Emoji in Mall: Matsuda to install his artwork in Dubai Festival City Mall - GulfToday

Emoji in Mall: Matsuda to install his artwork in Dubai Festival City Mall

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Viewers get close to Shoei Matsuda’s installation The Big Flat Now at Tokyo Midtown (Roppongi Art Night 2022).

Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

Beginning September 5, Japanese artist Shoei Matsuda will premiere his first installation in the UAE, a supersized emoji balloon entitled The Big Flat Now. It is being presented at Dubai Festival City Mall and is curated by Global Art Daily Agency. The Mall, which is part of Al-Futtaim Malls group, will thus be home to one of the largest art installations presented by a Japanese artist in Dubai; it is in line with Dubai Festival City Mall’s initiative to elevate shopping malls as a destination to enjoy contemporary art. Standing seven metres tall, The Big Flat Now is a massive emoji balloon, featuring a 3D reproduction of the popular Face with Tears of Joy emoji, the most used emoji globally of the past decade, and named “Word of the Year” by Oxford Dictionaries in 2015. Conceptualised by Matsuda, The Big Flat Now celebrates the widespread accessibility of emojis in an era hyper-saturated with information and content, marked by instantaneous social media reshares.

Accompanying the installation will be the deployment of The Big Flat Now’s Augmented Reality (AR) Instagram filter also designed by the artist, providing audiences the ability to interact with the artwork and add a Face with Tears of Joy emoji mask to their own face. The aim of the artist is to reflect on themes of anonymity, authorship and consciousness that the Internet has introduced to billions around the globe. Japanese interface designer Shigetaka Kurita is credited with the creation of emojis, when he designed 176 of them as part of the Japanese telecommunication giant’s NTT Docomo’s i-mode in 1999.


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By bringing The Big Flat Now to Dubai Festival City Mall, Matsuda touches upon the global impact of emojis, and the new non-verbal, universal language they have created. Reflecting on the work, Matsuda, who is based in Tokyo, says: “My work celebrates a decade of human emotion: the laughing-crying emoji brings two opposite feelings together. I wanted to celebrate the most used emoji since 2010, as a symbol of our times.” Sophie Mayuko Arni, Founder of Global Art Daily Agency and exhibition curator, said that “with the rise of the Internet, the landscape of artistry and authenticity has undergone significant transformations worldwide. Engineered to go viral, The Big Flat Now acts on the idea of creating art for public spaces in the UAE, especially shopping malls.”

  Sophie Mayuko Arni is a curator and editor based between Tokyo and Dubai.

Hayssam Hajjar, General Manager of Al-Futtaim Malls – UAE, said: “At Al-Futtaim Malls, we believe in transforming the ordinary to the extraordinary. Shoei Matsuda’s The Big Flat Now at Dubai Festival City Mall is a testament to our ongoing commitment to offer the best customer experience at our destinations. Embracing the universal language of emojis, we believe this unique art installation will add a touch of playfulness and joy, creating unforgettable moments for all our visitors as they embark on a truly captivating journey through the mall.”

The event will be accompanied by an artist talk during the inaugural. It will be an hour long, with live Japanese-English translation. The Talk is a cross-cultural dialogue that aims to highlight the role of authenticity and the role of public artworks in the UAE, with particular reference to the local context of shopping malls in Dubai. While the artist will offer insights into his digital art practice and the historical impact of Japanese emojis, the Talk will also provide the perspectives of Emirati researcher Rana AlMutawa on the social functions of shopping malls among Emirati populations and will include reflections on the role of contemporary art in public urban spaces. AlMutawa is Assistant Professor of Social Research and Public Policy, NYU Abu Dhabi. The discussion will be moderated by Arni.

Matsuda (b.1986, Japan) is a post-Internet artist based in Tokyo, Japan. Through his installations, sculptures, prints and videos, his work explores themes centering around technology, social media and celebrity economies. He began his career in social media in 2010, garnering attention in Japan as an anonymous artist with an active Twitter newsfeed account. His work has been exhibited both in Japan and internationally, including in Austria, Germany, Hong Kong and the Czech Republic. He has participated in group exhibitions such as It knows: When Forms Become Mind at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan, and co-authored works such as A Field Guide to the Snowden Files in Germany and Cyberarts 2016 in Austria.

Arni is a curator and editor based between Tokyo and Dubai. She is the curator of the East-East: UAE meets Japan exhibition series, which has been featured in leading publications in the region. With over 20 participating Emirati, UAE-based and Japanese artists, it is currently at its fifth iteration and has toured multiple cities in the UAE and Japan. In 2022, Arni was recognised by the UAE Embassy in Japan for her efforts to bridge the UAE and Japan art worlds as part of the 50th Anniversary of UAE-Japan Diplomatic Relations. Swiss-Japanese, she is also the Founder and Managing Director of Global Art Daily Agency. The Agency highlights multicultural voices, especially between Japan and the UAE. Dubai Festival City Mall, with over 400 outlets, is a shopping destination houses the global attraction, IMAGINE, a two-time Guinness World Records visual and sensory extravaganza that plays live every night on the iconic Festival Bay. The Mall hosts a range of events, including visual exhibitions and live shows.

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