The show features new works by 10 UAE-based artists and is curated by Karim Sultan.

Selected artists are Amna Al Dabbagh, Cheb Moha, Chndy, Dina Khorchid, Farah Al Qasimi, Flounder Lee, Nasir Nasrallah, Saba Qizilbash, Salem Al Mansoori and Shaikha Al Ketbi.

"Ishara - Signs, Symbols and Shared Languages", at Concrete, March 2018. Photo: Musthafa Aboobacker. Image courtesy UAE Unlimited and Alserkal Programming.

“Ishara – Signs, Symbols and Shared Languages”, 5 March – 1 April 2018, at Concrete. Photo: Musthafa Aboobacker. Image courtesy UAE Unlimited and Alserkal Programming.

Speaking about the exhibition “Ishara: Signs, Symbols and Shared Languages”, which is now open to the public at Concrete (Dubai, UAE), curator Karim Sultan is drawing on the very cultural context surrounding the show:

In the context of the UAE, with its major port cities, this leads to an intrinsic interest in this mediated form of communication, where numerous languages are assembled together in trade, transportation, and interpersonal relationships.

Sultan has chosen the term “Ishara” for the name of the exhibition, which means “signs” in Arabic. He hopes to draw attention to the most basic tenet of communication – the signs, signals and markers – that make up the very foundations of language and linguistics. “A broader view incorporates body language and infrastructure, where signs create paths but also erect barriers, where appearances or dialects signal the existence of certain publics but preclude others”, Sultan states further.

The exhibition, which is organised by Alserkal Programming and UAE Unlimited, is now running at the first building to be completed by Rem Koolhaas’ Office for Metropolitan Architecture in the UAE.

"Ishara: Signs, Symbols and Shared Languages", exhibition view, March 2018. Photo: Musthafa Aboobacker. Image courtesy UAE Unlimited and Alserkal Programming.

“Ishara: Signs, Symbols and Shared Languages”, 5 March – 1 April 2018, exhibition view. Photo: Musthafa Aboobacker. Image courtesy UAE Unlimited and Alserkal Programming.

The building sits amongst the sprawling Alserkal Avenue complex, a contemporary arts and culture district that houses over 16 contemporary art galleries and 40 creative businesses. The district was established in 2007, and now serves as a platform for discovering the art and culture of the UAE.

The exhibition debuts new works by 10 UAE-based artists: Amna Al Dabbagh, Cheb Moha, Chndy, Dina Khorchid, Farah Al Qasimi, Flounder Lee, Nasir Nasrallah, Saba Qizilbash, Salem Al Mansoori and Shaikha Al Ketbi. Ranging from mixed media installations to photography, the exhibition shows a varied mix of contemporary artistic practices. Selecting the artists was no easy feat, with Sultan picking those who had “a tendency towards works that address the subject of communication”.

Oustanding works include Farah Al Qasimi‘s Everybody was Invited to a Party (2018), a video work inspired by a 1980s Arabic version of Sesame Street, entitled Iftah Ya Simsim. The work strips language and letters of their semantic associations, presenting them as objects without attached meanings. Searching for new opportunities between moments where communication fails, the work provokes thought about the visual and material elements of language itself.

Shaikha Al Ketbi 'Ath'thaniyah', 2018, video installation. Photo: Musthafa Aboobacker. Image courtesy UAE Unlimited and Alserkal Programming.

Shaikha Al Ketbi, ‘Ath’thaniyah’, 2018, video installation. Photo: Musthafa Aboobacker. Image courtesy UAE Unlimited and Alserkal Programming.

Shaikha Al Ketbi’s Ath’thaniyah (2018) is a beautiful video triptych, which stands isolated in the middle of an exhibition hall. Surreal and dream-like, the video depicts the artist in a desert setting up satellite dishes and other paraphernalia on wooden platforms. At some points, Al Ketbi overlays squiggles, lines and other shapes over her video, as though making references to obscure signs and symbols. As viewers follow Al Ketbi through her project in the desert, the poetic nature of communication is connected with its much colder, engineered reality as the satellite dishes take on a larger-than-life, monumental appearance on-screen.

In another reflection on communication and culture, Amna Al Dabbagh’s rich, luxuriously embroidered tapestry installation The Hanging Odes (2018) responds to the centuries-old oral traditions of the Middle East. In a more historical approach, Al Dabbagh took inspiration from the Al Mu’allaqat, a collection of seven pre-Islamic odes that were orally passed on from generation to generation. The Hanging Odes reinterprets these poems; by hanging them in a specific way, the poems are read differently, creating new meaning out of their words.

Amna Al Dabbagh, 'The Hanging Odes', 2018, embroidered tapestry. Photo: Musthafa Aboobacker. Image courtesy UAE Unlimited and Alserkal Programming.

Amna Al Dabbagh, ‘The Hanging Odes’, 2018, embroidered tapestry. Photo: Musthafa Aboobacker. Image courtesy UAE Unlimited and Alserkal Programming.

Saba Qizilbash’s Land Marks (2018) is an interesting take on the matter of language. Her work presents a unique point of view, commenting on the increasingly pertinent topic of border security. Qizilbash’s work is a series of small drawings, visualising border crossings, visa checkpoints and immigration procedures. Touching on the connections between language and accessibility, Qizilbash’s drawings attempt to map out the kinds of accepted language and their associated cultural connotations at different checkpoints of the world. Noting that entry to different nations are often lubricated by a more familiar-sounding spoken language, Qizilbash interrogates the politics of language in an era where border security is increasingly tied up with assumptions of perceived assimilation. Land Marks is an exercise in what Qizilbash calls “checkpointspeak”, or indicators that will get one from one side of the border to the other faster.

Dina Khorchid, 'Through a Trail', 2018, embroidered fabric. Photo: Musthafa Aboobacker. Image courtesy UAE Unlimited and Alserkal Programming.

Dina Khorchid, ‘Through a Trail’, 2018, embroidered fabric. Photo: Musthafa Aboobacker. Image courtesy UAE Unlimited and Alserkal Programming.

Navigating themselves through the often tricky terrain that is communication, the ten commissioned artists present a varied, multifaceted discussion of language and linguistics. Embedded within the workings of the exhibition is the model of mentorship provided by UAE Unlimited to the ten selected artists, who benefited from the guidance of three guest artists, Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian. The three guest artists conducted a series of reading groups, weekly discussions and curated settings meant to help the ten commissioned artists in the creation of new work.

Insightful and visually beautiful, the exhibition gives a good glimpse into the practices of emerging UAE-based contemporary artists. “Ishara: Signs, Symbols and Shared Languages” is an encouraging picture of developing talent in Dubai, underpinned by a strong visual arts community in the heart of Dubai itself.

Junni Chen

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“Ishara: Signs, Symbols and Shared Languages” is on view from 5 March to 1 April 2018 at Concrete, Alserkal Avenue, 73 6th St, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Related topics: Emirati artists, foundations, curatorial practiceevents in UAE

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Brittney

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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