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Why Are We Here Now | Aleppo. A portrait of Absence

BERLIN—The auditorium is pitch black before the light comes in as if demarcating an abstract horizon line. Then a voice punctuates the silence; it sounds vaguely British, male, perhaps white—mature. He is speaking about Aleppo, memory, and forgetting, and yet this is not a Milan Kundera novel, the Czech novelist who wrote stories by the same name. Instead, the man speaks about the persistence of memory in connection to one tangible place now often outlined in the West by media clips and hyper-realist descriptions of siege and war: Aleppo.

As the hall lightens, one can start to make out the outline of some figures, but the figures are not sitting reclined in the chairs, but rather squarely on platforms—like bleachers. It is then that the man, who is really only a vocal recording—a disembodied voice, instructs the ten participants to join their ‘guides’, perhaps with a touch of science fiction.

Aleppo. A Portrait of Absence is a 45 minute performance choreographed by artist Mohammad Al Attar about the city of Aleppo as told from the point of view of inhabitants, some of who now live in Europe—indefinitely displaced. Al Attar conducted interviews with participants asking them to recount a meaningful place in their former home city.

Encountering these actors, the first thing the ‘guide’ asks you is for the recording device you were given at the entrance. The guide, who is exclusively white, German and speaking with Northern European accented English, then places the device on the table and begins the parable. They press play on the recording device and then a voice is heard in Arabic. Afterwards the guide begins to explain that they/he/she is the interpreter of the story and in English, begins to translate the stories that were first heard in Arabic.

The stories themselves vary in content and yet usually center around place: the architecture of a particular building; a café that served as a gathering location to play chess, serving only coffee or tea, that was later the site of an explosion; or descriptions of a family that moved to the Eastern part of the city and experienced increasing stringent religious codes. Though simple and paired down to the matter of storytelling, the work asks both metaphysical questions as well as practical ones: how does one remember a place when one no longer is present in it? Though initially sounding cliché and romantic, the pointed beauty of the work drives in the notion of absence living in an émigré condition where one often assumes the status of alien or foreigner (étranger).

Aleppo. A portrait of Absence took place at HKW from September 21st to the 23rd

New Date, Director and Galleries Reinvigorate Contemporary Istanbul in Art Fair’s 12th Year

Istanbul — Glossy, hyper-real street scenes, phantasmagorical portraits, neon-infused installations and large-scale metal sculptures were among the big, bold works featured at the 12th Contemporary Istanbul as the art fair sought to return with a splash after a difficult year for Turkey in 2016.

New Contemporary Istanbul director Kamiar Maleki, a well-known London-based collector, brought fresh energy to the fair, according to Leila Heller, president of the New York- and Dubai-based Leila Heller Gallery.

“Participating in Contemporary Istanbul this year was a sure bet for us because of Kamiar,” Heller said. “He has a big following and a great eye and we knew he would bring in a high-quality group of collectors and galleries.”

Organisers sought to focus on quality over quantity this year, with 73 galleries presenting some 1,500 artworks at the fair, which was held 14-17 September. The fair was moved up from its typical November timeframe to coincide for the first time with the Istanbul Biennial, now in its 15th edition, as well as dozens of museum and gallery openings around the city. This “week full of art” concept generated enough positive energy that Contemporary Istanbul will continue to be organised in the second week of September in the years ahead, Chairman Ali Güreli announced at the preview of the fair.

“We’ve gotten a good vibe from having the fair run along with the biennial this year,” said Müge Çubukçu, head of sales at Galerist, one of Istanbul’s leading contemporary art galleries. “There’s been more of an international crowd and more international coverage than in previous years, and people are very engaged with the works on display.” The gallery’s ceramic works by Elif Uras, a Turkish artist who combines traditional İznik ceramic decorative techniques with imagery that comments on women’s lives and changing gender roles, “really connected with people,” Çubukçu said.

Natalya Andakulova, founder of Dubai-based Andakulova Gallery, was also pleased with the response at Contemporary Istanbul, only the second international fair in which her young gallery has participated. “We specialise in artists from Central Asia, which is part of the Turkic neighbourhood. People are not that familiar with Central Asia, but they were very interested and curious,” said Andakulova, whose stand featured photographer Said Atabekov’s images of kokpar, a polo-like sport played on horseback.

Another young gallery participating in Contemporary Istanbul for the first time, Berlin-based Bernheimer Contemporary, also brought a solo show to the fair. Artist Daniele Sigalot’s playful, cheeky spray-painted-aluminium sculptures — including towers of crumpled papers representing “A good idea on top of 27 bad ones,” and an oversized post-it note “A good idea on top of 27 bad ones,” and an oversized post-it note puncturing art-world pretensions — made the gallery’s stand “the most Instagrammed stand” at the fair, boasted owner Isabel Bernheimer.

The fifth-generation gallerist said she also appreciated how the Istanbul fair helped bring together the European and Middle Eastern art worlds. “In Berlin, we wouldn’t have these connections with buyers from Dubai and Kuwait,” Bernheimer said. “We’ve made good contacts and sales that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been at this fair.”

Frieze London | A review of Special Projects

In the first week of October every year, the global art world descends on London’s Regent’s Park for five days of the best showing of modern and contemporary art for Frieze London & Frieze Masters. This event brings together over 160 galleries presenting an array of artworks by artists across generations, genres and of every medium imaginable. Alongside booths from small to large, minimal and to the recent trend of presentations that are more akin to looking like conceived exhibitions (Hauser and Wirth’s ‘Bronze Age c. 3,500 B.C.–A.D. 2017,’ Waddington Custot’s ‘At Work with Peter Blake,’ and Oslo gallery VII’s installation by the artist Than Hussein Clark) there is really something for every visitor to this fair. Outside of selling, Frieze Projects, the fairs’ talks, performance and Sculpture Park (which was on view from 5 July to 8 October) contributed to furthering critical debates thorough conversations, interventions and site-specific public art.

The new curated section and talk of Frieze this year was Sex Work. Sex Work, curated by Alison Gingeras, explored feminist art and radical politics through solo presentations by artists including Betty Tompkins, Penny Slinger, Renate Bertlmann, Marilyn Minter, Birgit Jürgenssen, Judith Bernstein, Natalia LL,
 Dorothy Iannone and Mary Beth Edelson (both purchased by the Tate for its collection). The section paid homage to a generation of female artists, most of which were censored in their day. Here, female sexuality, ballsiness and the sheer fact that these works were a main focus within commercial context is a feat worth celebrating. It was also timely given the current political climate and ongoing debate around censorship within and outside of the art world.

Frieze Focus on the other hand, is viewed as the go-to section for encountering younger artists and galleries who are often showing at the fair for the first time. Highlights included Billy Zangewa’s Love and Happiness, a new series of intricately hand-stitched textiles depicting the mundanity of domestic life, whilst Emalin London, with Russian artist Evgeny Antufiev, transformed their booth into a self-contained presentation which visitors entered through the mouth of a cardboard creature and were led into a display of curiosities exploring cultural particularity and the symbolic significance of objects, whilst also recalling shamanic mysticism still found in Southern Siberia.

Taking a break from the art overload inside and located at the entrance of the fair, Donna Kukama’s performance. Here, visitors queued all weekend for a one-to-one performance of social exchange and empathy housed in a triangular structure fashioned into a botanical garden. Further along, the Sculpture Park commissions this year included works by leading 20th-century and contemporary artists Magdalena Abakanowicz, Rasheed Araeen, Urs Fischer, KAWS, Alicja Kwade, Michael Craig-Martin, Thomas J Price Ugo Rondinone and Sarah Sze. KAWS’s six-metre-high toy-human figure was perhaps the most instagrammable, whilst Thomas J Price’s Numen (Shifting Votive One, Two and Three), 2016 – triple portraits of men of African origin made from aluminium and mounted on white marble were the most arresting as you entered the park.

Frieze comes and goes every year and the question ‘Is this the best in art right now?’ always seems to recur. Attempting to answer this cannot simply lie in this hyper-commercial context, but at the same time, the fair does once in a while throw in surprises and discoveries which this year it succeeded in with the inclusion of Sex Work, an intriguing and unexpected encounter at Frieze 2017.

Frieze Art Fair was held between 4-8 October at Regent’s Park, London. More information here

Featured Image: Mimmo Paladino, Untitled (1989), Waddington Custot Galleries.  Frieze Sculpture 2017. Photo by Stephen White. Courtesy of Stephen White/Frieze.

Hanaa Malallah on equality, male mentors and Iraq from the outside

On identity, Iraq and individuality
Nada Shabout interviews Hanaa Malallah

There is no doubt that, at best, the notion of identity at large is fraught with various challenges and complications. Yet history has shown us that humanity is not capable of surpassing it because of the need to belong and identify. At the moment, to claim an identity somehow connected to Iraq invites further impediments. To be a woman and artist who identifies with Iraq is a whole other story.

The three artists presented here all identify with Iraq on different levels and in various forms that in essence tell the unfolding story of Iraq over the last four decades. What connects them to Iraq is a fundamental personal, emotional and, at times, political choice. The result is a notion of an Iraqi identity for each that is not only very fluid but also is invoked as points of conversion and engagement. Today, Iraqi artists are mostly in the diaspora, in exile or are refugees. Each practice is an idea of what Iraq or being Iraqi is. All are equally real and imaginary.

The three interviews also outline the different concerns for each artist, based on individual as well as generational experiences. Ultimately, each intersection with Iraq as women artists charted the path of their aesthetic development. The three cannot escape memories of destruction and war that are now the contemporary legacy of Iraq. And each engages with the ensuing ramifications. Stylistically, they are as different as their personal experiences and their understandings of their heritage, as well as how to be a global artist with multiple identities, albeit with a common yearning to what once was and what could have been.

Hanaa, when we first started talking about your work, around 2004, you rejected the label of a woman artist. You said, ‘I’m an Iraqi artist and I practice as an Iraqi artist.’ Your reason then, which one could argue is still valid to some extent, was that Iraqi artists were isolated and to further segregate them would only add to their alienation. Now, you have been out of Iraq for a while, almost a decade. Do you still think that the issue of gender is not valid when we talk about Iraqi art? Does it make a difference that you are a woman artist versus a male artist?

You know, in principle, I rejected the label because I did not want it to affect the perception of my work. The work should be judged as good artwork or not, regardless if it is by women or by men. This is the first point.

Then, when I researched women’s art movements in the contemporary/global art, I found the Guerrilla Girls, among others. I realised that to label yourself as a woman artist does not mean that you are weak or that you seek more power. The Guerrilla Girls movement is empowering in itself as an activist movement. It seeks quality. They put masks on their faces. It is not because I am woman then my artwork is good. It doesn’t concern you who I am, but if the work is good or not. Because it is by a woman artist does not mean we disregard its weaknesses. Unfortunately, this is happening in many cases when the work is labeled as women’s art. Good and bad work are then put on the same scale and labeled as equal, despite variation in quality.

The second point is that women’s art is not judged only by its quality, but many times the personal “scandals” and issues surrounding women artists become what is known about them. This is an issue that seems to plague the work of women artists on a global level.

But, as you know, there was an injustice regarding women artists within society and history. They had no presence and their presence is still relative until now. Perhaps some of these scandals are in relation to their creation of gendered spaces? For example, the first generation of women artists, here in the U.S., used their bodies and sex as a way of reclaiming it.

Yes, I completely agree with that.

Nevertheless, this clearly brings up another issue, similar to the case of Orientalism. When do we really think of this as taking back the gaze versus we’re just extending the practice of Orientalism? If I am using my own sexuality, am I reclaiming it and saying, ‘Okay, if I want to be nude, I can present myself nude?’ But men have always represented me nude, or women in the nude, so am I practicing the same thing or am I reclaiming? Of course, this is a debatable issue, and is far from being resolved. On the other hand, you were living and practicing in Iraq as a woman artist. You had different issues that were of your concern.

Yes, it is strange. When I was in Iraq, I had no idea about this. Maybe because I was young. But looking back on my life there, I realised that all my friends were men. I worked with men. In all the photos I have, I am surrounded by men. There were no women. In fact, there were no women teachers in my life during the 14 years of my education. I wasn’t influenced by any woman teacher or any woman artist in Iraq. All of them were just men.

Why do you think that was?

I don’t know! When I look back, I think perhaps because I was there, I didn’t feel or notice it. But now I realise that 14 years is a long time!

What about what the men professors were teaching you? Were they teaching you history of art that included women artists or not?

No! I am only now discovering many important women artists. They were not included in any of the lectures.

Not even Iraqi women artist? Suad Al Attar or Madiha Umar, for example?

We didn’t hear about Madiha Umar in Iraq until the last decade. Of course, everyone knows Suad Al Attar as an artist; as a big name. But her work was not taught to us as an example or for its own merit.

Well, even in Western art history, and since Linda Nochlin asked, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” in 1971, progress has been slow!

But now things are changing. In London, last year at the Tate Modern there were three exhibitions and all of them were retrospectives for women. But Nada now I struggle with this issue. It shocks me! Now outside of Iraq, I feel the issue of gender. Maybe because the circle inside of Iraq was smaller. Now the circle is bigger. For example, let’s look at the contemporary circle created by collectors of Arab art. They are still very much male dominated. But this is also where I think the issue of Iraqi identity becomes important. I am very surprised that until now, Suad Al Attar is not celebrated on the level she deserves. This is where Iraqi artist women are still neglected. Iraqi art as a whole is still isolated!

Back to you, as Hanaa Malallah, while in Iraq you made your name as an academic, a well-known artist and theorist. You had exhibitions in the region, and collectors. However, in the last decade you had been living in London and now teaching in Bahrain. How has this affected your work and sales?

Being in London gave me a very different position. A very different status and location, for self-improvement, education but also the value of my own work. I realised that we lived in a bubble inside Iraq, that in my time in London I have accomplished three times as much as I had as an artist inside Iraq. I say I am lucky to be in London. In London I say I flourish, I am not in exile.

To fulfil my dream to be a full-time artist for ten years was a big thing. My time is for my art. I go around the crazy city to visit galleries and museums. London is a global city, and a hub for contemporary art. You don’t have to go anywhere to see artists, you stay in the same city and see all the world. In London, and with the sense of London as a diverse cultural city, there is opportunity. I found this opportunity. I exhibited quietly, everything flourished. I even exhibited with British people and participated in British projects. My work is selling in a better way. I have established new prices for my artwork. It is just different.

How has that changed your vision of art in terms of aesthetics, techniques and material?

Very much so! What we were producing in Iraq was something out of its history. Not even modernism but rather very outdated art. For example, art of the ’90s in London, its technique, was completely different from what we did. So we were completely isolated in that time, we thought we did something very big but it is small. You have to find yourself in a big circle to examine your taste and your artworks.

Without being too harsh, I feel what we did was fake; not honest. The illusion of my identity as an Iraqi artist was translated into a repetition of what we inherited from the West, and we claimed it as our identity. It was not. The work’s identity couldn’t be limited to choosing subjects from Iraq and from everyday life and calling it Iraqi art. This is a big question. Something you have to think a lot about before answering the question. We need to study this in depth. Instead we have lots of stories. We have no critics!

Do you think these stories that Iraqi artists tell, or that are told about them, do they actually contribute to the construction of the understanding of art history in Iraq?

I think we don’t know. We need education first to understand all of that. Even now, my generation who are still trapped inside Iraq are repeating the same thing. They are still isolated. There’s no connection with the outside world, from the ’90s until now. Even with Internet, the connection is still constrained. We have no institutions to study this.

Our art production of the 20th century is not contextualised. For now, it appears lacking when presented.

by Nada Shabout

Featured image: Nada Shabout and Hanaa Malallah portraits.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, A Dialogue Between Generations of Arab Women in Art #42, pages  82-87.

Roshanak Aminelahi | Gordafarid

Best of Dubai | Selections explores the most interesting and inspiring exhibitions set to grace Dubai’s galleries this autumn

Roshanak Aminelahi | Gordafarid
Ayyam Gallery
September 13 to October 28

We all need something to inspire us. For Roshanak Aminelahi, an Iranian artist who has lived and worked in Dubai for over a decade, that inspiration comes from Persian warriors from the first century. Despite their historical specificity, she feels the themes they demonstrate are directly relevant to contemporary life.

Gordafarid is a heroine from the Shahnameh, an epic poem integral to Iranian cultural heritage. The legend goes that upon hearing that their leader had been captured, Gordafarid disguised herself as a man by putting on knight’s armour and rode out to fight Sohrab, commander of the Turanian army. Aminelahi highlights that today such courage and wisdom is seen across the world, specifically in the bravery of Kurdish women taking up arms to protect their villages in northern Syria. She is the subject of the largest painting in the exhibition, sat astride a horse moving across the canvas, almost a blur.

In her technique, Aminelahi applies paint in quite a unique manner, leaving brushmarks raised on the surface, mixing and layering media. In her pixelated effect, she recalls the French pointillists. The thick, textured nature of her paintings feels close in spirit to 20th century San Francisco Bay Area painters such as Jay DeFeo. Indeed, Aminelahi is currently pursuing a second graduate degree in illustration from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

There is also an affinity with fellow Iranian painters, such as Dubai-based artist Reza Derakshani, alongside whom she has worked since arriving in the Emirates. Aminelahi trained under influential painters in Iran after graduating in 2000 and has exhibited frequently at art spaces and institutions in Tehran, but this is her first solo exhibition in Dubai. The allegories, symbolism and pathos evident in these ambitious canvasses prove that Aminelahi is a worthy addition to the Ayyam Gallery programme.

Featured image: Warrior Riding, 2016, mixed media on canvas, 220 x 200 cm

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, A Dialogue Between Generations of Arab Women in Art #42, page 37.

Good Face and Incurable Flaws | Carbon 12

Best of Dubai
Selections explores the most interesting and inspiring exhibitions set to grace Dubai’s galleries this autumn

Good Face and Incurable Flaws
Carbon 12
September 13 to October 31

Throughout history, artists have wrestled with the challenging task of representing a sitter: not just reproducing their physical attributes but giving an impression of their mood and personality, capturing their very essence. Here we see two very different approaches to portraiture.

Carbon 12 has forged a unique position combining a focus on European (primarily Austrian) and Iranian contemporary art. This exhibition illustrates how fascinating a dual perspective that approach can offer, bringing together recent works by two artists of the same age (not yet 30): Philip Mueller from Vienna and Amir Khojasteh from Tehran.

We are familiar with Mueller’s bucolic, fantastical scenes. Here, we have zoomed in and slowed down: his portraits cool and monumental, their surroundings ripe with symbolism. Some reference power play from Greek mythology — Mother Agave was a licentious character in Euripides’ play The Bacchae. Mueller gives her a face devoid of expression, her dress covered in skulls with a pair of horns on her headband. Behind her sit domestic pots holding agaves, which are perennial until they flower, at which point the plant dies.

Mueller puts more emotional intensity into his portrayal of Jonny Versace, the fashion magnate murdered in 1997, again using the skull and adding death in the shadows. On his head is a smattering of pink paint — a surreal element which in its looseness of application references Khojasteh’s technique. The Iranian artist applies paint incredibly thickly. His contorted, at times freakish forms comment on the dangers of absolute power and control inspired by dictators and political heavyweights, particularly from his native Iran. Subjects are not clearly identified. Titles are instead suggestive of a particular state of mind: The Cry of the Grey Spirit, Waiting for the Sun , The Fixed Gaze. Features are blurred and distorted, the artist astutely bringing inner demons to the surface.

Featured image: Amir Khojasteh, Wating for the sun, oil on canvas, 40 × 30 cm, 2017, Carbon 12

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, A Dialogue Between Generations of Arab Women in Art #42, page 35.

The Mind’s Treasures

Expert on modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art Hala Khayat shares a selection of her favourite artworks with Selections and reflects on how and why certain works have taken root in her memory

As an art specialist, I curate auctions with one mission: to present Middle Eastern art that is rare, hard to find and in demand by a select group of serious collectors, museums and foundations. My approach is very specific. But curating hypothetically on the nice pages of Selections is a fun, intriguing exercise.

I chose to focus on my selective memory in finding the pieces and I just closed my eyes and let my mind guide me to some stored images.

With my job, I am exposed daily to a large number of unique and mostly rare art pieces. This exercise is so intense namely because I am a visual person. I take in images deeply, as I scrutinise almost everything through pictures.

This exercise also requires slowing down, in order to fully understand and build an opinion. It usually goes through a few steps, which start with looking, observing, and then seeing the art piece, with the ability to describe it. It finishes with the ability to interpret a final meaning that satisfies me.

Sometimes, some strong images come back to haunt me. It is an overwhelming experience, namely when I am presented with top art with a strong concept that challenges my mind. Other times, I simply forget everything I have just seen and suddenly out of the blue, an image I had not seen in many years bursts to mind.

And I question myself. Why this image? Was it because it was visually a very strong complete composition? Was it the colours? Or is it my selective memory choosing a feeling that remained from such an encounter with art?

One that came to my mind when I thought about what I wanted to share in Selections is a work by Samia Halaby (Palestinian, b. 1936) that I saw back in 2009. It was like an explosion of colours entitled Bride Seed Swallows the Sky, 2002-2008. An amalgamation of bright colours coming together in a few layers, creating a very rich texture. The viewer gets the impression that the colours were just floating on the wall. The composition is set on a canvas but one feels it is not contained within a defined surface and rather expanded – a very liberating and free work to look at. It was, in fact, a work that evolved over six years with the artist playing with its many components and treating it as a puzzle. The subject was about love and reproduction in mankind and nature, both in beauty and power, the seeds open to rain and to sunshine which makes life possible.

Another work that also came to mind was a unique, large three-dimensional sculpture embedded in the wall by Iranian artist Timo Nasseri (b. 1972), Epistrophy MT1 in polished stainless steel. It is again a celebration of the art of “Muqarnasat,” a decorative form of repetitive elements we can trace back to Islamic architecture, used mainly in the interiors of mosques and ceilings. What I now recall and celebrate is the experience of being in front of such a work, with its shiny and highly polished stainless steel looking like an endless journey into a mirrored world. Standing next to it as a giant diamond, my own reflection as well as that of the space around me were now seen into this universe. A moment of distorted reality. In this instance, my memory chose the interactive experience of being in and out of the work of art in a fraction of a second.

Featured Image: Hala Khayat portrait, summer 2017.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, A Dialogue Between Generations of Arab Women in Art #42, pages 123-138.

Ramin Haerizadeh | Gallery Isabelle Van Den Eynde

Best of Dubai
Selections explores the most interesting and inspiring exhibitions set to grace Dubai’s galleries this autumn

Ramin Haerizadeh
To Be or Not To Be, That Is the Question. And Though, It Troubles the Digestion*
Gallery Isabelle Van Den Eynde
September 13 to November 2

It’s unfair to say that it feels strange to contemplate a solo exhibition by Ramin Haerizadeh. It is his fourth solo with Isabelle Van Den Eyde, the last having launched Isabelle’s space in Alserkal. It is understandable, however, given that, ever since, Haerizadeh has exclusively exhibited collaboratively with his brother Rokni and friend Hesam Rahmanian, with tremendous global success. Their mad, phantasmagorical world, which originated in their shared living and workspace in Dubai, has captivated audiences from Boston to Brisbane and resulted in publications, institutional acquisitions and invitations to participate in biennials the world over.

This show is a fascinating opportunity to disassemble their collaborative practice and see how far Haerizadeh has developed as an artist. Influences from the quirky collective work abound but his unique style is evident too. His earliest works were dominated by photography and a singular style of manipulating images by using repetition and symmetry, ultimately distorting them so completely they become something new entirely. Amalgamation, collage, humour and the absurd are still at the heart of his production. Not content with one photographic image, he reprints and reuses them over again, recycling work that has even been exhibited already — working in constant flux.

Documents both trivial and significant are thrown together, creating interesting juxtapositions: commuters on Dubai metro, protests in Turkey, plastic food packaging, an old film poster — somehow he makes bizarre montages happily co-exist. Certain elements are representative of his life, such as parts of his mother’s diary and photo albums. Man’s relationship with food and his body are important themes and the highly politicised tone of his practice is clear throughout. The exhibition’s title, despite its reference to Hamlet, mortality and human foibles, comes from a poem about the political age we can’t help but live in.

Featured image: Ramin Haerizadeh, Still Life, 2017, collage on paper, 72 × 101 cm

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, A Dialogue Between Generations of Arab Women in Art #42, page 34.

After the Wildly Improbable

Symposium After the Wildly Improbable excavates a Rail Line Meant to Connect Berlin and Baghdad

BerlinAfter the Wildly Improbable was a symposium curated by writer Adania Shibli under the framework of the larger series of programing Why are we here now? The program, taking place at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt from mid-September to October was conceived by Shibli, artist Mohammad Al Attar, and Rabih Mroué. The project responds to HKW’s 100 Years of Now that looks back upon histories and questions how these narratives are embedded in the present.


The main imagery the symposium invokes is the railroad: it’s past and present form, which persists to meander symbolically and literally through terrain. During the Ottoman Empire a rail network was to be constructed, connecting Berlin and Baghdad by connecting Berlin to the Orient Express. The line would then forge axillary networks such as the Hijaz Railway, connecting Damascus and Mecca. Shilbli asked writers, artists, and archeologists, to reflect on how this phantom of the never fully realized railroad project continues to resurrect a legacy of Empire. In a text given out during the symposium, Shilbli explains how growing up in Palestine in the 80’s one of the only non-censored pieces of literature deemed to be safe by the Israeli Censorship Bureau was “The Clock and the Man”, a story where the tracks of the train run at its spine. Inevitably, Shilbli writes, because the figure of the train suggested that there could be mobility through Israel through rail travel, this made this innocuous story dubious—allowing the reader to dream of continuous borders, rather than the incongruous demarcation between territories.

As China now increases plans for a high-speed rail line connecting the city of Kashgar to the Gwadar Port, one sees again this phantom of the rail, which evokes mobility and modernity, as well as neocolonialization and plundering of resources, to which speakers Shahana Rajani and Zahra Malkani spoke decisively about. Overall the symposium reminds its audience of what the entire 100 Years of Now intends to do: to show how modernity is not complete, how its roots continue to rupture matter as well as mold spirit to its improbable design.

Portrait of a Nation

Contemporary Art from the United Arab Emirates featuring works from the ADMAF Art Collection

For six weeks in Berlin, 50 contemporary artists from the UAE take over the main gallery spaces of me Collectors Room Berlin / Stiftung Olbricht (Olbricht Foundation) for Portrait of a Nation. This new survey of artists from one of the Middle East’s most popular destinations is an extensive survey of Modern and Contemporary Art of the UAE and intergenerational. Over the last decade, there has been a boom in the visibility of Emirati artists showing internationally and in 2013, a permanent pavilion was established at the Venice Biennale in a 20-year agreement allowing the UAE to move to its designated building in the Arsenale. me Collectors Room founded by Thomas Olbricht opened its doors in 2010 and alongside showcasing works from its collection, touring exhibitions of international artists are often showcased here in one of the city’s most unusual and intriguing spaces. The links between both countries might at first seem strange but Germany is the UAE’s largest trade partner in the Arab world and thousands of German nationals live and work in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

The exhibition presents a variety of mediums: sculpture, photography, land art, painting, textiles, video, scenography, and new takes on traditional craft practices. Visitors will explore the country through the individual perspectives of artists who call it home. Seven themed rooms representing Nation & Unity, Geography & Nature, Architecture & Urbanism, Portraiture & Identity, Religion & Spirituality, Language & Calligraphy, and Tradition & Heritage.

Not to be missed works in the exhibition include Lamya Gargash’s Diana from her 2012 series Through the Looking Glass are two twinned portraits of the artist from her larger body of work investigating the relationship between self-perception and notions of beauty. Cafeterias of the UAE (2016) Khalid Mezaina, on the other hand, are six intricately detailed pencil and pen drawings depicting fast food ventures informed by the influence of graphic design in his wider practice. Mohammed Kazem’s Photographs with a Flag (1997–2003) where he portrays himself with his back turned to the camera, standing alone in deserts of Memzar, with blank flags beside him marking potential sites for future urban developments.


Founded by Her Excellency Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo, the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation (ADMAF) seeks to nurture the arts, education, culture and creativity for the benefit of society and the advancement of Abu Dhabi’s cultural vision. The Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation and was established for broad range of initiatives – including the Abu Dhabi Festival, year-round education and community programmes and The National Gallery – bringing together audiences of all ages and nationalities to nurture the creative talent of the UAE and beyond, in partnership with leading national and international institutions.

The exhibition is on view until 29th October 2017 and includes artists Ebtisam Abdul Aziz, Ali Al Abdan, Zayed Al Absi, Sarah Al Agroobi, Sarah Al Ahbabi, Ahmed Saeed Al Areef Al Dhaheri, Mohammed Al Astad, Ammar Al Attar, Jassim Al Awadi, Khalid AlBanna, Amna Al Dabbagh, Shamsa Al Dhaheri, Abdul Aziz Al Fadli, Ahmed Al Faresi, Reem AlGhaith, Yousif Al Harmoudi, Eman Al Hashemi, Zeinab Al Hashemi, Khuloud Al Jabri, SaeedAl Madani, Fatema Al Mazrouie, Mohammed Al Mazrouie, Sheikha Alyazia Bint Nahyan Al Nahyan, Omran Al Owais, Mohammed Al Qassab, Azza Al Qubaisi, Abdul Qader Al Rais, Sumaya Al Rais, Hamdan Buti Al Shamsi, Karima Al Shomely, Architecture + Other Things, Hind Bin Demaithan, Maitha Demithan, Afra Bin Dhaher, Lamya Gargash, Mohammed AhmedIbrahim, Aisha Juma, Layla Juma, Mohammed Kazem, Fatma Lootah, Najat Makki, Lateefa Bint Maktoum, Mohammed Mandi, Khalid Mezaina, Salama Nasib, Abdul Rahim Salem,Khalid Shafar, Hassan Sharif, Hussein Sharif, Obaid Suroor and Khalil Abdul Wahid.

Featured image: Khalid al Banna, kreislauf des wandels detail, cycle of change detail, 2016