x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Cultural calendar: Sufi history lesson through music

Our weekly round-up of cultural activities in the Emirates.

A work by Mamali Shafahi part of the group show IU Heart.
A work by Mamali Shafahi part of the group show IU Heart.

The strangest of this week's art events comes to the Mall of the Emirates on Friday. I read the press release about it and was, I admit, perplexed. Not that it was badly written, not at all. Merely, the things it described were quite hard to imagine. So I phoned up the event organiser and asked him what was going on. He spoke almost uninterruptedly for 15 minutes, clarifying certain details, sketching the history of his group and enlarging on the attractions laid out in the press release. The more I heard, the less I understood. I thanked him and hung up, and then fretted about how to write these next few paragraphs.

Allow me to attempt a description of the "unique Asian musical" Rooh-e-Ishq. It arose out of rehearsals held by Malhaar, which claims to be the UAE's first Indian music choir. The show will relate the history of Sufism, both in song and in theatrical interludes recounting the lives of four Sufi saints, Jalalud'din Rumi, Amir Khusro, Bulleh Shah and Kabir. There will also be poetry and paintings, the latter of which will have been created especially. In all, 45 artists and performers will contribute to the show.

The choir employs western harmonies but, according to its director Jogiraj Sikidar, "Indian texture". The choir's repertoire touches on both qawwali and Bollywood styles. There will also be an oudist and a player of an Indian instrument whose name I missed but which, I understand, is heard quite rarely these days. The performance will last for three hours. Patience is clearly a prerequisite. The Third Line's summer exhibition opens this week and it looks to be a good one. IU Heart is a group show by five of Iran's most exciting artists: Mahmoud Bakhshi, Shahab Foutouhi, Arash Hanaei, Mamali Shafahi and Vahid Sharifian. Its theme is the relationship between Iran and the US and the nature of Iranian identity in a globalised world, which is all very worthy but doesn't count for much if there's nothing interesting to look at.

Happily, the preview images suggest that this should the most visually punchy show that the gallery has staged in some time. Watch out for Shahab Foutouhi's Towards Salvation, in which plastic dragonflies are suspended in concentric circles around a pair of fluorescent lights resembling the World Trade Centre, a fascinatingly ambiguous take on the lure of the West. At Art Sawa, the Egyptian artist Wael Darwesh is showing Shrouded Memories, a series of paintings and collages inspired by the changing shape of Cairo. Darwesh takes a dense, sculptural approach to the canvas, building up layers of paint like Frank Auerbach and incorporating mixed-media elements to push out into the third dimension. On the 26th, he'll be appearing at the gallery to talk about the representation of the human body in art. Flicking through his portfolio, I gather he's for it.

Finally, Alpha Club celebrates its second birthday this week. On Friday, there's a gig from the Dub Pistols, a popular London dance collective who have been doing the rounds for the last 14 years or so. More excitingly for this aging ex-Mancunian, Saturday sees a DJ set from Gary "Mani" Mounfield, the bass player in Primal Scream and formerly in the Stone Roses. If Mani comes to your birthday party you must be doing something right.