The Seat of Perception
One of the more curious additions to Ayyam Gallery’s roster, Walid El Masri has long had a contemplative fascination with the chair. Scratchily wrought paintings of straight-backed chairs and rockers seem to drift off the edges of his canvases. Below that, we see a monochromatic void – occasionally shot through with arbitrary whips of paint – leading down to a gaseous blot of paint that acts as a reference point of perception in the piece.
El Masri’s work is more a play of colour and perspective than anything too cerebral. Ayyam says that this voluminous void at the bottom of his canvases is, for the artist, a space in which one can forget everything. By repetitively painting an object with little emotive significance, the artist’s way of working seems Zen-like in character and an exploration into the simple question of perception: why something is pleasing to the eye.
• Until December 31 at Ayyam Gallery
Conflict, war and the ordinary lives that get dragged into the fray are subjects synonymous with the lens of the American photojournalist Steve McCurry. From a Yemeni boy decked out in yellow Aviators, khanjar and Kalashnikov, to the piercing grape-green eyes of the Afghan girl who found her way onto Time magazine’s most iconic cover, McCurry’s images have become a portrait of the way that war intersects with day-to-day life in the modern world. But the collection of McCurry’s work currently at The Empty Quarter is an insight into some of the more exuberant scenes that the photographer has captured in the last 30 years.
While several of his startling and famous images are there, we also see the packed bridges over the foggy Yamuna River around Allahabad, as the Kumbh Mela – the largest human gathering on Earth – swells with people. There are stilt fisherman waiting for their catch in Sri Lanka, and a group of Kuchi nomads settling down to pray before the burnished mountains outside Kandahar.
• Until January 10 at The Empty Quarter
Adel El Siwi
Rolling on through to the new year, this sizeable look over the past few years in Adel El Siwi’s work includes several good portraits by the Egyptian painter. Among them, the diptych Homage to the Women of Mahmoud Saed (2011) is a wry paean to the too-often overlooked portraits by the titular 20th-century Egyptian artist.
In El Siwi’s homage, we see curvaceous female figures typical of Said’s works, yet rendered with loping lamb-like ears and faces. There’s something sacrificial in this connection, as if El Siwi is commenting on the disappearance of Said’s more body-orientated works in the estimation of the modern master in the region.
The newer pieces here, including Woman with Baboon made this year, show El Siwi really pushing his work in a much tighter direction. Against those alien-headed beings from his 2004 series, these recent pieces are far more alluring and hold a greater mystery for their simplicity.
• Until January 7 at Artspace
The second edition of the International Emerging Artist Award is still accepting applications. Supported by Sheikha Wafa Hasher Al Maktoum, the competition is open to contemporary artists from around the world and features two categories: one for Emiratis and one for foreigners. All types of media are accepted. The submission deadline is December 31 and the prize is an international exhibition roadshow that will take the winning artist’s work to galleries in Dubai, Singapore, Istanbul and Marseille. For details, visit www.emergingartistaward.com.