Experiments in light and dark in Dubai

DUBAI: Rana Begum’s “No. 695” was conceived with an eye to the natural light of the UAE. The piece is made up of eight rows of transparent glass panels, tinted in various primary colors and mounted upon a white plinth set amid an artificial lagoon. “The idea is that you need to be able to see it from different angles, at different times of day,” observed curator Omar Berrada. “It’s an experiment in light and color. The reflection of these colors on the white platform change direction, size, shape throughout the day. The combinations of colors also change with the time of day and the changing direction and height of the sun. At certain points you see colors on the white surface that resemble paintings.

“It’s an exploration of the possibilities of the triangle and of this repetition of geometric forms. What happens to geometric abstraction when you repeat the forms in this way with variations of color?”

Berrada is the curator of “seepage/ritual,” a group show of work springing from the 2017 Abraaj Group Prize and shown on site at Art Dubai, the emirate’s yearly art fair.

Begum’s project proposal for “No. 695” was this year’s Abraaj Group Prize winner but most of the works in “seepage/ritual” – works by Begum and the prize’s shortlisted artists – are on show in a pop-up exhibition space inside the adjacent Madinat Jumeirah conference center.

The Abraaj show is unique this year in that all its exhibiting artists are women. Unlike the past few editions of the exhibition – which have featured a single new work by the winning artist, set in the context of older works by the runners-up – all the exhibiting artists here are showing at least one new, or newly conceived, piece.

Begum herself is showing three new pieces (two paintings and a sculpture) in the group show. Two 2016 pieces by Doa Aly – her four-channel video installation “House of Rumour,” and the sculpture “I Am Alone” – provide context for a new series of pencil-on-cotton paper drawings.

Raha Raissnia is displaying a sample from her series of mixed-media drawings “Alluvius,” 2016, and “Series in Fugue,” 2013, comprised of oil- and gesso-on-wood works. Complementing these is the latest iteration of her striking film installation “Mneme,” 2015-17. Here she deploys a 16mm film projector and a slide projector to screen hand-painted film images upon a doubled screen – the second of which is a painted canvas.

The first work visible in the exhibition space is Sara Abu Abdallah’s “Mornings of Hope,” 2017, a five-minute-long looping video showing scenes of domestic intimacy and confinement on five circular screens.

The Abraaj Group exhibitions hang in Madinat Jumeirah for less than a week. Mitigating the exclusive ephemerality of “seepage/ritual” somewhat is the volume published to accompany the show, attractively designed by Omar Mismar.

Though it shares the title “seepage/ritual,” the publication doesn’t try to reproduce the exhibition experience in print. Rather, Berrada and his four artists fill the book’s five discrete sections with texts, images and pullout elements that are either free-standing works or lyrical reflections upon the artists’ work and practices.

Berrada has penned a page of text introducing the artists’ work and placing them in the context of the exhibition itself. He eschews the linear argument of a curatorial essay in favor of four pages of concrete poetry.

The writing is bundled into modes (in the musical sense) that move lyrically, formally and at times prosaically over his artists’ work and practice and, it seems, the process of curating them.

“YES. YES. NO,” Abu Abdallah’s contribution to the publication, is a collage of photos (most of them framed in circles like her “Mornings of Hope”). The images are interspersed among a stream-of-consciousness conversation that may (or may not) be between two voices, one redolent of social media communication, which alights upon sleep, dreams, the body’s fragile permeability and creativity.

Doa Aly begins her contribution to the book with an antique aside, an excerpt from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” specifically the chapter “The House of Rumour,” which names her four-channel video installation. Her chapter effectively supplements this piece – providing photos from the work, a map of the texts sampled by her perambulating male and female figures, and the score of “Profane Ascension,” a string quartet Amino Belyamani composed in response to Aly’s original work.

Begum’s chapter has no original descriptive or analytical text at all. Instead, there is a photo series of triangular glass pieces – the principal material element of her Abraaj commission – and the first of several colorful, translucent pullouts reproducing Begum’s triangular elements in the transient medium of paper.

Complementing these documentary photos is a single text that ruminates upon how color doesn’t exist independently but as an ever-mutable interplay of color with light and media (air, for instance, or water). Though the author’s thoughts reflect upon her “No. 695” very perceptively, the artist didn’t know this piece of writing before creating her work. The adoptive text is excerpted from the work “On Colors,” written by Aristotle in the 4th century B.C.

For more information the Abraaj Group Art Prize, see

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 18, 2017, on page 16.




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