Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 November 2019

Kevork Mourad’s ‘Between Floating Worlds’ evokes limbo of migrant life

The exhibition at Dubai's Tabari Artspace shows the fears and optimisms of relocating

At the very top, Babel-like towers with cut-out windows twist in ink, casting shadows on the wall behind the cotton fabric. With calligraphic strokes, the towers flow down to form creased textiles. A human eye, a serpent’s scales and the feathery wing of an old deity peer out from the inky mass. All is kept together by rope. Someone is carrying this layered bundle, though only the hem of her skirt and her feet are visible. The load is evidently a heavy, burdensome one. Yet, one foot in front of the other, she perseveres.

Most of my work is inspired by migration, whether forced or voluntary, and the area that exists between cultures.

Kevork Mourad

The large, rectangular artwork is titled We take it as we go. The piece is part of Kevork Mourad’s solo exhibition Between Floating Worlds at Tabari Artspace, which opens on Tuesday, November 5 at Dubai International Financial Centre. The works are all painted on cotton fabric and feature a minimal amount of colour, if at all. Mourad brought the cotton fragments of his work from New York in a backpack, meticulously layering and framing them in Dubai ahead of the exhibition.

“Most of my work is inspired by migration, whether forced or voluntary, and the area that exists between cultures. With this piece, I was aiming to evoke that sense of trying to decide what to carry with you as you move from one country to the next,” Mourad said of the aforementioned artwork, “the history we carry with us, the strength it gives us and the burden it also imposes.”

Mourad is no stranger to the interzone that exists between cultures. Born in Syria, he went on to study painting and book illustration in Armenia before moving to California in 1999. He now lives in New York.

“Layers are an important component of my work,” he said. “It does best in representing memory, where every layer is a slice of time. Something we carry from where we have been towards where we are going. I wanted each piece to seem whole at first glance. Only upon closer inspection do the layers become more clear.”

Mourad’s process is an unconventional one. He begins by smudging ink on to a sheet of transparent acetate. Then, using whatever is at hand – from hotel keycards to tools he fashions himself – he draws calligraphic strokes in the ink. He presses the acetone sheet against a stretched cotton fabric and carefully cuts out the drawings before layering them in their final form, like a puzzle piece. His designs range from Sumerian and Babylonian influences to inspirations derived from Armenian architecture.

Kevork Mourad’s creative process includes smudging ink on to a transparent sheet of acetate, then drawing calligraphic strokes in the liquid and pressing the sheet on to fabric. Tabari Artspace
Kevork Mourad’s creative process includes smudging ink on to a transparent sheet of acetate, then drawing calligraphic strokes in the liquid and pressing the sheet on to fabric. Tabari Artspace

With his technique of spontaneous painting, he has performed, among others, at Brooklyn Museum of Art, Harvard University and Rhode Island School of Design. He was also a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, a collective of musicians and artists.

“I want the works in this exhibition to give a dreamlike impression. To seem familiar to viewers regardless of where they are from. I hope they reflect what they remember of their home towns or the countries they left behind.” Though the nightmarish elements of relocating from one place to the other are alluded to, Mourad said he also aimed to evoke optimism with each piece. “I believe human beings are inherently optimistic, despite the fears and uncertainties that grip us. Why else do we get out of bed every morning? Relocating is hard, no matter the conditions of our departure. Whether we are travelling for work, education or as refugees, we leave behind so much and have to nitpick what we take with us and within us. The grass is not always greener on the other side. But there is always the hope that we are moving to a brighter, more prosperous place.”

This is not the first time Mourad is exhibiting his work in the UAE. Earlier this year, he performed at Madinat Theatre in Dubai with the Syrian composer and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh. The hour-long performance A Home Within set his art and Azmeh’s music in counterpoint to one another. The audiovisual performance was inspired by the events in Syria. His film Four Acts for Syria, which he co-directed with Waref Abu Quba, has more than 30 of his works in animation. “Syrian history has been multicultural for centuries. This film is a voyage through Syrian culture until today’s insanity, trying to find hope for the Syrian people. Art has an important role in uniting people through empathy and understanding,” he said. The film was featured in a number of festivals and went on to win the Robert Bosch Stiftung film prize.

Mourad said his technique of spontaneous painting continues to evolve. He hopes to tackle on the problem of climate change in his upcoming work. “Artists should play an active role in the fight against global warming. It is vital we do not become ensnared in our safe zones and actively take part in trying to secure a better, greener future.”

Updated: November 4, 2019 06:48 PM

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