Considered to be a pioneer of Emirati contemporary art, Mohammed Kazem is one of the most watched talents of the country. We meet him ahead of his forthcoming Venice show.
The Emirati artist Mohammed Kazem to show at the Venice Biennale
On May 30, Mohammed Kazem will become the first UAE artist to represent his country at the Venice Biennale in a solo show. He has been developing his contemporary practice since the 1980s when, at the age of 14, he met Hassan Sharif, the nation’s first modern artist who was producing experimental installations and performance work – at a time when even the skyscrapers had not been built, let alone the whisperings of a contemporary art scene.
Now, in a leap of generations, Kazem’s multimedia work will show in Venice for six months and, closer to home, Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde (IVDE) in Dubai is showing a selection of his work in their latest exhibition, Poetics and Meanings.
Directions of Scale
Walk into Gallery IVDE and the first thing you’ll see is Scale. It is a large installation of many industrial devices – used for weighing meat at wholesale butchers – hanging from each other, with all the weight taken by only one.
“This concept is about all these phenomena happening in the Middle East and the Arab world at the moment,” Kazem says. “Everyone wants the power and it is pulling down on a few people.”
But on the gallery’s back wall is a collection of photographs of Kazem’s steps in the desert. They are part of the Directions series that he has been working on since 1999. Essentially, Kazem takes a GPS reading at every point where his foot falls and he collects various data as well as the actual material (sand or rocks) from where he was standing. He is keeping it for a larger installation yet to be realised.
The two pieces could not be more different, yet they summarise Kazem’s work. “I use two aspects in my work, objectivity and subjectivity,” he says. “Sometimes I raise a social or political issue and escalate it to a specific area; on the other hand, I have many pieces that are just related to my thoughts and the way I look at nature.”
Walking on Water in Venice
The show in Venice is presented under the title Walking on Water, which is actually the name of a piece Kazem conceived in Germany. The rest of the details are under wraps until the show opens. Talking about the work, Kazem is continually drawn to the story of his own development.
“In the 1980s, I was a painter and I was very influenced by Impressionism. Then in the 1990s, I was studying music and I started my Scratches series, which was a way of seeing and visualising sound. I was composing on the surface of the paper and I was searching for harmony.
“By 1999, I started with Directions, which is about existentialism about myself and where I am going. It is a continuing project, I will keep going with it until I die.”
In the rear area of the gallery, portioned off by a temporary wall, is a new work called Nurses. It is a pattern of coloured canvas squares, installed at random to form a larger square. He came up with the idea in Philadelphia when, on early morning walks, he used to see nurses dressed in a variety of bright colours.
“It is abstract but it is about the environment I was in and it is about the rhythm of life,” he says.
Kazem’s work is displayed in Gallery IVDE with a Belgian artist, Fred Eerdekens, who makes intricate wire sculptures that, when light is cast on them, reveal a reflection or shadow of text. The playful phrases lead the viewer around the gallery and give a poetry to the various mediums within. “Neither myself or Fred have a systematic way of displaying our work, so it works well together,” says Kazem.
• Poetics and Meanings will show at Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde in Alserkal Avenue until June 8
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