Emirati art debuts in Berlin with a strong showing

By Ismail Sebugwaawo

Putting on a grand display, for the first time, a contingent of thirty of the UAE’s homegrown artists are showcasing their works at the Berlin Art Week. A chat with a few of the artists

In a first such display of Emirati art power at a prestigious venue abroad, 30 of UAE’s homegrown artists will be exhibiting their work under the banner ‘The Portrait of a Nation,’ at Berlin Art Week in September.

The exhibition that first premiered at the Abu Dhabi Festival 2016, is now part of the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation’s (ADMAF) programme of international events, and will travel to Berlin. From themes like national identity and unity, to discussions around tradition and heritage in one of the world’s most rapidly changing nations, the Portrait of a Nation exhibition, scheduled September 13 to October 29, will see more than 50 works exploring both the diversity of the UAE’s rural and urban landscapes as well as major issues such as identity, spirituality and language.

Khaleej Times spoke to some of the artists.

Salama Nasib, an emerging artist specialising in printmaking, created Her Patterns, an installation art piece. “I remembered how much I used to be fascinated by my mother’s choices of fabrics and patterns during my childhood,” said Nasib, 29, who is currently completing her MA in Print at the Royal College of Art in London.

“I still appreciate her selection of fabrics; hence, I decided to dedicate this idea to her. I created an installation piece of a laser-cut fabric, then took a number of those old patterns from the old photo albums and simplified them.” She hand-printed the simplified pattern on the fabric cutout to hang it from the ceiling using wires. “The inspiration came from a photo in which my mum was wearing a sari.

“I am so excited to be part of this international exhibition,” said Nasib, “It will give us a chance to present UAE artwork to the international community.”

Nasib has a Bachelor’s degree in Visual Art from Zayed University and has exhibited at local and international venues including Tashkeel and Emirates Palace, as well as at The Meridian International Centre in Washington DC.

Emirati Artist, Sarah Al Agroobi says her artwork was inspired by nature. “The Desert Rose is a unique blossom formation of sand clusters that can be found in the deserts of the UAE,” she says. “Its beauty lies in the harsh edges juxtaposed against its curvilinear form. It’s a crystallised work that looks like a rose.”

Her work is a visual representation of the different sands collected from across the seven emirates. “The rosette clusters show the geographical division between the cities through varying texture, colour and quality. They blend their adjacencies moulding together to create one unified structure,” says she.The 27-year-old Al Agroobi, is currently pursuing her MA at the Royal College of Art, London.

She said the Emirati participation in the Berlin exhibition was a great opportunity. “We live in a very political world. It’s good that people participate in things like art because it brings all people together.

“Emirati participation shows that we have a voice in the field of art. Such international exhibitions give us a chance to tell our stories through artworks.”

Al Agroobi is the recipient of several awards, including two Sheikha Manal Young Artist Awards. Her work has been featured in some leading design magazines such as ESTRO, ID and Close-Up and exhibited regionally and internationally.

Khalid Shafar contemporises traditional elements of UAE culture and design techniques. The 37-year old will showcase The Nomad at the Berlin exhibition. The concept was driven mainly from the construction process used in the old architecture of Al Arish, a traditional structure built from palm fronds. “The Nomad demonstrates how old structures can still be applied and be relevant in today’s architecture. I wanted to use the reference to Arish not from a purely aesthetic or stylistic perspective, but for function.

“I used African teak wood, a material that can be used for both indoor and outdoor structures,” said Shafar. “The seating and cushions are made of waterproof and sun resistant fabric.” The work was supported by Dubai Design District (d3) and Abu Dhabi Festival; the contemporary architectural reinterpretation of the Arish was the hit of London’s Shubbak Festival.

Says Shafar, “The UAE has been known for importing artworks and it’s important for us to also export ours to the international audience,” he said.

Shafar studied furniture and object design at Central Saint Martins in London and The Centre for Fine Woodworking, New Zealand. Since his first solo collection in 2011, he has established himself as a leading light of UAE design professionals.

For UAE artist Hamdan Buti Al Shamsi, 35, this is an opportunity to talk about culture, the changes and evolutions of his own society’s traditions. “This is a theme that can be traced throughout my works, with the changes and qualities of Emirati culture informing much of my practice,” said Al Shamsi who is a government sector employee.

He strives to delineate notions of existence and identity. These concepts segue with belief, cultural heritage and social histories in his eclectic collage, sculptural, digital media and photography works.

Al Shamsi has been working a lot with analogue collage and printmaking and wanted to push these methods further, developing them into assemblage. “Pottery thematically ties into my interest in tradition and evolving cultures. It is an important part of the history of traditional arts and crafts in the UAE.”

Art has always been part of Emirati culture and he believes an artist plays an important role in helping to define and shape society.

Al Shamsi is an alumnus of Campus ART Dubai, and has participated in shows including ADMAF’s Three Generations (2013–14), Emirati Insights (2015) as well as Past Forward: Contemporary Art from the Emirates, USA tour (2014).


Ismail is the father of two girls, Haulah and Faswilah. Find him chasing news stories in the capital

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