x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

In the Absence of Script at the Maraya Centre in Sharjah is a show of few words

In the Absence of Script is a group art exhibition in Sharjah that focuses on the 21st-century use of text and how it informs our lives.

Zainab al Hashemi's Crosswords: Puzzle of Life, part of In the Absence of Script. Courtesy Maraya Art Centre
Zainab al Hashemi's Crosswords: Puzzle of Life, part of In the Absence of Script. Courtesy Maraya Art Centre

How do you start a discussion about the language of text and the role it plays in our society without actually using script?

It sounds like a paradox, but a compelling art exhibition in Sharjah’s Maraya Centre this month tackles this conversation with a group show of five artists – four Emirati and one Indian – who have approached the concept in varying ways.

Perhaps the most experimental is by Walid Al Wawi, whose A Study of a Spoon is a video of the word “spoon” being written in pencil and then erased. The eraser pieces are then framed in large glass cases.

“Language is an indexical form of presenting objects but it is actually only a scribble. It is a human documentation on paper that only has meaning because we are aware of the context that we give it,” says Al Wawi. “Therefore, when you remove the word, it will still carry the context. The graphite that you have transformed by erasing is now on another surface and more randomised, but it is still a spoon because you have deemed it to be so.”

Although this idea is highly philosophical, it fits exactly with the concept of In the Absence of Script. Noor Al Suwaidi, the curator of the show, says she was trying to engage with text in a contemporary society.

She quotes Rudolf Arnheim, a German philosopher, for her curatorial statement: language is the “intellectual formation of a concept” and “words are a line or a figure that is a sketch conveying a likeness to an idea”.

The artists have taken this idea and interpreted it accordingly.

Salem Al Qassemi, a designer and artist who is fascinated with a lexicon that he invented called Arabish (a mix of English and Arabic), produced an interactive computer programme called Bilingual Scripting. Writing all the code himself, he used phonetic English and Arabic alphabets to produce a way to interact with the letters. “I was interested in how a culture can be influenced by the surroundings,” he explains.

Zaineb Al Hashemi, who was one of only a few Emiratis featured in the Sharjah Biennial last year, created a piece called Crosswords: Puzzle of Life. Intrigued by the idea that crosswords offer a grid for script and the prospective of possibility, she mapped out two empty puzzles with black-and-white squares to spell two Arabic words – “qader” (fate) and “hibr” (ink).

“The piece shows that, in life, we have choices and, although our fate is written in ink, our choices can affect that,” says Al Suwaidi.

In the centre of the gallery is Vikram Divecha’s Relocating Presence, which consists of pieces of an actual road and hanging black bin bags that represent the covers of road signs when the area is under construction.

“I am using this project to admit how I depend on these signs and, in a broader sense, on many things,” Divecha says. ”It goes back to my questions about my sense of location and I was questioning how a small shift, such as a covered sign, can change that.”

With its strong physical presence, Divecha’s work is the backbone of the show and is directly relevant in the urban environment that we all encounter in the UAE.

The final piece in the show is Alaa Edris’s video work, The Consumer, The Consumed, which uses the act of eating to show the everyday consumption of script and to highlight how it can become a thoughtless activity unless we remember to stay aware. She has carved the words “ignorance” and “wants” into two pieces of strongly flavoured bread that she then ingests.

These words, selected because Charles Dickens refers to them as the root of all evil in A Christmas Carol, held great symbolism for Edris, she says, because “in our current times, the basis of everything that goes wrong is because of ignorance and wants; we are ignorant but we want more.”

If you stop and take a moment the next time you encounter a word or a phrase in your life, then the show would have achieved its purpose.

• In the Absence of Script runs until March 5 at Maraya Art Centre, Al Qasba, Sharjah. Call 06 556 6555 or visit www.maraya.ae

aseaman@thenational.ae