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Curator Maya Allison sheds light on the UAE’s color-filled pavilion at 2022 Venice Biennale

DUBAI: Nine years after the UAE gained its independence in 1971, the Emirates Fine Art Society was formed by the first generation of contemporary artists to pioneer cultural activities in the country. One of its experimental members is Emirati land artist Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, born in 1962, who will be the sole exhibiting artist at the Venice Biennale’s UAE pavilion in spring 2022.

“Between Sunrise and Sunset” is the title of the upcoming exhibition, which will reunite Ibrahim and Abu Dhabi-based curator Maya Allison in a fifth artistic collaboration. “He’s doing something that I really haven’t seen any other artist do,” Allison told Arab News. “He’s extremely rigorous in his practice as an artist. What looks like a very intuitive, childlike process has underneath it many years of reading and research and thinking about what the nature of art is.”

The exhibition is curator Maya Allison in a fifth artistic collaboration. Supplied

Opening April 23, the exhibition’s installation will take pavilion viewers through a visual journey of the artist’s human-sized and organic sculptural forms, made of paper mache and cardboard, transitioning from black and white to bright colors and vice-versa. It is inspired by Ibrahim’s personal experience of growing up in the Emirati port town of Khor Fakkan, where he encountered time and again a particular notion of light and color in the area’s rocky nature.

“He was born and raised in Khor Fakkan, which has Al-Hajar Mountains behind it,” explained Allison. “Those mountains block the sunset, so that when the sun rises over Khor Fakkan, it’s very colorful and bright. In the middle of the afternoon, the sun goes behind the mountains and there’s just a giant shadow cast across the town. You just move into shadow and the world starts to feel more black and white. That movement is what he’s kind of referring to what you’ll see in the exhibition: the movement from morning till afternoon is very dramatic.”

The installation will take pavilion viewers through a visual journey of the artist’s human-sized and organic sculptural forms. Supplied

Ibrahim is also known for his symbol-filled paintings, draped in vivid color. In his sculptural work, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to his use of colored material. “As a child, he would try to imagine what the sunset looked like from the other side of these mountains. Of course the sunset is very colorful, but he is not able to see it,” said Allison.

“This fascination with bright colors that you see in some of his work is in part related to this sense of depravation from the colors of sunset. I think it’s a very nice outcome — he made the colors that he was missing in that part of the day.”

This year’s iteration of the Venice Biennale is being held under the theme “The Milk of Dreams,” derived from a book by 20th century surrealist artist Leonora Carrington. “One of the core elements of the theme is metamorphosis and the human-landscape relationship. Those two elements are very crucial to his work,” said Allison. “His work is right in that intersection where I think of the moment where nature becomes culture.”


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