Ayyalah-inspired installation wins the Christo prize

The winner of The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award 2019 is Sila, an architectural installation designed by AUS students Ibrahim Abdellatif, Falwah Alhouti, and Omer Al Raee.

The installation – named after an Arabic term that translates to ‘link’ or ‘connection’ will be on display at the NYUAD campus until 13 November. It then moves on to the Manarat al Saadiyat for Abu Dhabi Art (21-23 November) and gets a final public outing in Abu Dhabi’s  Umm Al Emarat Park from 25 November to 8 December.

The work takes inspiration from a classic element of the UAE’s folklore, the Al-Ayyalah dance; two lines of dancers face off in simulated (and rhythmic, and slow-moving) battle that more accurately represents the unity of the community and its sense of tradition.

Separated into two rows facing one another, just as in the dance itself, the installation is made up of units with varying heights to echo the diversity of movement. Black and white panels both emphasise the stillness and poise of the structure and suggest motion via the visual effect of walking around and through the piece.

As Abu Dhabi Art director Dyala Nusseibeh put it: “Sila celebrates the Al-Ayyalah dance in material form and the poetry of the performance is perfectly captured in the immersive simplicity of the work.”

Throughout the development of the work, the three artists were supported by a group of experts including Award director Emily Doherty, director of The NYUAD Art Gallery Maya Allison and her team, and their mentor – Assistant Professor of Architecture at AUS Juan Roldán Martín.

Maya Allison it was who noted that producing a work of public art like this provides a rare opportunity. While much art is introverted and personal, public art is outgoing and engaging, and at the practical level it requires a level of understanding of the immediate environment that most artists will never have to bother with. As she put it: “With this award, Christo and our collaborators at ADMAF support a rare opportunity for young artists here to gain a very specialised skill set …”

She went on: “NYUAD’s Visual Arts department, The Art Gallery, and the University are proud to mentor the awardee and produce the award. We look forward to future UAE artists who thus gain the skill and experience to enable them to create the public art of the UAE’s future.

“Over the seven years of this award, I have witnessed finalists and winners from past years go on to remarkable careers in the art. We are honoured to play a part in the early milestones of these emerging artists.”

This is the first time that the Christo winner will feature at Abu Dhabi Art. The fair’s director Dyala Nusseibeh noted that this will greatly increase the number of people who see the work – there should be more than 20,000 visitors to the fair. She added: “We are all part of a wider art ecosystem and it is a great pleasure and privilege to support ADMAF and NYUAD in this inspiring project for emerging artists and architects”.

Open to UAE-based students and recent graduates, The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award was established to encourage the creation of new public art in the UAE, acting as a launchpad for visual artists across the Emirates and offering winners an insight into professional life as an artist from commission to exhibition. The Award is worth $10,000 to produce the piece, plus $5,000 from Christo himself for further professional development.

The award is administered by NYU Abu Dhabi in partnership with Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation. The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award 2020 is now open for submissions; the deadline for applications is 23 January.


Christo winners: Ibrahim Abdellatif, Falwah Alhouti, and Omer Al Raee of the American University of Sharjah. All pics courtesy of ADMAF

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