Abu Dhabi Art has produced something of a coup in its announcement that the guest curators for its 2021 Beyond: Emerging Artists programme will be Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, co-founders of multidisciplinary curatorial platform Art Reoriented and among the hottest curators around at the moment.
They have chosen three UAE-based emerging artists – Hashel Al Lamki, Maitha Abdalla and Christopher Benton – to create new commissions for the exhibition in November.
Abu Dhabi Art director Dyala Nusseibeh is justifiably pleased to have signed up Bardaouil and Fellrath. “With their critical insights into Modern and Contemporary art from the region, they will bring a deeply informed art-historical context and perspective to bear on what can be viewed as a new moment for the contemporary Emirati art scene today,” she said.
The commissioned artists also look like excellent choices, each bringing a different perspective to the programme. None of them are exactly unknown, but equally none have stellar status yet; all three look destined for increasing prominence at least in the Gulf art scene and probably on a wider stage too.
Hashel Al Lamki and Maitha Abdalla are two of the three artists that set up the Bait 15 artist-run studio and exhibition space in Abu Dhabi back in 2017. Al Lamki (right) is signed up with Leila Heller and has had several UAE shows, including the excellent Port Authority at the Foundry earlier this year. He says he is inspired by the evolution of the UAE’s cultural dynamic since the early 2000s and the cultural complexities that come with that territory.
Al Lamki’s project for the Abu Dhabi Art programme, titled Dice, is meant to repeatedly evoke a sense of tension and release in an attempt to highlight the patterns of the world, showing that everything has a rise and fall,.
Maitha Abdalla’ (left) explores memory, travel and social interactions, often riffing on childhood motifs and testing the boundaries between the imaginary and the real. The gravity and uncertainty of the in-between years of adolescence was particularly featured in the solo show that Tabari Artspace gave her at Cromwell Place in London last month (an exercise sponsored by Abu Dhabi Art, incidentally) and in her current DIFC outing (to 30 September).
For Abu Dhabi Art she will be producing a body of work that crosses multiple disciplines, “tackling the conflict between the desire for freedom and the social limitation in society”.
Christopher Benton (right) is a UAE-based American working across sculpture, photography, and film; his practice in particular explores how working-class communities uses culture and innovation to resist postcolonial and neoliberal forces. He’s been seen at a couple of Sikka Art Fairs and the Department of Non-Binaries at the Fikra Graphic Design Biennial, and the 2020 UAE Designer’s Exhibition at the Jameel. His very cool How to be at Rest installation at Dubai Design Week a year ago featured eight chairs he collected from industrial neighbourhoods around Dubai; about the same time he was showing in Rami Farook’s hip café-gallery maisan15 in Al Barsha South; and his work is currently touring Japan in East East Vol. 4, the latest iteration of the show that features UAE and Japanese artists.
Bardaouil and Fellrath described the trio as three very different artists whose practices share a truly interdisciplinary approach, and you couldn’t disagree with that. “Departing from a position of heightened social engagement, and with remarkable formal inventiveness and intellectual rigour, Maitha, Hashel and Christopher touch upon a number of pertinent issues that are of significant relevance to the socio-cultural context of the UAE, as well as the current discourse within the global arts community,”
Benton said the curators have already proved to be “incredible” mentors and friends, “working with me to challenge and develop my ideas for this commission – it has been a really fun process.
“I am presenting a project that is looking at the date palm tree as a symbol for the movement of people, ideas, and products across the world, and across decades. I am envisioning my project as comprising a large-scale installation, video and sculpture, and I can’t wait to share what I have been working on this November.”
Beyond: Emerging Artists 2021 will be at Manarat Al Saadiyat from 17 November until 22 January 2022.