A French street artist's polka-dotted photo booth at Manarat Al Saadiyat has produced 15,500 shots of visitors over the past four months.
Emirati Expressions photo booth steals the show
The days leading up to the close of Emirati Expressions next Saturday are the last chance to catch a glimpse of a generation of local talent and see the fruits of their three-month workshop with Stephen Shore, one of America's contemporary masters in photography.
Open since October, the exhibition has welcomed luminaries from the international art world during Abu Dhabi Art (including the American artist Jeff Koons, who gave an appreciative nod to work by Mira Al Qaseer, saying "It is a piece I'm going to carry with me"), more than 2,500 students from 20 institutions, and countless members of the public.
But there has been one polka-dotted cube that, at times, stole some of the limelight. The French street artist JR, known for the abrasive black-and-white, photographic portraits that he slaps up on walls in cities around the world, collaborated with the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) to build a photobooth in the foyer of Manarat Al Saadiyat for the opening of the Emirati Expressions exhibition.
Designed to near-replicate the tone, scale and brazen style of JR's images, the booth has spat out a formidable 15,500 shots of visitors over the past four months. That's almost 20,000 metres of photographic paper consumed by this four-sided powerhouse.
Those snapped were encouraged to paste their mugshots up in the corridors of Manarat Al Saadiyat, or in the garden outside. This, as might be expected, had some hilarious consequences: aside from one or two miscreants who felt the need to express themselves gesturally, shall we say, there were also a few eyes-half-shut, one or two confused people and many who seemed to think they were in a police line-up.
No matter. At the height of its popularity, JR's photo booth was producing 600 images in an evening, or one a minute.
The National headed down to Manarat Al Saadiyat last week, and met some of the people getting snapped. Franco Binasi, a tourist from Sardinia, said: "It is a nice idea. I want it to be my bedroom photo." To which his companion, Patricia Sechi, retorted: "No, no ... Maybe in the bathroom!"
Fahed Altenaigi, an Emirati eighth-grader from Al Bateen Secondary School in Abu Dhabi, told us it was his first time at an art exhibition. "It's fun to show your face to other people," he said, though he did add: "I look kind of weird."
But visitors also remarked on the merits of Emirati Expressions. Brooke Gregory, an arts teacher at Fahed's school, said: "It is great for students because they can see something local, and some of these photos are from close to where they live. That can inspire them."
JR's photobooth remains with TDIC after the exhibition finishes. We asked Tairone Bastien, the public programmes manager, what happens to the many images posted that visitors have not taken back for their bedroom walls.
"To remove the works pasted at Manarat Al Saadiyat, we need to cover them with water as the glue is water-soluble, so the pieces will not be salvageable," he replied. "As always, we will endeavour to recycle and urge the thousands of visitors who have taken their images home to do the same."
But this is not the end entirely for these mugshots. They will be immortalised and archived at www.insideoutproject.net. Get down to Manarat Al Saadiyat by January 28 to get your face in there.