Mariam Abbas’s exhibition in Mestaria Gallery shows the green in the scene - GulfToday

Mariam Abbas’s exhibition in Mestaria Gallery shows the green in the scene

Mariam 11

Composition titled Dhamasa.

Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

Emirati artist Mariam Abbas has inaugurated her exhibition Terra Ephemera: A Visual Cartography of Resilience at Mestaria Gallery, Alserkal Avenue (Sept. 28 – Oct. 19) and it is among the first Alserkal Lates of the season.

The show is an artistic exploration of the impermanent yet resilient aspects of the Emirati environment and those who share it. Abbas wanted to shed light on the (mainly unknown) local flora of the Emirates, and to highlight that there is so much more to the landscape than the skyline - and she wants us to look at them together. “Terra” is the Latin word for “earth” or “land”; it represents the ground on which all elements of nature and architecture coexist. “Ephemera” signifies things that are temporary, fleeting or transitory, which in the context of the exhibition, can refer to both the evolving urban landscapes and the possibly transient nature of flora in a predominantly desert environment. Together, “Terra Ephemera” captures the conceivably transient yet enduringly manifest, spirit of the Emirati land and its features.

The exhibition displays seven parallel pairs: a pencil sketch of a plant with its botanical name sits next to an acrylic painting of the same plant, amid the UAE’s skyrise, carrying its commonly used name. “Architecture and flora co-exist; but we tend to look up, not down, here. The UAE’s flora exists in the city, in the desert and in the mountains. Colours are often muted, flowers are often small, and so many go unnoticed. But I want to draw attention to them”, says Abbas.

The title Terra Ephemera: A Visual Cartography of Resilience serves as an inviting prologue to a complex narrative, mapping the interlinked themes of change, endurance, and intricate interconnectivity. Abbas brings this to life through her art. Her work acts as a type of map, plotting the complex emotional, ecological and cultural terrains she explores in her work. ‘Resilience’ is a nod towards the enduring qualities of both the Emirati flora and the country’s rapidly evolving urban environment. It signifies the grit and adaptability that mark the subjects she chooses, echoing the resilient spirit that binds the components together.

Abbas is an illustrator, designer, and visual artist deeply influenced by architecture, botany and the rich cultural backdrop that surrounds her. She believes that architectural wonders narrate tales of the past, while botanical gems convey cultural and historical significance. It is a viewpoint that profoundly resonates with her. Her artistic expression manifests through intricate illustrations, contemporary paintings and captivating sculptures. She primarily utilises acrylics and pen & ink techniques, illuminating her notable creative journey.

Mariam 22  Morning Glory by Mariam Abbas.

Abbas’s unique perspective stands out here too: it has earned her acclaim across various platforms and locations. She has the distinction of being the first Emirati artist to be featured on Instagram’s official account. A sketch of the Al Farooq Omar Ibn Al Khattab mosque in Old Dubai – with a paper clip beside it for a sense of scale – done by her, received more than a million “likes” on the social media site. A stop-motion video of her drawing a miniature Heinz Ketchup bottle was watched over 15,000 times on Instagram and a Vimto bottle image had thousands of “likes”. Her illustrations have been featured in various publications and books such as Harper’s Bazaar Arabia and Mawahib – The Talent Directory. One of Abbas’s prized moments was when the leading publishers of visual culture – Die Gestalten Verlag – featured her illustration in their renowned book ‘Arabesque’.

Generally, her art reflects her culture and surroundings. The Emirati artist obtained a BS degree in Visual Communication from The American University of Sharjah in 2006. Her work was has been exhibited at the Sikka Art Fair – Dubai; Lessedra – Bulgaria; New Signature - Dubai and more recently, at World Art Dubai 2016, and Expo Milano 2015. She tries to change the way you look at the UAE, and encourages us to look at the green in the scene. Buildings with green – as Abbas shows them in the exhibition – have been have been found in various places around the world. Most famously, they were used in the ziggurats of ancient Mesopotamia, as described in the accounts of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

The usage of the plants climbing building surfaces greatly expanded in the United Kingdom and Central and Northern Europe (especially in Norway) during the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 20th century, interest in green roofs was restored mostly due to the efforts of Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier. Green roofs started in Germany in the 1960s and spread to Austria, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. In Italy, architect and urban planner Stefano Boeri is known for his Vertical Forest project in Milan. It includes over two thousand tree species, including tall shrubs and trees, distributed on the facades. The Mediterranean and Gulf climate is characterised by long dry periods, with hot temperatures and intense solar radiation. So the choice of vegetation is of high importance in these locations.

Mestaria Gallery is a “contemporary, affordable, non-intimidating art space” (in the gallery’s words) located in the heart of Alserkal Avenue Art District in Al Quoz, Dubai. First established as a gallery space in the 1990s, it is one of the region’s foremost contemporary art sites, specialising in works from accomplished regional and global talent, with a specific focus on work of an Arabic, African and Asian origin. 

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