x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Familiar faces

Ahead of the group art show Emirati Expressions, the public is invited to become part of the art by getting a poster-sized photo of their face on thw wall at Manarat Al Saadiyat.

Since Saturday, a massive photo booth has been churning out poster-sized photos of the UAE public to create a buzz ahead of Emirati Expressions.
Since Saturday, a massive photo booth has been churning out poster-sized photos of the UAE public to create a buzz ahead of Emirati Expressions.

A new public art piece on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi is allowing the bold, and occasionally beautiful, to really get their faces out there.

Since Saturday, a huge photo booth at Manarat Al Saadiyat has been churning out black-and-white, poster-sized mugshots of the UAE public. The idea: step in, get snapped and then paste your face directly on to the walls at the entrance of the exhibition space.

This initiative has been set up to attract a buzz ahead of Emirati Expressions, a group show of ten emerging local artists, due to open at Manarat Al Saadiyat a week from Wednesday, on October 19. The booth is the work of the French street artist JR and was previously situated in the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Keeping an enigmatic distance from the public eye - never revealing his real name and rarely doing interviews - JR has become known for creating instantaneous, abrasive black-and-white photographs of people in cities that he then pastes up directly on to walls around town. JR has often used this graffiti-esque aesthetic to provoke citizens into facing some of the flipside realities in the urban space around them. In 2007, for instance, JR worked on Face2Face, which saw the artist snap huge photographs of Israelis and Palestinians and then paste them up on either side of the separation barrier.

The booth in Abu Dhabi, despite being automated, spits out photographs that are remarkably in keeping with JR's style of portraiture.

Both Emirati Expressions and the photo booth are initiatives of the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC). In previous years, Emirati Expressions has been an exhaustive roundup of UAE talent - an open-call exhibition that attracted a vast number of artists. This year, things are a little more focused, with Afra Al Dhaheri, Afra Bin Dhaher, Alia Al Shamsi, Ammar Al Attar, Fatima Al Yousef, Hadeyeh Badri, Lateefa Bint Maktoum, Maitha Demithan, Mira Obaid Al Qaseer and Salem Al Qassimi participating.

The six Emirati photographers have taken part in an extensive series of workshops this summer with the American photographer Stephen Shore, best known for turning his lens to the desolate, limitless highways that criss-cross backwater America. Flown over to the UAE, Shore has tried to provoke dialogue among the country's emerging talent about how art can develop its own culturally relevant voice. This, according to the artist, is all the more pertinent with photography as the medium can often impose itself on a subject, making it even more difficult for a budding photographer to carve out their own individual style.

How successful these workshops were remains to be seen, but the process of creating an artwork has been stressed throughout, with an onus put on how an image is produced rather than the final product.

The final show is spread across 10 individual gallery spaces, with artists Mohammed Mandi, Faiza Mubarak, Sheikha Wafa Hasher Al Maktoum, Hala Al-Ani, Riem Hassan and Firas Bardan involved in branding and crafting the visual identity of the exhibition. The Emiratis will display their work alongside pieces by Stephen Shore and JR, as well as a selection of new works by the photographer Tarek Al Ghoussein, commissioned by TDIC, a Palestinian artist who also teaches at the American University of Sharjah.

The photo booth is now installed in Manarat Al Saadiyat, open between 10am and 10pm. Emirati Expressions runs in the gallery from October 19-January 28, 2012. www.artsabudhabi.ae