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Abu Dhabi's Warehouse 421 Inaugural Exhibition

- By Sophie Arni

The Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, in partnership with the Rhodes Island School of Design, has established the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Emerging Artists Fellowship (SEAF), a year-long program, to mentor 15 promising artists in the UAE from chosen visual arts disciplines. The exhibition, titled 'Art: Process & Practice, Salama bint Hamdan Emerging Artists Fellowship' is a real breath of fresh air in the Abu Dhabi art scene. Not only is it experimental, but its curation is low-key, and young as opposed to the polished international hauteur of the annual Abu Dhabi art fairs (see the 2014 and 2015 editions). Housed in a warehouse in the new Warehouse 421 complex, opened also under the patronage and direction of the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, the flat works were lined up on wired walls, sometimes casually printed on A3 papers. Installations felt raw, lived, torn, and still full of life - it felt like the warehouse was the place these artists met and created together for a period of five months.

Construction, indeed, play an important influence on many of these artist's works. "Under construction" may be the UAE motto, as a country developing at such rapid rates, with sky rocketing ambitions and means to make profound societal improvements. But as much positivity comes with a blank desert to construct from the ground up, there is a certain melancholia and discerning absurdity with implanting concrete and star architects to rapidly create hotels, whole neighborhoods, communities and in many ways, culture. The following artists celebrated construction not as a transit state, but as a material object to be admired and thought about on its own ground. Construction is the point C permitting A to reach B. Instead of forgetting it and pushing it aside to the outskirts of society, "in construction" should be accepted for what it is - a time of transition.

The different mediums reminded me of the interesting De.Fash.Struction exhibition I visited earlier in Sharjah, the neighboring city of the economical capital Dubai (and arguably, at the moment, the art-filled city of the UAE). There was no standard medium, no standard technique. Between photography, textile design, sculpture, installation, painting and video - these young fellows proved that they have the talent to pull off the difficult task to represent Abu Dhabi and the UAE in all its fascinating complexities. Between migrant labor's issue, to womanhood and liberty, construction, standardization, and neoliberalism, I thought the right social trends of the UAE were highlighted in subtle, intelligent manners. Mixed media, found objects, photography. This combination represents the UAE quite perfectly actually. Observations are acute with Khalid Mezaina, a promising artist, designer and illustrator, now based in Dubai. I was impressed with this installation of works.

In short, the Warehouse 421 inaugural exhibition was a huge success, showcasing the breadth and depth of the artist's works in the UAE. Visiting superstar installation artist Alice Aycock agrees, as she was very impressed with the exhibition during her last visit to Abu Dhabi. We can agree that the naive, orientalist thoughts that "the UAE imports culture", "the UAE has no history" or "The Emirates only have craftsmen, not artists" are quite removed from the reality of the art scene of Abu Dhabi in early 2016, ahead of the opening of the mega Louvre and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi museums.



NOVEMBER 19, 2015 - FEBRUARY 28, 2016


All images are taken by Sophie Arni at the exhibition venue. For captions and more details on each artists please contact a member of the Global Art Daily team.

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