Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim’s composition.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
The National Pavilion UAE has closed (Apr. 23 – Nov. 27) its seventh participation at the Biennale Arte (La Biennale di Venezia or Venice Biennial) with a record number of visitors to its exhibition, Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim: Between Sunrise and Sunset. Inaugurated in April by Noura Al Kaabi, UAE Minister of Culture and Youth, the exhibition saw 277,203 visitors, making it the most visited show produced by the National Pavilion UAE at La Biennale di Venezia to date.
Laila Binbrek, Director, National Pavilion UAE – La Biennale di Venezia said: “The National Pavilion UAE’s exhibition this year was received positively by local and international audiences. “This is evident from the record number of visitors the Pavilion saw and the conversations around the exhibition narrative itself. Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim: Between Sunrise and Sunset resonated with audience emotionally, and it reflects our commitment to telling the untold stories of the UAE through the lens of art and architecture.
“We look forward to next year’s exhibition at Biennale Architettura 2023, which will be curated by Faysal Tabbarah, Associate Dean and Associate Professor of Architecture at the American University of Sharjah. “Tabbarah and his team aim to explore the relationship between architecture and arid landscapes in the UAE and reimagine them as spaces of abundance and productivity.”
Curated by Maya Allison, Executive Director of New York University Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, the exhibition presented a major new work by Emirati artist Ibrahim – a single work in which dozens of human-sized, biomorphic sculptures cluster in undulating colour and movement — suggesting bodies or trees, metamorphosis, and mutation. Allison commented: “Today in the UAE, anyone with a sense of curiosity can look at art.
This thriving creative scene is possible in part due to the work that Mohamed and his artistic community have done over the decades. “What he has brought to Venice for the UAE Pavilion shows his complete commitment to exploration, curiosity and our interconnectedness through art - the very characteristics that I love about the UAE’s art scene.”
The commissioned artwork was 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 exhibition responded to the theme of the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia titled The Milk of Dreams, curated by Cecilia Alemani, which focuses on the connection between bodies, the earth, and metamorphosis. The international art exhibition presented 58 national participations with five from the region, namely, the Sultanate of Oman in their inaugural participation, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria.
Ibrahim said: “Representing my country in the Venice Biennale, one of the most international and prestigious platforms for the arts, was a great honour for me. It was a huge responsibility to have my work act as a conduit through which the world could see the diversity and dynamism of the Emirati arts scene. “I chose to highlight my authenticity in my artwork to encourage the next generation of artists in the UAE to embrace their originality and never lose their individuality as they go on to become the future of arts in the Emirates.”
The exhibition’s accompanying publication, Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim: Between Sunrise and Sunset/Works 1986-2022, covers the years of in-depth research and personal interactions with the artist from regional and international cultural vanguards that have helped trace his rise as one of the leading experimental artists of the UAE. The publication is co-edited by Allison and Cristiana de Marchi, artist, curator, and poet. It has extensive essays from scholars, curators, and fellow artists.
Published by Kaph Books, it is available for purchase through Amazon, and is retailing for Dhs130. Ibrahim (b. 1962, UAE) 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 the late artist Hassan 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. The 2022 National Pavilion UAE also saw the participation of 22 interns, who were overseeing the daily operations of the pavilion throughout the Biennale.
The Venice Internship programme offers hands-on experience, where interns spend one month in Venice, staffing the UAE’s art and architecture exhibitions at La Biennale di Venezia and overseeing the daily operations of the exhibition. The programme is open to Emiratis and long-term residents of the UAE aged 21 and above, with an interest or background in arts, architecture, diplomacy, international relations or representing the UAE on a significant global platform.
The interns are selected through an open call. Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim: Between Sunrise and Sunset marks Ibrahim and Allison’s fifth collaboration together, and the retrospective book publication is the third book that Allison has worked on that studies Ibrahim’s work. For those who would like to see the exhibition, a virtual tour remains available on the National Pavilion UAE website, nationalpavilionuae.org.
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