My art is influenced by the landscape and history of Al Ain, says Ahmed Al Faresi
The history, archaeology and landscapes of Al Ain have had a profound impact on Ahmed Al Faresi, a contemporary artist who teaches information security at UAE University in the “Garden City”. The 37-year-old Emirati’s most recent exhibition was a solo show at Emirates Palace titled Ancient Smoke, which was inspired by the UAE’s strong cultural tradition of incense. He tells The National why Al Ain is a constant source of inspiration to him, and how simple academic techniques inform his art.
How would you describe your artistic style?
I have an academic approach to art. My artwork is usually a narrative of religious events, scientific theories, archaeological discoveries and historical accounts.
How do you take inspiration from the landscape of Al Ain?
I was born and raised in Al Ain, but I did not appreciate the city until recently. I spent almost 13 years in the United States, and when I came back to Al Ain, I saw it from a totally different perspective. I appreciated the fact that it is one of the few places on Earth that has been continuously inhabited since the Stone Age. I am fascinated with the fact that humans inhabited this area and created a clever irrigation system for their palm-tree plantations. Also of interest is the discovery of two houses from the Abbasid era on the construction site of Sheikh Khalifa Mosque. Over the past two years I have spent so much time outdoors excavating the landscape, where I found some pottery shards from the Bronze Age similar to what is currently being exhibited in Al Ain national museum. Moreover, living in Al Ain allows me to discover interesting materials that I can use in my art; materials that will otherwise be hard to find in cities such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Definitely my art is influenced by the landscape and history of Al Ain.
Your most recent show was in Emirates Palace. How did that come about?
This was my first solo show and was the result of two years of hard work. I was privileged to have Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, inaugurate this exhibition. In the past I have exhibited my works for the International Emerging Artist Award at Dubai International Art Centre, World Art Dubai Fair, and Portrait of a Nation exhibition by Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation.
For Ancient Smoke you chose to focus your artwork on incense. Why was that?
Incense is rooted in the Gulf Arabian culture as many Emirati households still burn oud and frankincense on a daily basis. I found out that many cultures use incense in their religious rituals, and I wished to explore this phenomenon in my latest exhibition.
In this exhibition you describe each piece of art as being made up of components such as happiness, love, hurt and other emotions. Why is that?
Coming from an academic background, I am accustomed to the use of metadata [keywords] when publishing papers. It allows others to search for papers of interest. So I applied this method when describing my artwork. Each artwork for me has a meaning based on my perspective, and I translate these meanings into keywords. By doing so I am encrypting the messages in the artwork and demanding that the viewer reconstruct his or her own interpretations.
Why do you use antique objects such as guns and masks in your work?
To engage the audience in the artwork’s narrative, I rely on placing antique objects and artefacts that have a reference to the subject matter within the artwork itself. I refer to this technique as “AntJuxArt” (the juxtaposition of antiques and art). This methodology allows me to resurrect the artefacts and antiques from a dimensionless placement to one that provides a perspective.