Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 July 2019

Tashkeel's summer exhibition: celebrating an incredible decade of achievement

A hundred works, 58 artists and 29 nationalities, why the 10th Made in Tashkeel is the best one yet

'Entanglement' (2019) by Joanna Barakat. Courtesy Tashkeel
'Entanglement' (2019) by Joanna Barakat. Courtesy Tashkeel

If you thought the UAE arts scene was shutting up shop for the summer, you thought wrong. The annual Made in Tashkeel exhibition has always been an opportunity to gauge the status of current art-making. This year’s show, Tashkeel’s 10th, has a record 100 new artworks by 58 artists working in the UAE. “It is our most diverse summer showcase yet,” says Lisa Ball-Lechgar, deputy director of Tashkeel.

What feels especially significant is not the 29 different nationalities or the range of disciplines, but that the exhibitors cover a broad age range – from 15 to 70 – and have spent various amounts of time living and working in the UAE. And this art community is clearly working closer together today.

Artists Christopher Osbourne and Lia Staehlin pose next to their works. Staehlin designed 'Coco Ring', which she wears in the photo taken by Osbourne hanging on the left 
Artists Christopher Osbourne and Lia Staehlin pose next to their works. Staehlin designed 'Coco Ring', which she wears in the photo taken by Osbourne hanging on the left. Courtesy Tashkeel

Many of the works on show are a result of a collaboration. Graphic design professionals (and Tashkeel instructors) Khalid Mezaina and Mohammed Al Shaibani have come together to create the comic Saturdaze. Sahar Bonyanpour and Zohre Shahzedi’s Open Road is a tote bag developed from sustainable materials. Jewellery designer Lia Staehlin’s Coco Ring sits alongside a photograph taken by Christopher Osborne of her wearing the ring. Maitha Hamdan has worked with photographer Nora Al Rumaithi to create black and white photographs in homage to her grandmother. While Alia and Maitha Demithan have collaborated with their aunt, artist Hind Bin Damaithan Al Qemzi, to produce an interactive work called Connected.

Embedded in Tashkeel’s philosophy and found throughout its programming is mentorship. Manifested in many ways, it is a crucial component of the Critical Practice Programme, which matches practitioners with mentors. Works by two artists involved in the current cohort face each other in the first space of the exhibition. Abandoned Places by photographer Jassim Al Awadhi, who is widely credited as being the first professionally trained photographer in the UAE, sits opposite playful photographic prints by artist and mentee Silvia Hernando Alvarez from her series The Little Traveller. The series experiments in creating imaginary scenarios inspired by space travel. “What I like about Tashkeel is that in the photo studio or in the darkroom, conversations happen about technique or different approaches to photography. I get inspiration from other members; we have a lot of conversations about art. That’s why it’s nice to have a multidisciplinary space,” she says.

'Untitled' (2018) by Jassim Al Awadhi. It's a concave rounded piece of iron, 40 cm wide in diameter. 
'Untitled' (2018) by Jassim Al Awadhi is one of the pieces on show. It's a concave rounded piece of iron, 40 cm wide in diameter. Courtesy Tashkeel

Alongside a piece called I cannot see what is not there is an unframed collage and acrylic work by Brazilian multimedia artist Fabiola Chiminazzo, who moved to Dubai from Brazil and had “never had the experience of a communal art space before”, she tells The National. “Having a studio of your own is lovely, but sharing ideas and working with other artists is essential, especially when you are a newcomer.

Tashkeel was a pleasant surprise, a stepping stone in my artistic development.”

Chiminazzo’s complex artworks bring in several narrative themes – a couple stand alongside a tree and architectural features, and it is unclear if they are inside or outside. In the foreground, a giant arm seems to be turning a yellow beacon. “In a work of art, everything happens at the same time,” Chiminazzo explains. “My purpose is to materialise memory and archive its traces and symbols.”

The works in the exhibition explore various themes, from the self and its often troubled surroundings to Rumi’s poetry and nature. Ball-Lechgar says these themes tend to arise in the midst of hanging the show. One room, for instance, displays works focused on psychosis. ­Alexandra Troy, 15, presents an obscure piece of work. The protagonist in Cultivation (she asked her Instagram followers for title suggestions) is an unhappy middle-aged woman watering a rib cage in a field of corn with a skeleton scarecrow and a red kite flying high in the too-blue sky.

'Liberation' (2018) by Behnoosh Feiz. 
'Liberation' (2018) by Iranian artist Behnoosh Feiz is made up of 473 strips of paper covered with handwritten verses of poetry by Rumi. Courtesy Tashkeel

Elsewhere a spectacular installation called Liberation by Iranian artist Behnoosh Feiz was a talking point on opening night. The detailed piece is made up of 473 strips of paper covered with handwritten verses of poetry by Rumi.

Another piece inspired by the 13th-century poet is Yosra Emamizadeh’s Introspective Tree, which incorporates Rumi’s poetry and plant leaves, taking as its subject a self-portrait in a familiar yoga pose. “In this series, I explore self-discovery and finding inner peace and understanding,” says Emamizadeh, who moved to Dubai less than a year and a half ago. “I am very interested in exploring topics about womanhood, identity and spirituality.” She describes an early love of drawing with colour pencils, becoming stricter by academic training in Florence.

There are also clear influences of Islamic and Persian design – “now I like to combine them, creating playful pieces that resonate with me and tell a story,” Emamizadeh says. She describes having an immediate connection to Tashkeel: “Being around artists and engaging in conversations and collaborations brings me closer to their art and also inspires me in my own practice.”

Anna Shtraus’s landscape photographs are accompanied by poems. Driving in the Rain (Burak Dam, Sharjah) and Reaching Further (Shuweihat Island, Abu Dhabi) are vibrant images, printed on Tashkeel’s digital printers using museum-grade paper and inks.

'Driving into the Rain' (2019) by Anna Shtraus. 
'Driving into the Rain' (2019) by Anna Shtraus is one of the artist's images printed on museum-grade paper and inks provided by Tashkeel. Courtesy Tashkeel

Ball-Lechgar points out an info graphic installed at the end of the exhibition, created by Tashkeel’s senior graphic designer Ibraheem Khamayseh, who also has a work in the show. It both tells of an incredible decade of achievements and explains visually the relationship between the works on display and the state-of-the-art facilities on site, which helped many come to fruition.

'Grand Space' (2019) by Michael Arnold
'Grand Space' (2019) by Michael Arnold includes calligraphic elements for which he sought the help of Wissam Shawkat. Courtesy Tashkeel

When American painter Michael Arnold was finishing his masterpiece Grand Space, a wonderfully evocative depiction of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, he was struggling with the calligraphic elements. The solution came from seeking the advice of Wissam Shawkat, a calligrapher who has shown frequently at Tashkeel. This kind of fluidity between nationalities, painting styles and subject matter is what makes an artistic community respond and grow.

When I arrived in Dubai nearly 13 years ago, a frequent complaint was that there were few opportunities for international artists in Dubai to show their works. Tashkeel proves how much the UAE art scene has changed for the better.

Made in Tashkeel runs until September 10 in Dubai

Updated: June 27, 2019 12:28 PM

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