Abu Dhabi Art brings ‘Beyond Emerging Artists 2023’ and ‘Gateway: Maqam’ to Kochi, in partnership with Rizq Art Initiative and Kerala Lalithakala Akademi

Two exhibitions featuring works of artists from the United Arab Emirates will be held for the first time in Kochi, Kerala, from July 12 to August 15, Abu Dhabi Art, which works under the aegis of UAE government’s Department of Culture and Tourism, Abu Dhabi, has announced. The shows, ‘Beyond Emerging Artists 2023’ and ‘Gateway: Maqam,’ will be held at Kochi’s Durbar Hall. The first show, curated by art historian and publisher Morad Montazami, brings together works of Almaha Jaralla, Samo Shalaby, and Latifa Saeed that were also on display at this year’s Venice Biennale. ‘Maqam, which makes its international debut in Kochi, is a survey show of works by painter and multi-disciplinary artist Hashel Al Lamki, curated by Venetia Porter for Abu Dhabi Art’s annual Gateway art exhibition, which was launched in 2016.

The exhibitions are being brought to Kochi in association with Rizq Art Initiative (RAi), a new artistic space in Abu Dhabi led by Shafeena Yusuff Ali and Meena Vari, and Kerala Lalithakala Akademi. RAi, with its focus on artists from the Global South, provides a platform to both upcoming and established artists from the region to showcase their work and engage in global discourse about art and culture. Meena Vari, Chief Curator and Creative Director at RAi, said in a written statement: “At RAi, we actively enable a dialogue that intertwines the unique voices of the Global South with the UAE’s vibrant cultural tapestry. This alignment of international and local art practitioners promises to enhance the cultural conversation in Abu Dhabi and abroad, making the UAE an even more dynamic and inclusive artistic hub.”

Shafeena Yusuff Ali, founder of RAi and a Friend of Abu Dhabi Art (the body comprises people who are actively committed to supporting art and culture in the Emirate), said: “We are honoured to bring together this cross-cultural partnership to further solidify the deep-rooted socio-economic symbiotic relationship between our two regions. Art has a singular power to bring people, places, and stories together, and we believe in its strength to encourage dialogue and inspire. Bringing each of these amazing artists and their incredible practices to Kochi is a long-time dream coming to fruition. The artistic traditions of both the UAE and India are rich and vibrant, sharing values of creativity, community, and support for their artists.”

Meet the artists

The UAE has emerged as an artistic hub in recent years, fuelled by a combination of strategic investment, cultural initiatives, and its growing creative community. The government support has been instrumental in this transformation, with funding allocated to the development of world-class museums, art galleries, and cultural institutions. The opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2017, a landmark collaboration with France, marked a major milestone in the UAE’s expanding cultural landscape. It has leveraged its position as a global trade and tourism destination to attract artists, collectors, and art enthusiasts from around the world.

In addition to government-led initiatives, private sector investment has also played a great role. Art fairs like Art Dubai have become major international events, showcasing the work of artists from the Middle East and beyond. Galleries and art spaces have proliferated. In all this, the UAE’s commitment to nurturing local talent has also been a key factor in its emergence as the new art hub. Initiatives such as the Dubai Design District and the Abu Dhabi Art Hub have provided support and resources to Emirati artists and designers to develop their skills and reach wider audiences.

Almaha Jaralla: Routes to memory and cultural identity

Jaralla (centre in the photo above), who lives in Abu Dhabi and is part of the Abu Dhabi Art’s Beyond Emerging Artists (BEA) programme, is a conceptual visual artist. One of her recent shows, ‘Seham,’ focuses on the life of her grandaunt in 1980s Abu Dhabi. Through a series of mixed media works, she recreates scenes from family albums, capturing the changing social dynamics and architectural vistas of the time. Her art, which not only documents the rapid transformation of the UAE but also invites viewers to reflect on their own connections to place, memory, and cultural identity, has garnered attention in the international art world.

’Crude Memory,’ Almaha Jaralla, Venice Biennial

Her installation, ‘Crude Memory,’ presents “a fictional reenactment of the emblematic Al-Ruwais location near Abu Dhabi and its ghostly traces in the present.” The distinct architecture and housing of the 1970s and 80s, which betray the era of petro-modernity and cultural osmosis, also find their way to her work. “The intimate and domestic space comes across with the epic narrative of the oil industry and its economic quest. Investigating the ruins of such forgotten heritage, she particularly looks into the remnants of plants and gardens, through radiant landscapes and lost futures,” reads the artist’s note on her website.

Latifa Saeed: Fragility of Emirati landscape

Dubai-based visual artist Latifa Saeed (centre) received a Grant from the Misk Art Institute (Riyadh) and participated in the group show “Under Construction” at The Prince Faisal bin Fahd Fine Arts Hall in 2021. Also a finalist of the Richard Mille Art Prize hosted by the Louvre Abu Dhabi ‘Art Here’ in 2021, she participated in their group show “Memory, Time, Territory.” Recently, she took her work to Almaty, Kazakhstan where she held her solo exhibition, ‘Black Silhouette,’ curated by art historian, critic, and author Valeria Ibraeva.

Devils Dust, Latifa Saeed, 2023

In one of her installations, ‘Dust Devils,’ she offers a technological experience based on “a fundamental cosmogonic narrative and poetics of science”. A nod to the mysteries of nature and rooted in a cultural language that has evolved from the UAE’s distinct desert landscape, it organizes in three different devices: smoke machine, hologram and electro-magnetic. “Each translates an atmospheric phenomenon that can be experienced in the desert, through various whirlpools and tornadoes, when air, water, fire and earth come together. A reminder of the fragility and resilience of the traditional landscape in the critical age of Anthropocene,” reads the artist’s note.

Samo Shalaby: The folds of dreamscape

Dubai-based Egyptian-Palestinian visual artist Samo Shalaby’s installation’s ‘What Lies Beneath’ reveals to us “a theatrical and extravagant labyrinth of surreal visions — inspired by various art historical movements from the Renaissance and Baroque art to the Pre-Raphaelites and Symbolism, in a contemporary reappropriation.” In his paintings, photographs and jewels, he makes us partake in “a beginningless and endless visual carnival behind which lies a meditation on our multiple identities.” His dramatic use of curtains and metaphysical patterns of their folds ignite our imagination, drawing us into a dreamscape of his creation.

Samo Shalaby, Fantôme Fête, 2022, Acrylic on Antique Wooden Headboard

Hashel Al Lamki: The waves of change

Hashel Al Lamki explores the relationship between humanity and their environment through his paintings and sculptures. Growing up in Al Ain, he witnessed the rapid transformation of the Gulf region that inspired him to reflect on themes of migration, climate change, and evolution. Al Lamki creates pigments from natural resources found in the MENA region. He also actively engages with local communities, collaborating with artisans and organisations to promote sustainability and social cohesion.

‘Maqam,’ named after the residential neighbourhood of Al Ain where Al Lamki grew up, invites visitors to join him on his artistic odyssey. “Like the melodic compositions of the maqam in music — a traditional pattern of melodic elements — this exhibition weaves together Al Lamki’s past works and current creations, offering a comprehensive understanding of his artistic evolution and his ambitions for the future. Within this creative journey, the interplay between natural landscapes and human intervention echoes as a profound underlying theme,” reads the curatorial note.

Maqam, Installation view at Abu Dhabi Art November 2023. All photos courtesy of Abu Dhabi Art

Durbar Hall was formerly owned by the Maharaja of Kochi. In the present-day Art Gallery building, the Maharaja used to hold his durbar (princely court), hosting the finest artists, dancers, scholars, and musicians from across India. Its use by the Kochi Biennale has changed this historical edifice into a state-of-the-art contemporary art gallery. Since its inception in 2017, BEA has helped three new artists in the UAE develop their practice and create ambitious art projects.

The artists participate in a year-long programme of workshops and studio visits under the mentorship of a guest curator before displaying their works at the annual Art Fair in November at Manarat Al Saadiyat. According to Porter, Curator of ‘Maqam’: “It has been a joy and a privilege working with Hashel and Abu Dhabi Art on ‘Maqam’. I am thrilled that his beautiful and thought-provoking work will be seen by new audiences in the glorious setting of Durbar Hall Art Gallery in Kochi.”

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