Reem Al Ghaith at the 54th Venice Biennale
ArtintheCity recently spoke to Reem Al Ghaith, one of the artists to be included in this year’s UAE Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale. Here we give you our profile of the artist and our full interview with her…
As the youngest of the three artists featured in this year’s UAE Pavilion, Reem Al Ghaith already has an impressive repertoire, which includes gaining a BSc in Visual Communication from the American University of Sharjah, and having her work exhibited in both local and international venues, including the 9th Sharjah Biennial and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Her background in visual design has led to her involvement in the founding of a new design studio in Dubai called Tinkah in 2010. The studio, which will launch officially in a few months, combines the talents of three multidisciplinary designers, thinkers and visual artists. As Al Ghaith explains, ‘our aim is to create a merger between my art experience internationally and to bring [this] back to the community in Dubai’.
In her fine art practice, Al Ghaith is fascinated by her homeland as subject matter. The history, traditions and changing landscape of Dubai and the UAE serve as continuous inspiration to her work, and through her exploration of the UAE’s culture, she analyses the build up and flux of the visual culture that surrounds her. Her pieces, which are the outcomes of rigourous research, serve as a form of documentary or visual archive for future generations to bear witness to the changes this country has undergone.
The research that goes into each project is as important to Al Ghaith as the piece that is shown; as she comments, her research material, be it sketches, writing or some other form, ‘can stand alone as art pieces within themselves even before I reach the final outcome that is exhibited.’ Even the so-called ‘final outcome’ is in no way final, as Al Ghaith’s pieces often continue to evolve long after they are exhibited.
This was the case with her 2008 piece ‘Dubai: What’s Left of My Land’, which was first a three dimensional wall piece, before being developed into the complex and expansive installation ‘Dubai: What’s Left of Her Land’ for the 9th Sharjah Biennial in 2009. This multimedia piece brought together pulleys, tools, maps, raised text and more in a work which was part abstract sculpture, part building site, reflecting on the rapid urbanisation of the UAE. The multiple layers of Al Ghaith’s installations also seem to refer back to the layers of research that accumulate to create these works.
At the 54th Venice Biennale Al Ghaith is creating a new mixed media installation about Dubai which will progress and transform with the space it is shown in. The experience of working with curator Vasif Kortun has been particularly rewarding for the artist, she describes him as one of the best curators she has had the privilege to work with.
Aside from developing her work for the Venice Biennale, Al Ghaith is also in the research phase of a new artistic project dealing with the old and new centres of Dubai, Dubai’s creek and Downtown Dubai respectively. She is fascinated by the way the centre of Dubai has shifted, but both the new and old centres have served as a gate to different cultures, helping to give Dubai its diverse nature.
ArtintheCity: In your work you reflect on the UAE’s history, traditions, values, and its ever-changing urban and cultural landscape. What is it that fascinates you about your homeland as subject matter?
Reem Al Ghaith: What fascinates me about my homeland is what you mentioned above, the reflection and combination of history, traditions, the progress and the change in my city’s landscape. There is so much to document and create a visual series from. My surroundings always inspire me and get me into the creative mood.
AITC: Through exploring the wider history of the place you come from, does this at all act as a way to analyze your own identity?
Reem Al Ghaith: The exploring doesn’t analyze my identity as much as it analyzes the change and the build-up of a visual culture that surrounds me. And in the culture you find a history, change and a multicultural community, all of which help in my research towards an outcome.
AITC: I believe that when you start work on a new piece, a lot of research goes into developing the concept. How do you approach this research and what forms does it take?
Reem Al Ghaith: Research and process are a very important factor in my work and it would take sometime to get all the facts, imageries and theories to the stage where I can visualise an outcome. I approach my research first when a subject fascinates me and leads me to pull from and start collecting, or a landscape that I passed by gets me thinking. It always starts with one moment, word, verse or an image I come across and I start building my journey from here.
AITC: In today’s contemporary art scene, there are a number of artists whose practice consists of research, and this is the final work in itself. Do you consider all your research material, be it collecting data, writing or drawing to be a part of your art or more as a lead up to a final outcome?
Reem Al Ghaith: My process and research is always part of my art. At some point they can stand alone as art pieces within themselves even before I reach the final outcome that is exhibited. I don’t believe in a final art piece as my artworks to date always have more stages to explore and build upon. Art changes with time, space and surroundings.
AITC: As your work draws upon the histories of the UAE, do you see yourself as creating a sort of visual archive for future generations, or as recovering lost information through your work and bringing to the public’s attention?
Reem Al Ghaith: That’s what I hope of my work, as part of the way I look at art is through the window of documentation and archiving and creating from. It will be a great resource for future generations to bear witness to the UAE, and I hope I do portray as much as I can from what I am seeing now and have experienced.
AITC: When speaking about your work, you describe creating characters, a setting and a mood in your work. This seems that that it could lend itself towards work in the media of film and performance. Are these mediums you ever work in or would look to work with in the future?
Reem Al Ghaith: To begin with my work must have characters, setting and the mood. The three create a visual narrative in my imagination, a series of scenes that juxtapose and group my outcomes. I am a visual person and very much like to visualize everything in my head before I write about it or start sketching. I believe there is a film somewhere in my art as I see the scenes and performances of each in my mind. I think it will be very interesting to visually direct in the media of film and be responsible for just translating the script to life.
AITC: Can you reveal anything about what you are developing for the Venice Biennale? I read that you are working on a new piece which deals with the old and new centres of Dubai, is this for the Biennale? Can you tell me more about this piece – what will this piece be exploring, and what form will it take?
Reem Al Ghaith: It’s a mixed media installation about Dubai that progresses and transforms with the space it is showed in. As for the new piece you read about that deals with the center of the old Dubai and new Dubai, it is still in the research phase and I will continue exploring it after the Venice biennial.
AITC: How closely have you been working with Vasif Kortun on developing your piece for the Venice Biennale? How do you think that your artistic practice is benefiting from his input, and from your involvement in the UAE Pavilion as a whole?
Reem Al Ghaith: We have been working together to discuss the work and construction of it and how it will fit through the concept of the exhibition. He is one of the best curators I have had the privilege to work with as he understands very much the variety of work and how to put together such a show for a prestigious appearance in Venice. As for the UAE pavilion, they are allowing us, upcoming Emirati artists, to be present and be witnessed on a worldwide platform.
AITC: Has the UAE Pavilion played a role in enabling you to make an ambitious work you might not otherwise have been able to?
Reem Al Ghaith: The UAE pavilion gave me the opportunity to represent the UAE at the most prestigious biennial; that’s in itself is an accomplishment and an important role played by the pavilion team.
AITC: You are also involved with setting up a design studio for Dubai’s creative community. Can you tell me more about this? Has it launched yet? And what role do you hope it will play in Dubai’s community?
Reem Al Ghaith: A design studio called Tinkah; the studio combines the talents of three multidisciplinary designers; thinkers and visual artists; a unique group; a thinking tank; an initiative studio based in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates and founded in 2010. The studio combines the talents of three multidisciplinary designers; thinkers and visual artists. It is a collaboration of strengths and design expertise all incubated in a tin-kah. A space known for its strong design and art direction, our vast knowledge and interest in illustration, typography, photography, art installation and a strong understanding of space; materials and function. It Is a conceptual space; a product line; a tailor made set of projects; brands and spaces.
It is launching officially in few months and our aim is to create a merger between my art experience internationally and the community in Dubai. I am hoping that the studio continues my path in presenting another aspect of the work I do, where art pushes the design and design pushes the art.
Reem Al Ghaith's artworks will be exhibited at the 54th Venice Biennale at the UAE Pavilion from 4 June - 27 November 2011.