United Arab Emirates Pavilion at the Venice Biennale
1980–Today: Exhibitions in the United Arab Emirates
Arsenale – Sale d’Armi
Curator: Sheikha Hoor Bint Sultan Al Qasimi
Commissioner: Salama Bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation
Artists: Ahmed Al Ansari, Moosa Al Halyan, Mohammed Al Qassab, Abdul Qader Al Rais, Abdullah Al Saadi, Mohammed Abdullah Bulhiah, Salem Jawhar, Mohammed Kazem, Dr. Najat Meky, Abdulraheem Salim, Ahmed Sharif, Hassan Sharif, Obaid Suroor, Dr. Mohamed Yousif, and Abdulrahman Zainal
1980–Today: Exhibitions in the United Arab Emirates was conceived as a retrospective on contemporary art exhibitions in the Emirates over the last 40 years. Through an unprecedented and dense grouping of over 100 works structured to create dialogues between artists and across practices, curator Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, President and Director of the Sharjah Art Foundation, will show the diversity and the history of the art scene in the UAE. Presented by the National Pavilion United Arab Emirates la Biennale di Venezia at the 56th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, the exhibition features work by 15 Emirati artists: Ahmed Al Ansari, Moosa Al Halyan, Mohammed Al Qassab, Abdul Qader Al Rais, Abdullah Al Saadi, Mohammed Abdullah Bulhiah, Salem Jawhar, Mohammed Kazem, Dr. Najat Meky, Abdulraheem Salim, Ahmed Sharif, Hassan Sharif, Obaid Suroor, Dr. Mohamed Yousif, and Abdulrahman Zainal.
“Reflecting our generation’s collective obsession with memory, many recent exhibitions have been conceived to look at the past in order to reflect on the present. For these archival exhibitions, curators travel the world to discover overlooked artists and art scenes, institutions invest in research, gathering material, and publishing texts. But how do we connect all the information?” said Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi. “This exhibition—and its accompanying publication—invites viewers to make connections directly between objects, historical archives, and the collective memory they represent. The resulting discourse is both personal and collective, and marks the beginning of a much more detailed and intensive research project.”
Inspired by historic exhibitions in the UAE throughout the 1980s, Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi will structure the exhibition to follow the aesthetic experience and encourage connections between works. In addition to thematic groupings, some works will be arranged by artist to highlight elements of an individual’s practice, while others will be paired to create complimenting and contrasting dialogues between works. Rather than following a didactic chronology, the exhibition will create the sense of wandering through dense collections in conversation with one another. The works, many on loan from institutions and private collections as well as from the artists themselves, will demonstrate a juxtaposition of conceptual and formal approaches, time periods, and media. The selection of pieces will focus on sharing fundamental stages of the artists’ careers as well as that of the UAE art scene collectively: Najat Meky and Abdulraheem Salim have primarily worked on paper or canvas since 1990s, however their earlier practice focused on sculpture and reliefs; Mohamed Yousif has in recent years been working with found objects and elements from his natural surroundings, while his older work included traditional wooden sculptures; and while Abdul Qader Al Rais is best known today for his landscapes and abstract paintings, he will exhibit a series of figurative paintings, some dating back to 1968. Works by Hassan Sharif from 1985 incorporating zinc and boiled linseed oil on canvas will be paired with Notebooks, a series he has been working on since the early 1980s.
Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi’s research relied heavily on the public archives of the Emirates Fine Art Society (EFAS): a trove of English and Arabic books on visual art, theatre, and literature, as well as catalogs, photo albums and copies of Al Tashkeel, EFAS’s newsletter, which has been published since the 1980s. The Emirates Fine Arts Society is a nonprofit association that was formed in 1980 in Sharjah, and has long served as a galvanizing incubator for the UAE’s art scene.
“For our fourth exhibition at the International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia we are delighted to be working with curator Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi,” noted Sheikha Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan, Founder of the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and the commissioner of the National Pavilion UAE. “Thanks to her vision and leadership we are able to share essential works from this key period in the UAE’s art scene and also to build links for future generations. I applaud her contributions to the development and advancement of the larger discourse on art from the region.”
Featuring over 100 works, the exhibition design creatively represents the subject and theme of the exhibition. In order to maximize the National Pavilion’s 250-square-meter space and protect the historic walls of the Arsenale – Sale d’Armi, a custom designed grid of mobile vertical elements and an elevated floor will be installed. The concept will combine free-standing modular showcases, a specialised hanging system, and sunken alcoves to allow for a tailored presentation of heterogeneous artworks.
Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi is President and Director of the Sharjah Art Foundation. She is a practicing artist who received her BFA from the Slade School of Fine Art, London (2002), a Diploma in Painting from the Royal Academy of Arts (2005) and an MA in Curating Contemporary Art from the Royal College of Art, London (2008). In 2003 she was appointed curator of Sharjah Biennial 6 and has continued as the Biennial’s Director since that time. She is Chair of the Advisory Board for the College of Art and Design, University of Sharjah; and Member of the Advisory Board of both the Khoj International Artists’ Association, India and the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing. She serves on the Board of Directors for MoMA PS1, New York; KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin; the International Biennial Association, Gwangju; and Ashkal Alwan, Beirut. Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi is the first Emirati to be appointed as the curator for the National Pavilion UAE la Biennale di Venezia.
National Pavilion UAE at the Venice Biennale
The National Pavilion UAE was established to endorse the UAE’s contemporary art practices on an international platform and provide a foundation to support the nation’s diverse and developing cultural scene.
The UAE’s participation at la Biennale di Venezia commenced in 2009 with a national pavilion at the 53rd International Art Exhibition, and has continued in subsequent editions of the art exhibition since. 2014 marked the UAE’s first participation at the International Architecture Exhibition.
Image: Emirates Fine Arts Society Exhibition – 1981. Image Courtesy of the Emirates Fine Arts Society.