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UAE-based artists re-imagine the future with Speculative Landscapes, in Abu Dhabi

This exhibition at the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, curated by Maya Allison, is showcasing the imagined environments of four artists, offering a glimpse into the UAE and the region.

by Sukanya Garg Oct 08, 2019

Entering the gallery space at NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), one walks into an imaginary universe, or rather universes of four artists, all based in the UAE. Artists Areej Kaoud, Ayman Zedani, Jumairy, and Raja’a Khalid, emerging artists from the Gulf, who have risen to acquire international fame, have delved into their own personal and cultural histories and surroundings to create a vision of the future, the one we all share. 

  • Areej Kaoud, Khod Nafass 1.0 (Take a Breath/Breathe), 2018, custom yellow and red LED panel + software, 17 x 49 cm | Speculative Landscapes | NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) Art Gallery | STIRworld
    Areej Kaoud, Khod Nafass 1.0 (Take a Breath/Breathe), 2018, custom yellow and red LED panel + software, 17 x 49 cm Image Credit: Commissioned by Tashkeel, Courtesy of the artist
  • Areej Kaoud, Khod Nafass 1.0 (Take a Breath/Breathe), 2018, custom yellow and red LED panel + software, 17 x 49 cm | Speculative Landscapes | NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) Art Gallery | STIRworld
    Areej Kaoud, 2ill7a2ny 1.0 (Help me), 2018, Custom green LED Panel + software, 17 x 49 cm Image Credit: Commissioned by Tashkeel, Courtesy of the artist

Areej Kaoud is a Palestinian conceptual artist who grew up between Montreal, Canada and the UAE. She often works on the subject of emergency provisions, delving into the relationship between the human body and politics. In the exhibition, then, her playground keeps visitors on high alert to ever-present risk.

Jumairy, BRZ5 Imagined, 2019, Digital Collage, Dimensions Variable | Speculative Landscapes | NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) Art Gallery | STIRworld
Jumairy, BRZ5 Imagined, 2019, Digital Collage, Dimensions Variable Image Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Saudi Arabian artist Ayman Zedani combines his passion for biomedical science and art to create experimental works and experiential phenomena with multiple interpretations. Jumairy is a multimedia artist from Dubai who creates sensory experiences, transforming spaces to transfer the viewer into imagined realms. In two very different landscape installations created for the exhibition, Zedani and Jumairy each propose worlds in which our natural bodies and the landscape around us manifest biological and artificial intelligence. 

Ayman Zedani, Between muddles and tangles, 2019, Multimedia installation with 2-channel video | Speculative Landscapes | NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) Art Gallery | STIRworld
Ayman Zedani, Between muddles and tangles, 2019, Multimedia installation with 2-channel video; wooden shelf, LED plant light, beakers and watch glasses, Kaff Maryam and water; print on archival paper, dimensions variable Image Credit: Courtesy of NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery

Lastly, Saudi-born Raja’a Khalid is an artist of South Asian descent based in Dubai, whose practice is rooted in consumer and material cultures, especially those connecting the Gulf with the world. In this exhibition then, Khalid’s interactive performance work invites viewers to embrace personal well-being as a commodifiable trend.

Raja’a Khalid, Study for a.quiet.wave, 2019 | Speculative Landscapes | NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) Art Gallery | STIRworld
Raja’a Khalid, Study for a.quiet.wave, 2019 Image Credit: Courtesy of NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery

Through video and interactive installations, the artists have presented their own interpretations of an imagined future environment, whether it be natural, artificial or virtual. Drawing links between biology and artificial intelligence, the question each poses concerns survival and habitation in the new world order. What the latter might entail remains open to the viewer’s perception. 

The exhibition is curated by Maya Allison, Chief Curator at NYU Abu Dhabi and Executive Director of the NYUAD Art Gallery. The works, which are on display at New York University’s academic museum gallery, include performance, interactive art and video installations.

Talking about the exhibition in the context of the UAE contemporary art scene, Allison says, “For me, these artists capture something unique in their perspective, both in how they respond to our surroundings, and how they connect to the unusual art scene here.”

Allison adds, “These three emirates (Sharjah, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi) make up what has evolved into a diverse art ecology. Still, few know about the artists actually based in the UAE. The community today, as much as ever, come from a mix of international backgrounds, and very often their work is in dialogue with both where we are, and the many cultures that converge in the UAE. Now, a host of organisations support the emerging artists, but other ‘emerged’ artists occupy a midpoint as they branch out into international museum shows and prestigious residencies. This exhibition offers a rare lens onto one specific recurring theme that we continue to notice in this emergent scene, a theme that these particular artists express, through their particularly arch, speculative, conceptual practice.”

The show is on view till December 07, 2019.

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About Author

Sukanya Garg

Sukanya Garg

Garg is an artist and writer with a Master's degree in Public Policy from Duke University, USA. She has been involved in research, planning and execution of gallery exhibitions and external projects in collaboration with curators. Her writing has been published in several art magazines, journals and as part of curatorial notes and catalogues, and her work has been showcased at multiple exhibitions.

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