x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Women artists to showcase contemporary themes

First Art Exchange Program exhibition showcasing the works of 14 Young Emirati Artists.

Ala'a al Obaidly poses with her artwork 'The Propagandist' during an exhibition at the Dubai Ladies Club.
Ala'a al Obaidly poses with her artwork 'The Propagandist' during an exhibition at the Dubai Ladies Club.

DUBAI // Identity, religion and car accidents are the themes from a contemporary art exhibition by 14 female UAE artists at the Dubai Ladies Club today. The exhibition, A Collective Experience, was by artists who took part in the HH Sheikha Manal Al Maktoum Art Exchange Program, aimed at motivating young female artists in the Emirates and fostering a culture of art within the local community. The programme began in June with a weeklong visit to Switzerland where the women were given mentors, workshops and tours of museums in Basel and Zurich. The highlight of the trip was a visit to Art Basel, the world's largest contemporary art fair. Nazneen Shafi, one of the founders of the programme and the director of arts and culture at the Dubai Women Establishment, said the cultural collaboration with Art Basel was part of the process of nurturing the students' potential. "We selected strong artists with obvious potential who we can work with and provide support for through workshops and travel," Mrs Shafi said. "These women had to fulfil stringent criteria and then went through a rigorous selection process to become part of the programme." Ala'a al Obaidly, 22, a senior at the Sharjah College of Fine Arts and Design, featured her work, The Propagandist. The installation, which combines sound and video elements, features a woman's head wearing the niqab, propped on a pedestal. Ms Obaidly's installation was inspired by her trip to Basel. "During our trips to the museums, we noticed that people in Switzerland stopped looking at the art, and started staring at us - as if we were the art." Ms Obaidly's choice of name was also associated with the perception people abroad had of her and the other women. "When Westerners think of Arab women, they immediately think of the niqab and oppression," she said. The accompanying sound element for her piece features Ms Obaidly's own voice, and initially appears to be an Arabic conversation. "It is actually just a combination of Arabic words that don't mean anything," she said. "When we are in a non-Arabic speaking country, this is how people hear us. They hear us, but don't really understand us." Another piece on display was a modern interpretation of the mosque, titled Jumaa. It was a collaboration between graphic designers Noor al Khaja, 21, Nada al Mazroua, 20 and Hadeyeh Badr, 20, and an architect, Khulood al Ali, 19. The four are students at the American University of Sharjah. The modern architectural take on the mosque would be revolutionary, if implemented. It was inspired by a building at the Novartis campus in Basel, which was also a partnership between an artist and an architect. The women's prayer area is elevated and above the men's area, rather than in its traditional place behind it. "This way, the women can still see the imam, but the men cannot see them," Ms Ali said. "Mosques were always centres of social and intellectual gatherings, but mosque design didn't really evolve much to accommodate that function in recent time.'' The contemporary mosque does not rely on artificial lighting and the design incorporated a library, a reflective outdoor water feature for meditation, and a water conservation concept that can trap rain water and replace the ablution water as a result. While the project is still a work in progress, the women hope they will find interested investors to bring their design to life. Other exhibits include Fourteen Umbrellas, an introspective installation on the women's visit to Basel; Crash, a three-dimensional piece on car accidents in the UAE, which includes real footage of police being sent to car crash scenes; and Blended Culture, a photography and audio project on the UAE's complex demography and language. Mrs Shafi said the success of the art exchange programme could be measured by the content of the exhibition and the composite themes they convey. The exhibition will be open to the public today from 10am to 10pm at the Dubai Ladies Club on Jumeirah Beach Road. talramahi@thenational.ae