x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Temporary art makes permanent impression

Work by Zayed University students is placing them at the forefront of the new wave of Emirati artists to come out of Abu Dhabi. But many are disappointed they will not get a wider audience.

Saleha Mohammed al Marzouqi, a Zayed University student, stands in her installation, entitled The Emirati Golconda.
Saleha Mohammed al Marzouqi, a Zayed University student, stands in her installation, entitled The Emirati Golconda.

ABU DHABI // Their work, intricately detailed and thought-provoking, places them at the forefront of the new wave of Emirati artists to come out of Abu Dhabi.

Three trees, created using hundreds of coloured nails, line a white wall. Hundreds of objects, designed to look like tiny, faceless Emirati men and women, hang from the ceiling of one of the corridors and were inspired by Golconda, a painting by the surrealist René Magritte.

But for all their efforts, the installations in the A World of Marks exhibition that have been painstakingly created by a small group of Zayed University students will be taken apart in less than a week. Their only audience is other students and faculty members.

"I feel bad because it's the first time I feel like I've produced something really big," said Hamda al Romaithi, 23.

In her third year working towards a visual art degree, Ms al Romaithi was given an entire room for her installation, which she calls India Through My Eyes. Enter the room, designed to resemble the interior of an Indian home, and an explosion of vivid oranges, pinks and greens greets visitors. Framed pictures of Indian celebrities and famous sights adorn the walls. An incense stick burns on a shelf, while crackly Indian music seeps out from an old radio.

In the middle of the floor, a young Indian woman - one of the workers at the university - studiously strings together small white flowers to put in her hair. For these workers, this is much more than just a piece of art.

"One day, I came here in the morning, and I saw one of the workers burning incense and taking part in some sort of ritual," Ms al Romaithi said. "I was really touched and wanted to cry, because for them it's more than art. They feel like they're in their home.

"This is something precious to them, and when I see their faces, I feel like my work has been a success. So it's really sad that it's just for the uni."

The success of Ms al Romaithi's biggest art project to date has resulted in an extension of the exhibit. But the little part of India she has recreated, she added, would have to come down on Thursday.

For all the artists, there is no longevity to these works.

Dr Rex Taylor, the associate provost, said it was not a problem that would occur again, as the university will gain space when it moves to its new campus in Khalifa City, in August. "These students are part of a new wave of Emirati artists who need nurturing so that they can break on to the international stage," he said.

The university has plans to open its own gallery at the larger campus.

"For the students in this exhibition, it's a pity that this new facility did not come sooner, because the pieces currently on view will have to come down."

It was a thought echoed by Dr Justin Thomas, an assistant professor of psychology at the university. "Each year, around June, it's like the campus just explodes with colour, beauty and meaning," he said. "It's kind of like a man-made spring, where the fertile imaginations of creative students have given birth to all manner of installations, artefacts and visuals."

Describing some of the installations as breathtaking, some as controversial and others with a touch of humour, Dr Thomas said it was a shame people outside the university would not be able to experience the work.

"This is truly an enriching exhibit that just seems to get wilder and more dazzling each year."

For the students whose work is still on display, the future is bright.

"We have a responsibility," said Salma Ali al Hashmi, a fourth-year graphic design student whose installation, a world of marks, is made up of 132 images created using ink, thread, and henna.

"Maybe before people didn't give the scene that much attention, but with Art Dubai and everything happening on Saadiyat Island, I think we really need to show ourselves," said the 20-year-old student.

"It's not like we're just showing foreign art. This is our country. We need to show people that we're here, and we kind of need to show our work off a little bit."