache and natural materials including dirt, leaves, tea, coffee, and tobacco. Ibrahim said: “I have always felt that Khor Fakkan, its mountains, the urban and rural environment, have a soul. I feel that my soul is attached to this unique city, and it inspires me to translate my immediate surroundings into art. “When I go out into nature, the way I see things changes me and I need to express that somewhere.
I also like to understand people’s interpretations of my work; so I like to leave my work open-ended. “My appointment to represent the UAE in Venice is a great honour and comes with great responsibility. Over the years and now more than ever, Maya has played a special role in delving deeper into my practice. “This is certainly a fruitful way to mark our fifth exhibition together for the National Pavilion UAE at the Biennale Arte 2022.”
The show presents Ibrahim’s contemporary practice, drawn from his intimate relationship with the UAE’s landscape. The book that accompanies the exhibition is a retrospective of his life and work to date, and situates the artist in a global art-historical frame. Allison commented that “Ibrahim has spent the better part of four decades developing an intensely experimental and prolific art practice — ever more on the rise — as part of a community of artists who share his unflinching commitment to, and joy from, their work.
“Through my work with Ibrahim and the artists in his community, I have come to study the art history of the UAE - a process that has transformed how I think about my own curatorial practice. “It is a privilege to have earned the trust and opportunity to be part of Ibrahim’s work process, and of course to have the incredible experience of developing and presenting Between Sunrise and Sunset in Venice with the National Pavilion UAE.”
Laila Binbrek, Coordinating Director, National Pavilion UAE – La Biennale di Venezia, said: “National Pavilion UAE’s driving purpose is to tell the nation’s untold stories. “This year, we are excited to reveal this new commission, which builds on Ibrahim’s multidecade practice, and records several decades of the UAE’s under-documented art history through Ibrahim’s first-ever monograph.” Angela Migally, Executive Director, Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, Commissioner of the National Pavilion UAE, said: “The National Pavilion UAE - La Biennale di Venezia reflects the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation’s long-standing commitment to investing in people and the UAE’s art ecosystem.
“Since its inaugural participation in 2009, the National Pavilion UAE’s exhibitions and publications have added new research materials and thought-provoking programming aimed to foster knowledge about the nation’s cultural scene with the world. “The Venice Biennale is one of the world’s strongest meeting points for cultural dialogue and exchange, and an important occasion to spotlight extraordinary artists like Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim.”
Ibrahim (b. 1962) is part of the UAE’s first generation of contemporary artists from the late 1980s, an avant-garde scene that includes Abdullah Al Saadi, Hussein Sharif, Mohammed Kazem and the late Hassan Sharif. He came of age as an artist in the UAE in an era in which the visual arts were still nascent as a recognised discipline. In 1986, when he met Sharif (a founding member of the influential Emirates Fine Art Society), Ibrahim was pulled out of his secluded practice and went on to carve out unshakable friendships and collaborations that have formed the foundation for the creative community that defines the UAE today.
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