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The Alserkal Avenue Gallery Marathon

The Alserkal Avenue Gallery Marathon

Last night ArtintheCity engaged in the ultimate gallery hopping session in Alserkal Avenue, which saw more galleries than ever before in the Avenue open their doors and unveil new exhibitions.  Aside from checking out exhibitions at standards like Lawrie Shabibi and Carbon 12, audiences to the Alserkal Avenue art night were able to explore six brand new art spaces, including local design studio, FN Designs, and formerly Lahore-based gallery, Grey Noise.  We take you on a journey through the peaks and troughs of our gallery marathon through one of Dubai’s most jam-packed art neighbourhoods... 

First up we visited some of the new kids on the block, starting with Grey Noise. Out of the new spaces opening in Alserkal Avenue, Grey Noise is the most focused on contemporary art, having already carved a place out for itself as one of Pakistan’s leading galleries.  Grey Noise marks its relocation to Dubai with ‘Truth of the Matter’, featuring work by Lahore based Ehsan ul Haq and Iqra Tanveer.  The talking piece of this show is sure to be Haq’s installation including a live rooster inhabiting a small circle in the middle of a field of grain, the warm colours and excess of food creating a sense of comfort.  However as this rooster eats the grain surrounding him, he eventually eats to the end of the tether securing him, this comfortable life of gluttony becoming threatened.

Haq’s sculptural forms raise questions as to their raison d’etre, and in the case of the concrete block with metal handle, in the work ‘Physical Existence of Belief’, a ‘how’ also arises. There is a certain absurdity to the block, as the handle suggests the ability to lift and move it, though obviously this is impossible without the assistance of heavy machinery.  The title gestures to the idea of belief and faith made not just tangible but imposing and dense. Tanveer’s work is more poetically inclined with a series of photographs of the moon, clouds, and a strange blue block in the middle of the lake, all shot in soft hazy tones.  Be careful not to miss her ephemeral installation, ‘Paradise of Paradox’, which uses a beam of light to sculpt from the air, revealing swirling dust particles.

Showcase Gallery opened their new space with a solo exhibition of Amartey Golding entitled ‘Nothing Beats the Blunderbuss'.  Golding is a master of charcoal as a medium, drawing boldly and intuitively. Primarily figurative, the work has an honesty to it.  A particular highlight is ‘Crown’, in which a jagged and colourful crown hovers above a suddenly cut off pair of legs. Meanwhile, FN Designs hosted their popular live drawing event ‘sketch’ during the community art night, though given the amount there was to see throughout Alserkal Avenue, this wasn’t as well attended as usual.

Design gallery La Galerie Nationale, which also has a booth over in Design Days Dubai (A18), put on ‘The Explosion of Design from 1945 – 1975’.  This provided some much needed insight into design history, presenting pieces that embody ‘The Thirty Glorious’ period which was instrumental in the advance of design.  Already the gallery seems to be sending out the message that rather than simply trying to wow audiences with some of the more out there design objects, it aims to present carefully considered collections which will promote a deeper understanding of the design industry and its history.

Alserkal Avenue’s strongest showings come from Gallerie Isabelle van den Eynde and Lawrie Shabibi.  The former presents one of the most surprising experiences of the night, inviting you to stepp through the looking glass into a surreal wonderland complete with grass and chequered floors.  For ‘I Put it There You Name It’, artists Ramin and Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian have transformed the gallery space into a home, or at least a mad hatter version of home.  Though there are clear room functions suggested, including a dining room and sitting room , and each of these is chock-a-block with curiosities, every surface bombarding you with imagery, colour, pattern and iconic figures.  In what would be the ultimate house party, Vivienne Westwood and Leigh Bowery inhabit one wall, the Queen of England another.  The installation merges art by the three artists’ with homages to people and other artists they find inspirational and ordinary functional objects, attempting to capture the creative atmosphere enjoyed in the Dubai house that they all share.

Over at Lawrie Shabibi, ‘Black is the New White’ is the title of a solo exhibition of last year’s Abraaj Capital Art Prize winner, Nadia Kaabi-Linke, though her work is anything but black and white.  Kaabi-Linke’s approach to making art is subtle and nuanced, and we can garner many different readings of each of the six pieces on display. The overarching theme of the show is the concept of the trap, particularly those traps that we do not become aware of until it is too late.  ‘Smooth Criminal’ is a perfect example of this, which replicates the wire lobster traps used locally that a lobster can swim into but cannot exit.  The wire in this case is actually woven to form Stars of David, conjuring up the Palestinian conflict, where is has become somewhat unclear who has trapped who.

Kaabi-Linke’s show is also remarkable in the way she can smoothly transition from one style of work to another. In the understated work ‘Bait Atta'a’, she has meticulously reproduced the panels and shadows of a window in the Ministry of Finance in Tunisia, complete with distortions.  The work looks at the fact that when entering a marriage under Sharia law, the man has to pay a sum of money to the woman’s family, and from this point finance becomes a sort of invisible trap around her in various other ways.  ‘Black is the New White’ on the other hand adopts the style of fashion photography, humourously advertising a black outfit for men similar to the abaya, which seems distinctly unsuitable for a hot desert environment (as seen by the beads of sweat on the male model’s forehead).  The piece also calls to mind the situation in Tunisia, where despite the fact that female dress here has traditionally involved white silk, following the revolution women are actually starting to adopt conservative Islamic attire, in a way forming their own trap round themselves.

Ayyam Art Centre and the Salsali Private Museum both present large group shows.  Ayyam Art Centre shows the second edition of ‘The Samawi Collection II’, featuring art from the private collections of Khaled and Hisham Samawi. Many of these works will be recognisable since the have appeared in other exhibitions in Dubai.  But there are plenty of gems to be found, including Rima Chahrour and Michel Ayoub’s witty piece, ‘The Freaks’, in which a computerised voice recording laments the state of contemporary art next to a grotesque sculpture composed of stuffed animals.

Salsali Private Museum is currently hosting the ‘Magical Nights, Exhibition of Auction Highlights by Magic of Persia’, which is like a who’s who of the Iranian art world.  A particular star of the show is a charming, lyrical video installation by legendary Iranian artist Farideh Lashai entitled ‘Catching the Moon’.  A dream-like animation flutters across the surface of a water filled barrel, seemingly creating ripples in the water as a figure flits about attempting to capture a whirling moon.  Just as the moon evades capture, so too does the work, refusing to be pinned down to one interpretation and remaining an enigmatic wonder.

Lashai is connected to a piece commissioned by Salsali himself upstairs as a tribute to the artist, which also acts as a bit of a teaser for upcoming exhibition ‘Life is too Short’, opening on 23 March. Lashai is currently unwell, and the upcoming exhibition will bear testament to the fact that life is fleeting, as are the people we love and find inspirational, so we must make the most of it.  Lashai has been a huge inspiration to a younger generation of Iranian artists and the work commissioned by Salsali opens a dialogue between her work and artist Nazzy Beglari. An old fashioned cinema booth draped with red velvet curtains has been built, and within this Lashai’s film ‘How Queer Everything is Today’ is projected over a painting made by Beglari.  Belgari’s painting depicts a theatre with rabbits filling some seats, echoing the little rabbit which hops about in Lashai’s film. Salsali himself can even be seen in one of the side stalls in the painting!

In another showcase of Iranian art, Etemad Gallery shows ‘Good News’, a solo exhibition of Iranian painter Kamran Diba. Diba paints the front pages of international newspaper, The Herald Tribune, immortalising specific days in history but replacing the text with tetris-style blocks of colour.  These are colour coded according to the type of news story – violence, lifestyle, politics and so on.  Without the text, the images come more into focus, and we become more aware of the dramas playing out, the gestures and facial expressions, each image becoming a theatrical tableau.  There is also a certain irony in the fact that the newspapers place images of human suffering side by side with adverts for luxury fashion items like Dior watches.  In other sections of the exhibition, Diba creates his own newspaper narratives, from Hollywood glamour to the inherent abstraction of sports images.

Across the road, Satellite, formerly artist James Clar’s studio and an occasional exhibition space, launches ‘The State’, a new print journal and socio-historical forum whose first volume is themed ‘Voicings/Articulations/Utterances’. This follows on from a series of exhibitions at Traffic under ‘The State’ banner head.  Within Satellite, ‘The State’ in its journal manifestation is in dialogue with an immense work by Faycal Bagriche called ‘Nothing More Concrete.  The 82 ton form looms over you, and suddenly ‘The State’ feels like an omnipresent giant, all too aware of its power over us.

Mojo Gallery and Green Art Gallery inhabit two opposite ends of the same row, with the former showing ‘Terra Incognita’ a unique collaboration between the fine art photographer, Binu Bhaskar, and the painter, Alex da Silva.  The artists were in talks with the Mojo Gallery for about a year about the exhibition, and then came over around a month beforehand to transform one of the office spaces into a makeshift studio where they jointly produced work. The vivid works are full of life at its best and worst, and feel very raw and direct.

Green Art Gallery also presents two artists, though this time working separately, in ‘Brute Ornament’, but both are concerned with the relationship between ornament and abstraction.  Kamrooz Aram’s paintings interrogate the floral motifs found in Persian carpets, breaking these down into abstraction, and approach a critique of the commodification of art through his use of gold paint.  But it’s Seher Shah who steals the show with her epic and incredibly detailed drawings.  Her skilled draughtsmanship hints at her background as a trained architect, as does her preoccupation with architectural form.  Le Corbusier, with his Utopian aspirations and utilitarian designs for not just buildings, but entire cities, provide a jumping off point for Shah’s works.  Though rigid grids and oppressive structure predominates in works like ‘Emergent Structures: Capital Mass’, in which a gridded orb hovers oppressively above a contained city of geometry, elsewhere geometry fights back in a riot of explosions and strange flame-like shapes (as in ‘Object Relic  (Unite d’Habitation’) – a reference to Corbusier’s famous building in Berlin).

On Alserkal Avenue’s back row, Gulf Photo Plus showcases ‘Soul Rebel’, an exhibition of photographs by David Burnett, offering insight into the life of Bob Marley, a must see if you are a fan of the singer.  Carbon 12 offers the most impressive exhibition on the back row with ‘Restless Violence’, a solo exhibition of Sara Rahbar. Known for her unique use of textiles and collected objects in her compositions, here Rahbar has used old US military gear, Christian symbols and parts of life size wooden dummies.  She employs these various elements to create unsettling combinations which sometimes dwell upon the complex relationship between the military and religion in the USA, and at other times evoke the aftermath of war using the dissected wooden dummies.

All exhibitions currently on display in Alserkal Avenue continue throughout March.  Find out more through www.artinthecity.com.

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