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Urbanisation and its undoing

A thought-provoking stacked stone installation, ‘While we Wait’ explores several topical issues, including the changing dynamics between nature and architecture

“In this delicate stone shelter, we will wait and we will testify that all the vanishing isles of the world did indeed once exist”.

So ends an evocative text by Karim Kattan, who spent his childhood in the Cremisan Valley, located on the seam line between the West Bank and Jerusalem. A film shot at close range of the writer reciting the text within brothers Elias and Yousef Anastas’s ‘Stone Sourcing Space’ in a neighbouring landscape opens the second iteration of the exhibition ‘While We Wait’ at Alserkal Avenue’s Concrete. The show has been curated by Salma Tuqan of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Tuqan met architects Elias and Yousef Anastas on a research trip to Bethlehem four years ago and the commission was born. The 600 individual units making up the exquisite stacked installation were created in Bethlehem using the stereotomy technique, the art of cutting stone that can generate structures which are entirely self-standing. The research department of the brothers’ practice has focused on stone as a material since 2013. As a material, it has a rich history in all types of vaulted constructions in Palestine and the Anastas siblings believe it holds the potential to become a main component in contemporary architecture worldwide.

Yousef gives details of the sophisticated, doubly curved interfaces and choices of stone, saying that the lower, reddish stone is from Jerusalem, the middle piece from Hebron and the top pearly limestone hails from Bethlehem. “The idea is that when it is permanently installed in the Cremisan Valley, you have a gradient from the natural colour of the soil to the colour of the sky,” he explains.

Elias adds, “The project is a reflection on the relationship between architecture and nature, which is completely dissolving in the race to urbanise.”

Tuqan sees the installation as reigniting this crucial symbiotic relationship. She also talks of the journey of the piece from London back to Palestine, going from being a precious object in a museum setting to completely blending into the natural landscape and returning to its community for as long as it is able to do so.

The Dubai stopover is important for several reasons, in part because the space at Concrete allows for a broader narrative framework and context to be presented. A stone plinth emulating the gradients of the valley gives visitors a tactile experience. It is also populated with archival photographs from the local monastery which has been there for a century and holds weekly gatherings of protest against the wall. The title actually originates from patient words spoken by Michel Sabbah, the head of the Catholic Church in Jerusalem, during a sermon at one such gathering. Mikaela Burstow’s film of a landscape that is larger than life, projected on a vast scale, divides up the space and provides a pause before visitors see the structure beautifully spot lit. The ambient sound commission by Tariq Abboushi adds to the immersive experience.

Tuqan believes, too, that bringing the work to the Gulf has a symbolic role. “We want it to reach Arabs and Palestinians who can’t travel to Palestine, for them to experience surroundings they are unable to access,” she says. Drawing attention to issues of contested territories, cultural claims and ownership of spaces, the context is both specific to Palestine and of universal application.

With a comprehensive public programme running through Dubai Design Week, the mission of ‘While We Wait’ has undoubtedly been fully realised. It marries technical innovations with traditional craftsmanship, highlights an environmental tragedy of our time and is ultimately a spectacular object that brings people together.

While We Wait’, Concrete, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, from November 6 to 18, commissioned by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, Letters from the past#43.

Reminiscences on the Silk Road

In a recent exhibition of works at Tabari Artspace, Mohamed Abla looks back to the fairytales and folklore depicting this famed trade route in its heyday

Uplifting and jovial, an exhibition by Mohamed Abla at Tabari Artspace went some way to reaffirming the idea that an artist’s personality can shine through his work.
Abla, of Egyptian origin, has been part of Maliha Tabari’s programme since Artspace opened in 2003. Relocating to the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Gate Village in 2008, the gallery has recently re-launched with a new name and fresh approach to its exhibitions.

“It is important to me that the gallery space is activated and comes alive with art,” Tabari tells Selections. When visitors enter the exhibition, they are greeted with artwork quite literally underfoot. Abla has made a colourful intervention on the black marble floor, featuring stickered fragments of animals, trees, flowers and figures that seem to have escaped the framed canvases on the walls behind. In their relationships with one another they come across like hieroglyphs: stylised pictures which have the potential to combine to create an articulated narrative but are still visually vibrant independently. Some of the canvases, such as ‘The Return of the Warrior’, are divided into distinct parts for separate moments of the story.

Narrative has always been integral to Abla’s paintings. The last show he held in Dubai in 2012 was ‘My Family’, a series of intimate group portraits. The ongoing repercussions of the 2011 revolutions had a profound effect on his practice and this new body of work is an attempt to escape by looking at fairytales and regional folklore from a time when the lands on the Silk Road fulfilled an important role as conduits of trade between the east and western worlds. The stories he illustrates are fairly obscure, but are connected by a universal appreciation of good triumphing over evil and love conquering all. ‘The Copper City’ portrays a series of columns set at different heights upon which figures on horseback, a bird and other forms stand, the composition dominated by a sky filled with clouds and calligraphy. It comes from a Pakistani fable in which a city’s population has been turned into copper and a prince from a distant land arrives and saves the day, much like Sleeping Beauty or Rapunzel.

What gives the works their special character is the marbled paper Abla has created using the Turkish Ebru technique, which he then cuts into shapes to create his collages. Patterns appear quite randomly on the paper, adding to the childlike, playful nature of the works and reflecting the convivial character of the artist himself.

Mohamed Abla, ‘The Silk Road’, ran at Tabari Artspace, DIFC, Gate Village Building 3, Dubai from October 10 to November 24

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, Letters from the past#43.

Gabriel and Guillaume

November 16 to December 23

An annual fixture, Nancy Gabriel and Guillaume Excoffier’s Christmas pop-up returns to Beirut with a diverse selection of design pieces, sourced from all over the world. This year, the duo has chosen to set up their immersive display at Beirut Terraces, Downtown Beirut’s first vertical village, designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron.

A selection of works by more than 50 international designers is tastefully arranged in the 870-square-metre space, tied together by sensitive curation. Bespoke and vintage pieces, gathered over several years, are lit by the venue’s floor-to-ceiling windows and arranged to resemble someone’s home, albeit someone with eccentric, yet impeccable taste.

The focus this year is on mid-20th century modern pieces, complemented by specially commissioned contemporary works, created through unique collaborations. Iwan Maktabi has designed a bespoke rug with Colombian textile specialist Jorge Lizarazo, while other special commissions include the ‘Os & Oos’ mirror by Dutch designers Oskar Peet and Sophie Mensen, a striking asymmetrical composition of glass, stone and brass. Other highlights include a beautiful oak and cloth sideboard by American architect and furniture maker George Nakashima, dating from 1961, and a statement 1970s coffee table by French sculptor and furniture maker Jacques Duval Brasseur, made from brass and quartz. Its buyer will join a list of collectors of his work that includes David Niven and the Shah of Iran.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, Letters from the past#43.

Javlon Umarbekov Reveals a Sense of Hopeful Diversity When We Need it Most

Dubai—Andakulova Gallery, one of Dubai’s most important spaces showcasing Central Asian art, presents a new exhibition by the revered Modernist Javlon Umarbekov. The exhibition surveys Umarbekov’s metamorphosis over the past four decades, tracing both the continuity and variation from his Uzbek roots against the growing specter of globalisation today. Born in 1946, in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Umarbekov has become one of the leading figures of contemporary art in the country. His work has been exhibited all over the world in major collections and institutions, including at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and at the UN headquarters in New York. Today, the artist is interested in using art as a means of crossing thresholds between East and West, bridging cultural and even religious and political divides through his art.

The assemblage of works on display include Madonna and a Child (2010), a work that interrupts the centuries long tradition of Christian iconography by instead treating the subject in a colourful, Cubist style manner. Others like Harvest (2016) display a fondness and nostalgia for the artist’s working class roots. In it, farmers are shown carrying grain from a field, their stoic, solid, blocky figures evoking the heroic depictions of the working class under Socialist Realism, a style that was prevalent all across the former Soviet Union until its collapse in 1989. In 1991, the Republic of Uzbekistan formerly declared its independence from the Soviet Union, setting off a wave of research into its unique cultural history and heritage.

Through combining traditional Uzbek influences with radical developments made by avant-garde European Modernists, Umarbekov is rightly celebrated today as an artist unafraid of confronting cultural difference. Andakulova Gallery’s exquisite survey of Umarbekov’s latest paintings has shed new light on how artists from Central Asia have been shaking up the region.

The exhibition will be on view from December 6, 2017 through March 6, 2018 at Andakulova Gallery, Unit 18, P4 Level, Damac Park Towers, DIFC Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Featured Image: Geometrical Shapes, 2009 , acrylic on canvas, 73 x 110 cm.

A New Miami Icon

Miami’s newest contemporary art museum opened on December 1 in the Design District, to coincide with Art Basel and Design Miami. Following in the footsteps of the venerable Bass Museum, which reopened in October after years of renovation, the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami unveiled a spectacular new building designed by Madrid-based Aranguren + Gallegos Arquitectos. ICA Miami marks the first US project for the Spanish architectural firm.

ICA Miami’s original home was in the Moore Building nearby, but the historic locale quickly became too small to hold’s the museum’s ever-expanding artistic programs. The new three-story, 37,500-square-foot structure triples the museum’s exhibition space, encompassing six galleries on the ground floor as well as flexible gallery spaces on the second and third floors. The engaging outdoor sculpture garden serves as a venue for site-specific commissions and major sculptural works by both post-war and contemporary artists, while also hosting public and educational programs.

To ensure that the new building is as distinctive as the other magnificent structures populating the Design District, Aranguren + Gallegos Arquitectos created a stunning metal façade with lighted panels and interlocking metal triangles. Cutouts in the façade offer glimpses into the museum’s interior. In back, an all-glass curtain wall allows natural sunlight to pour in, while encouraging visitors to gaze at the landscaped sculpture garden.

The museum’s inaugural program is ambitious and varied, and it includes “The Everywhere Studio,” a thematic survey tracing the impact and influence of the artist’s studio from post-war to the present day. There are also three solo shows by Edward and Nancy Kienholz, Senga Nengudi and Hélio Oiticica, and an exhibition of Robert Gober’s photographs from 1978 to 2000. The museum’s outdoor sculpture garden hosts a sculpture by George Segal, as well as large-scale installations and site-specific commissions by Allora & Calzadilla, Abigail DeVille and Mark Handforth. “The inaugural program of the new ICA Miami represents an expansion of the depth and breadth of our programmatic approach,” says Alex Gartenfeld, deputy director and chief curator.

Best of all, the museum remains free of charge, as it upholds its mission to make contemporary art accessible to everyone. “We are thrilled to unveil ICA Miami’s new permanent home in December and to sustain our commitment to free general admission, inviting the entire community to engage with our dynamic inaugural program,” says Ellen Salpeter, director of ICA Miami.


Featured Image: Exterior of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. Photo by Iwan Baan.

What to see at Design Miami 2017

Design Miami/ is the global forum for design. Each fair brings together the most influential collectors, gallerists, designers, curators, and critics from around the world in celebration of design culture and commerce. Occurring alongside the Art Basel fairs in Miami, Florida, each December and Basel, Switzerland, each June, Design Miami/ has become the premier venue for collecting, exhibiting, discussing, and creating collectible design.

This year’s presentation builds on the past success of programs as well as introduces new projects. An exhibition space within the fair will be dedicated to honoring the recipient of the 2017 Panerai Design Miami/ Visionary Award, Mwabwindo School, which will serve primary school students in rural Zambia. The space will also provide visitors the opportunity to donate towards funding one year of operations. And at the fair’s entrance, visitors can contemplate in an inspired, oval green space created by West 8 Landscape Architects outfitted with 101 wooden logs recycled from the recent Irma storm. The temporary park installation assembles the atmosphere of the future park to come. Over the next year, West 8 Landscape Architects in collaboration with Fentress Architects and the City of Miami Beach are developing the design to transform the current parking lot into a public park for residents and guests to celebrate and enjoy South Florida’s weather outdoors, year-round.

Carpenters Workshop Gallery/ Paris, London, and New York
Converso/ New York
Cristina Grajales Gallery/ New York
Demisch Danant/ New York
Erastudio Apartment–Gallery/ Milan
Friedman Benda/ New York
The Future Perfect/ New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco
Galerie kreo/ Paris and London
Galerie Patrick Seguin/ Paris and London
Galerie Philippe Gravier/ Paris
Galerie VIVID/ Rotterdam
Galleria Antonella Villanova/ Florence
Gallery ALL/ Los Angeles and Beijing
Hostler Burrows/ New York
Jason Jacques Gallery/ New York
LAFFANOUR–Galerie Downtown/ Paris
Lebreton/ San Francisco
Louisa Guinness Gallery/ London
Magen H Gallery/ New York
Maison Gerard/ New York
Mercado Moderno/ Rio de Janeiro
Moderne Gallery/ Philadelphia
Ornamentum/ Hudson
Patrick Parrish Gallery/ New York
Pierre Marie Giraud/ Brussels
R & Company/ New York
Salon 94 Design/ New York
Sarah Myerscough Gallery/ London
Siegelson/ New York
Southern Guild/ Cape Town and Johannesburg
Thomas Fritsch–ARTRIUM/ Paris
Todd Merrill Studio/ New York
Victor Hunt Designart Dealer/ Brussels
Volume Gallery/ Chicago

Featured Image: LAFFANOUR – Galerie Downtown/ Paris. Image Credit/ James Harris

The Art of Moving

Carrying viewers through the most elegant of journeys, the Louis Vuitton Time Capsule Exhibition in Dubai Mall holds true to the brand’s identity, moving visitors through over 160 years of a dedicated exploration in the act of traveling. From his beginning as an emballeur, or expert packer, Louis Vuitton’s close relationship with the contemporary voyageur creates a consistent and natural progression, following innovations in transportation and the changing needs of society. Tradition meets invention, with impeccably crafted collapsible beds for weary explorers, complete wardrobe trunks for steamboat travelers, and lightweight luggage for some of the first aeroplane flights.

While key iconic pieces command attention, an understated beauty lies in the intended function and humble details found in these historic pieces. Carefully finished trunks, with hand-painted monograms and perfectly finished interiors insist on careful contemplation while preparing for any voyage. Steamer bags, carefully cut to the dimensions of steam boat cabins, allowed travelers to separate and organize their laundry. Compact bureaus for thoughtful letters home. Sensibly sectioned turn of-the-century cosmetic cases kept the portable powder rooms intact, all while instilling a sense of luxury in travel.

Many of the innovative products often associated with the contemporary brand appeared nearly 100 years ago, exemplified through the collection. An expected addition to most luxury brands’ current range, glass and silver perfume bottles from the early 1900’s round out the display, an unexpected long time offering of Louis Vuitton. Anticipating the gathering of treasures from abroad, expandable luggage was first seen in 1910, which has in turn, led to generations of collectors. In keeping with their thoughtful attention to detail and the needs of the busy traveler, 1920’s elaborate garment cleaning kits allowed for quick touch-ups, ensure their arrival in style.

In a time when the term ‘luxury’ is often carelessly applied to products based on price alone, an exhibition such as this begs for stringency. A client experience rooted in in an unshakable love for travel, the rich history demonstrated through the countless advancements, along with an extensive knowledge of craftsmanship, quality and tradition, set Louis Vuitton apart. A brand which has truly passed the test of distance and time.

Contemporary use of collage heralds new season at Cuadro

Launching the season at Cuadro Fine Art Gallery, Dubai International Financial Centre, ‘Seeing the Forest’ brought together works by three artists from different generations and backgrounds with comparable approaches to abstract photography.

Camille Zakharia has developed his complex practice of collage and photomontage over a 30-year career since departing his native Lebanon in 1985. His ‘Division Lines’ series from 2002 was inspired by painted yellow lines on an asphalt parking lot, which he read as being representative of the many lines that block and contain people in the world. The overall impression, despite visible edges where the paper has been cut and re-pasted together, is of a repetitive, ordered geometric pattern. Examples from a more recent series, ‘Shifting Boundaries’, repeat the coloured blocks and lines, but with an agitated, fractured arrangement of forms.

Sanaz Mazinani uses digital techniques to create mesmeric montages which are made up of fragments of war photography, demonstrations and scenes of unrest but, as a whole, come together as beautiful, symmetrical geometric formations. Although in their titles violence is never far away, Mazinani manages to embed a sense of poetry and eternity in her photographs mounted on wood, as if she has come to terms with her divided self: born in Iran, she moves between San Francisco and Toronto.

Hazem Mahdy’s photographic practice has always focused on the contours of his own body and how it moves in space. An extension of this was experimenting with formations and patterns occurring in mathematics and the natural world, which saw the artist work with mandola shapes and creating visual representations of algorithms, inspired too by the psychiatry of Carl Jung. New works such as ‘Schism’ return to the self, but refract his form in entirely different, cubist ways. Despite being broken down into fragments, the male form finds stillness and balance.

“The works all employ fragmented imagery that are put back together again to form a new whole,” Roberto Lopardo, director of Cuadro tells Selections. “It’s a contemporary use of collage – some still use manual cutting processes, while others employ digital tools to cut and reassemble. Each artist uses the medium of photography to discuss issues of identity as they pertain to their lives.”

‘Seeing the Forest’, works by Hazem Mahdy, Sanaz Mazinani and Camille Zakharia, Cuadro Fine Art Gallery, DIFC Gate Village, 19 September – November 2017

Featured Image: Hazem Magdy, Schism

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, Letters from the past#43.

AFAC | 10 Years Later – How to Tell When the Rebels Have Won | Beit Beirut

Curated by Rasha Salti, this group exhibition marks 10 years since the founding of the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC), a grant-making institution that has helped to fund over 1000 projects spanning film, photography, music, visual arts, performing arts, literature and cultural research and training. AFAC’s group exhibition at Beit Beirut includes the contributions of 40 artists from 15 countries, whose work the fund has at one time supported.

The works on show include photographs from the Arab Documentary Photography Program, a three-year collaboration with Magnum that set out to mentor documentary photographers in the region. The striking results include photos highlighting the challenges faced by displaced Syrians, the harassment of women in Cairo, mining in Tunisia and Morocco, the discovery of mass graves in Iraq and women’s amusement parks in Jeddah.

The exhibition also features seven installations by prominent local artists. Mona Hallak, who led the campaign to save Beit Beirut from destruction after the war, is showcasing her photo project ‘Positive Negatives’, a collection of prints from 10,000 negatives she found abandoned in a ground floor photographic studio. Visitors are invited to take away a photo and try to trace the person in the portrait, uncovering stories that will become part of the museum’s permanent collection. Another particularly moving project is Cynthia Zaven’s sound installation ‘Perpetuum Mobile’, a simple melody playing through 12 speakers that rises and falls, and swells and diminishes, marking and mourning the passage of time.

Featured Image: Beit Beirut exhibition, photos by Lynn Dagher, courtesy of AFAC

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, Letters from the past#43.

Alfred Tarazi | ‘Dear Madness…’

Blurring the lines between history and fiction, and memory and imagination, Alfred Tarazi’s latest solo exhibition explores a reality “lived and forgotten”. Featuring characters, scenes, conversations and events that unfurled in “a Lebanon of the mind”, it interrogates the fallibility of memory and the experience of loss. Born in 1980, Tarazi interrogates Lebanon’s history in his work. In ‘Dear Madness…’ he pairs large-scale installations with a lengthy, poetic text reflecting on the period between New Year’s Day of 2005 and New Year’s Day of 2006, exploring his personal relationships and experiences, set against a backdrop of violence and political turmoil.

An overarching wooden structure transforms the gallery into a cave-like space, its walls plastered with dramatic black-and-white images. A towering installation of metal captures the ruins of skyscrapers, an annotated map of Beirut covers one wall and a life-size sculpture of a body lies on a pile of breeze blocks, surrounded by a crowd of tiny misshapen clay figures, each a few inches high and resembling a prehistoric artefact. The works come to life in the context of Tarazi’s writing, a diary of sorts, covering the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and its aftermath in a poetic, abstract series of short entries. It’s a powerful and cleverly immersive approach.

Galerie Janine Rubeiz
October 11 to November 24

Featured Image: The Mortuary: 4,30×4,30×2,5m: wood + giclee prints

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, Letters from the past#43.