The Abraaj Group announces an all women line up of winning artists and the curator for 2017 Abraaj Group Art Prize.

On 5 October 2016 The Abraaj Group announced the winning artist and shortlisted artists selected for the ninth Abraaj Group Art Prize. Art Radar takes a look at the recipients of the award.

Rana Begum. Image courtesy Rana Begum.

Rana Begum. Image courtesy the artist.

In 2017 the Abraaj Group Art prize, which awards mid-career artists from the MENASA region, will be in its ninth edition. The jury received a record number of applications from 61 countries this year, more than double the number received in 2015. Notably, this year’s winner and shortlist is comprised entirely of women artists. They include winner Rana Begum from Britain and Bangladesh, and shortlisted artists Doa Aly from Egypt, Sarah Abu Abdallah from Saudi Arabia and Raha Raissnia from Iran.

The winner receives USD100,000 to complete a “dream project” while the shortlisted artists each receive a contribution of USD10,000 towards the development of their art practice. The commissioned work by winning artist Rana Begum will be shown at Art Dubai in 2017 along with works by the other three shortlisted artists in an exhibition curated by winning curator Omar Berrada. In the press release, Berrada, who is the Director of Dar al-Ma’mûn, a library and artist residency in Marrakech, said of his plans for the exhibition,

After working with the Global Art Forum in previous years, I am delighted to return to Art Dubai as guest curator of the Abraaj Group Art Prize. As someone who is concerned with art infrastructure in the South, I am grateful to Abraaj for generously and consistently supporting artists in and of the MENASA region over the last nine years, providing a crucial platform for new productions and international exposure. Rana Begum, Doa Aly, Raha Raissnia and Sarah Abu Abdallah are four exceptional artists who were selected from a very strong pool of several hundred applicants. They are artists with very diverse backgrounds and practices, though I see fascinating echoes between their respective approaches, which I look forward to exploring further and articulating into an exciting and thought-provoking exhibition.

Art Radar takes a look at the recipients of the prize.

Rana Begum ‘No. 361 Fold’, 2013, Paint on lacquered mirror finish copper, 67x61x22 cm. Image courtesy Third Line Gallery.

Rana Begum ‘No. 361 Fold’, 2013, paint on lacquered mirror finish copper, 67 x 61 x 22 cm. Image courtesy The Third Line.

Rana Begum (Britain-Bangladesh) – Winner

Graduating from Chelsea College of Art and Design in 2002, and the Slade School of Art thereafter, Rana Begum has since been exhibiting her work globally. Her practice comprises of an intriguing mix of the Islamic art that she was immersed in from a young age and Western artistic traditions such as Op-art and Minimalism. The result is a series of tightly controlled and abstract compositions that lift off the wall as paper installations or sculptures. The colourful hard-edge lines of her works are coated in a thick layer of glossy resin, to create seductively tactile reflective surfaces, and reflective of another focus of her practice: the urban experience.

In more recent work, Rana draws inspiration from the codes of urban visual stimuli such as road signs, billboard advertising and hazard markings, fusing it irreverently with the Islamic, Modernist and Constructivist aesthetics that characterises her practice.

In September 2016 Rana Begum collaborated with musician Hyetal to produce a unique composition and installation for Parasol Unit during her solo exhibition “The Space Between”. The installation created an immersive and dynamic interplay between the elements of sound, light and colour. Begum said in the Abraaj group press release:

It is such an honour to win the Abraaj Group Art Prize. I have greatly admired the winning artists and works of previous years and consider it a privilege to follow in their footsteps.

Doa Aly. Image courtesy Doa Aly.

Doa Aly. Image courtesy the artist.

Doa Aly (Egypt) – shortlisted

Doa Aly was born in Cairo in 1976 and graduated from the city’s Fine Arts Academy in the city in 2001. Aly has worked as an art director and designer in Cairo, New York and Milan. Her academic training and experience in design has led her to develop an interest in ornamentation, body-image and movement. Her work explores individual versus communal modes of expression, the role of body image, and the ability to define and express individual independence. Her work is often based on short stories, epics, myths, folktales and medical manuals that speak of an intense struggle between control and consummation. In an ongoing series of pencil drawings, Aly compounds sketches of figures from dance history books with studies of human anatomy from the 20th century edition of Grey’s Anatomy.

Doa Aly, ‘Drawing#70’, 2011, pencil on paper, 39 x 27 cm. Image courtesy Doa Aly.

Doa Aly, ‘Drawing#70’, 2011, pencil on paper, 39 x 27 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Sequence Three-In Six Movements (Byblis and Caunus) is part of a series entitled Metamorphoses: The Sequences (2010-2013). Loosely inspired by supernatural tales of obsessive longing and desire from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Doa worked with non-dancers to develop an idiosyncratic, restricted vocabulary of a few gestures. Each performer enacted these gestures against an ethereal backdrop, while walking in a pattern designed by the artist.

Doa Aly, ‘Sequence Three-In Six Movements (Byblis and Caunus)’, film still, 2012. Image courtesy Doa Aly.

Doa Aly, ‘Sequence Three-In Six Movements (Byblis and Caunus)’, 2012, film still. Image courtesy the artist.

Sarah Abu Abdallah. Image courtesy Sarah Abu Abdallah.

Sarah Abu Abdallah. Image courtesy the artist.

Sarah Abu Abdallah (Saudi Arabia) – shortlisted

Sarah Abu Abdallah works primarily with video and film as a medium. She grew up in Qatif, Saudi Arabia, moving to the more liberal neighbour United Arab Emirates to study art, later completing an MFA in Digital Media at the Rhode Island School of Design. Her film Saudi Automobile (2012) explores the artist’s frustration at the ban on women driving. The action centres around a car the artist recovered having found it crashed by the side of a road. The project consisted of painting it pink.

Click here to watch ‘Saudi Automobile’ (2012) by the video on YouTube

She said in an interview with contemporary culture magazine:

Painting a wrecked car like icing a cake, as if beautifying the exterior would help fix the lack of functionality within the car. This wishful gesture was the only way I could get myself a car – cold comfort for the current impossibility of my dream that I, as an independent person, can drive myself to work one day.

After sweltering in her abaya under the hot sun, Abdallah finally retreats to the passenger seat, reflecting her place in Saudi society. For the 2014 exhibition “Soft Power” at the Middle East Institute in Washington DC, Abu Abdallah installed the painted car in the gallery space, further emphasising the limits of her rights to vehicle ownership. Her recent works deal with the act of covering; through photography and video she investigates different meanings the cover produces as it sheathes a subject.

Raha Raissnia. Image courtesy Raha Raissnia.

Raha Raissnia. Image courtesy the artist.

Raha Raissnia (Iran) – shortlisted

Brooklyn-based Raha Raissnia (b.1968, Tehran) works in “expanded cinema” whereby film, painting and drawing informing the other: footage shot on Super-8, 16mm, digital and even mobile phone is manipulated in the studio. Raissnia projects the footage onto paintings and screens, integrating found materials and additional film and digital imagery, and refilms the whole to yield densely layered celluloid films.

Raha Raissnia, 'Mneme (2-13)', 2015, 12 mixed media drawings, 41.3 x 59.4 cm. Image courtesy Miguel Abreu Gallery.

Raha Raissnia, ‘Mneme (2-13)’, 2015, 12 mixed media drawings, 41.3 x 59.4 cm. Image courtesy Miguel Abreu Gallery.

These films, in turn, are often screened superimposed with handmade slides or fashioned into film loops that Raissnia manually manipulates on projectors, which take on the role of instruments. One recent body of work, derived from video recordings of East Harlem street scenes, oscillates between keenly observed portraits, by turn stoic and vibrant, and the sublime nature that abstracted images achieve through texture and rhythm.

Raissnia often collaborates with musicians in the gallery space, who provides a soundtrack to her films. For example, Litany (2014) is accompanied by live sound from collaborator Panagiotis Mavridis’s handmade instruments. Other works such as Animism were also presented with live sound by electronic musician and composer Aki Onda.

Rebecca Close


Related topics: Grants, Art funds, Awards Ceremonies, Bangladeshi artist, Egyptian artist, Iranian artist, Saudi artist, New media, Photography, Resin, Video, News

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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