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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Emirati artist Sara Al Haddad: 'I feel like my work is the comma'

Her new exhibition Forget (,) to Remember explores memory, reality and all the slippage in between

A detail of ‘forget to remember’, crocheted embroidery thread and pen and paper. Photo by Altamash Urooj
A detail of ‘forget to remember’, crocheted embroidery thread and pen and paper. Photo by Altamash Urooj

To grammar pedants, the comma in Sara Al Haddad’s exhibition title might strike an uncomfortable chord. It is bracketed, causing the mind to jar as it tries to process what the title means, while the brackets draw extra attention to the small punctuation mark. However, the comma has a very specific purpose: to embody what the artist sees as being the experience of viewing her work.

“At this point I feel like my work is the comma,” says Al Haddad. “That comma sits in between one feeling and another, it is small and quiet, but it allows us to process large and sometimes overwhelming emotions. Perhaps that comma signifies the time spent inside the exhibition.”

Forget (,) to Remember is the artist’s third solo show in Dubai, her first since 2013, and she has been represented in many group shows both here and abroad in the past few years. Last year, she was picked as one of the artists to represent the UAE at the ­Venice Biennale at the National Pavilion exhibition – Rock, Paper, Scissors: Positions in Play.

Emirati artist Sara Al Haddad. Courtesy Marwuh Al Haddad
Emirati artist Sara Al Haddad. Courtesy Marwuh Al Haddad

Her practice often confronts her insecurities, doubts and fears through artworks that reveal vulnerability in a delicate manner. Her titles reflect an interest in language as a tool for understanding life. For this exhibition, she chose word play to address the slippery subject of memory. “There are many possibilities as to how to interpret this title,” she says. “Perhaps it is about forgetting so you can remember, or maybe you forget that you have forgotten. Also, each time you think about this, you reach a different outcome.”

That is also how Al Haddad sees the process of viewing her artworks. They are deliberately indefinable objects made of lightweight and fragile material such as cotton thread or nylon stockings juxtaposed with the solidity of concrete or stone.

'The ebb and flow of how to process things'

“I am interested in creating objects that can enter into your subconscious,” she says as we both grapple to find the words to describe the floaty, ethereal baby-pink pieces of crocheted yarn that comprise her work titled forget to remember. Hanging from small hooks affixed at shoulder height, the material of the pieces seem to me like scraps of dreams excavated and exposed to an audience. Al Haddad chooses to describe them as emotions. “To me, each object is a feeling as well as an acceptance of that feeling,” she says. “Through them, I revisit my thoughts, memories and process my own emotions.”

‘i am trying’ made with crocheted yarn. Photo by Altamash Urooj
‘i am trying’ made with crocheted yarn. Photo by Altamash Urooj

Perhaps then, they are supposed to embody memory itself. But then, the second part of the same work points to an interrogation of human agency. A grid of small paper sheets hangs opposite. Each one documents the timeline of the crochet pieces and so, acts as a calendar to map the artist’s process. The precision of documentation speaks of something much more controlled.

“I think a lot of my work questions notions of control, even though it might not be initially obvious,” she says. “I am interested in the ebb and flow of how to process things but also decision and control.”

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Experimenting with soft and hard materials

The area between seemingly opposing forces is something that underlines most of Al Haddad’s art. The work in this show feels whimsical and light, but it deals with personal and bold content and it is all informed by the layers between memory and reality.

“My work is certainly about the spaces between, layers and projections,” she agrees. “It is also about leaving a space open for the viewer. The process of making and the sequence of events that go into each work is important, as that is what you bring to it when you see it.”

She has been experimenting with soft and hard materials. In her remembering(s) series, small pebbles have been wrapped in pieces of black nylon stockings and gathered together in nebulous clumps that stand out bold from the white wall in front of which they are hung. To me, with the conversation about the comma still fresh in my mind, the largest piece – a black downwards gesture – appears to be the comma itself.

‘remembering(s)’, crafted from fabric, stones and thread. Photo by Altamash Urooj
‘remembering(s)’, crafted from fabric, stones and thread. Photo by Altamash Urooj

“I like to think of my work as living moments or living things, because as you experience them, they change and there is never one way of looking at them,” explains the artist, as I offer my theory to her. “Even to me, the way I experience them changes every time I see them because they are about feelings, and feelings change.”

The intimacy of the works here is something that stays with you as a viewer, it is almost if we are getting a glimpse into the inner workings of Al Haddad’s own subconscious. And, if you allow yourself to enter into the space that the comma creates, maybe you will have a chance to access your own subconscious, too.

Sara Al Haddad’s Forget (,) to Remember is at Cuadro Fine Art Gallery, DIFC, Dubai, until November 6. For more, visit www.cuadroart.com