by Dilpreet BhullarFeb 27, 2022
Located in the space between one of Dubai's leading art spaces, Jameel Arts Centre and the Jaddaf Creek, UAE's first open air art and sculpture park, Jaddaf Waterfront Sculpture Park, aims to bring together the diverse communities of Dubai through the medium of art and representing the idea of public space in the city. The park is a testimony to both the clear, stacked geometric lines of the centre's architecture and the ripples of the creek, which was an integral part of Dubai's commercial history and continues to remain a focal aspect of the city's evolving urban landscape. The park creators, ibda design, a UAE-based architectural studio founded by Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto, were intent on ensuring that their site-specific approach accommodated possibilities of social interaction with art, community engagement, and aesthetic aspects of the featured works. Rethinking the 20th century concept of the white cube, Al Awar in a conversation with STIR, said they wanted to offer flexibility for the 21st century artist to create, envisage, and install within the park and the park's water-ripple like, circular geometrical lines give them space to do so.
Al Awar points out that it was also very important for them to ensure complete public accessibility to the park while simultaneously being cognizant of the fact of how to do so in a private property containing expensive artworks without fencing or drawing physical boundaries around it. “We seamlessly brought in the public space into the park through methods such as continuity of the tiling from the surrounding public walkways, for instance,” he mentions.
Recognising the long-term impact of prevailing environmental conditions, the works featured in the park are exhibited on a long-term rotation. However, since the park opened in November 2018, there are a few pieces which form part of its permanent collection. Inspired by Cycladic sculpture and futurism, American sculptor Helaine Blumenfeld's Tempesta (2013) is one such work, the hard bronze sculpture a unique crossover between figuration and abstraction. Acclaimed for her large-scale public sculptures in a career spanning over five decades, her work being part of collections at places like Clare College, Cambridge and The Smithsonian, this Blumenfeld work is an immediately striking and commanding presence inside the park.
Al Awar recalls visiting the park and spotting a woman in a bathing suit and a Khaleeji woman in an abaya looking at and conversing with one another about the sculpture. “For me, this encounter between two women who otherwise may have had little in common being in dialogue over art embodied our vision for the park,” he says. Given that Dubai is a city home to people of diverse economic and ethnic backgrounds, Al Awar says that he wishes for the park to continue being an art public space that will bring people together and participate in a public dialogue irrespective of their backgrounds.
Another striking work also in metal is British artist Conrad Shawncross's Formation III: The Dappled Light of the Sun (2015). Wrought from weathering steel (an atmosphere corrosion-resistant form of steel), the work revolves around the natural patterns of geometry. Standing atop three tripods, the sculpture composed of thousands of tetrahedrons becomes even more interesting when considered in tandem with its title. Standing in a city where sunlight is a daily visitor throughout the year, the viewers find themselves questioning the multi-faceted nature of sunlight along with interrogating the idea of dappled light falling from this fantastical metal interpretation of a tree. The presence of trees surrounding the sculptures contributes yet another layer to the work's visual textures and perceptions.
The park flows around these sculptures along with artist and musician Hassan Khan's large scale multilingual musical artwork, Composition for A Public Park (2013), featuring multi-channel music and spoken narratives. The piece is particularly pertinent, given that it was especially composed for a public park, originally commissioned for the Parc de Belleville in Paris, as part of La Nuit Blanche (2013) and having shown later at the 57th Venice Biennale. Showing till May 27, 2021, Composition for A Public Park radically expands one's understanding of public artwork and how the work permeates the entire park through sound, language and music meshing together.
“Public urban parks are sort of brackets - when you step into one, the rules of daily life quiver for a moment and even if they are not completely suspended, they can recede into the background,” says Khan, adding that Composition for a Public Park wants to be a bracket inside of a bracket, a place where the visitor can maybe have a chance to, with both intimacy and distance, engage with what we are and what we share. Khan goes on to elaborate that “because it is a public piece, it of course needs to inclusively address as many people as possible. (The) failure to do so would be a betrayal of the works own ethos”. The fact that the piece runs in three most common languages spoken in Dubai: Arabic, English and Urdu, at the Park clearly exemplifies both the park and Khan's endeavors.
Finally, the exhibition space at Jameel Arts Centre enters the park through Iraqi artist Hiwa K's outdoor installation, One Room Apartment, which is part of the ongoing exhibition, Do You Remember What You Are Burning? The building installation wrought from unpainted concrete and featuring a flight of stairs among other details exemplifies new form of living that came to Iraq after the Gulf Wars along with a new political order and application of a global market company. It is a standalone piece that commands the viewer's attention irrespective of the fact that they have seen the exhibition or not. For those who have seen it, its presence in the open space powerfully brings alive many of the vital aspects of the exhibition while in my case, it impelled me to visit the exhibition to learn more about the artist and engage with the exhibition.
Jaddaf Waterfront Sculpture Park definitively allows new ways of exhibiting and seeing art in Dubai's urbanscape, particularly pertinent in the 21st century, where artists, gallerists and institutions are all experimenting with and redefining both these ideas. In a city which is synonymous with dynamism, the park and its featured artworks expand the notions of different kinds of public spaces in the city and the way the community can engage with it as well.