Third Richard Mille Art Prize won by Nabla Yahya

Nabla Yahya as been named as the third winner of the $60,000 Richard Mille Art Prize. The Abu Dhabi born artist’s installation, SoftBank (2023), was one of the eight pieces selected for the Art Here 2023 exhibition currently running at Louvre Abu Dhabi.

For this edition of the exhibition, from which the Richard Mille Art Prize winner was selected, the theme was ‘Transparencies’. Artists were invited to submit proposals for new sculptures and installations that explore “the dynamics of transparency – its material and perceptual significance”. The brief went on: “transparency is more than just a material quality of lucidity or opacity; it encompasses both the physical act of seeing and the subjective experiences of looking, which can shift in different contexts. Though it implies clarity, therefore simplicity or veracity, it is part of a process that sees meanings shift with movement, understanding and over time”.

This year’s edition of Art Here, which was curated by Maya El Khalil and opened in November 2023, is sited beneath the museum’s dome, where “the interplay of shadows, liquid reflections, and flashes of permeating sunlight” provided a starting point for the submissions.

SoftBank is based on research into the initial construction of the Suez Canal and uses a 3D cartographic representation of the canal below a rotating line of documentary and photographic documents. Observers are invited to contemplate the role of cultural hegemony in the canal’s construction, especially the bleak lives of the workers who built it; SoftBank expands on the disregarded details that were made inconsequential, an interpretation of ‘Transparencies’ that owes little to “the interplay of shadows, liquid reflections, and flashes of permeating sunlight” but carries a good deal of perceptual significance.

As Nabla Yahya (right, with her prize) said, “SoftBank is not just an installation – it’s a dialogue between the past and the present, a reflection on the Suez Canal’s transformation. This award fuels my commitment to exploring untold stories and challenging perspectives through my work.”

Maya El Khalil said all the artists in the exhibition had provided a surprising and novel engagement with the theme, but “the multidimensionality of Nabla Yahya’s work ultimately made the award a unanimous decision.

SoftBank approaches the idea of ‘Transparencies’ indirectly – interrogating difficult histories that are treated as unseen when they should be confronted. The details of the work shed light on the invisible currents of finance, trade, and labour that structure the region. It is both a brilliant response to the theme and a significant work with the astute complexity that is a hallmark of Nabla’s practice and thinking.”

She added that “we are all excited to see what she does in future”. It could be that the Richard Mille Prize is a significant springboard for Nabla Yayha.

She was selected by a jury led by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, art collector, patron and chairman of UAE Unlimited. Joining him were Souraya Noujaim, Director of the Islamic Arts department at Musée du Louvre; Guilhem André, a seasoned museum professional who replaced Dr Noujaim as Acting Director for Scientific, Curatorial and Collections Management at Louvre Abu Dhabi; Clare Lilley, Director of Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the selector for Frieze Sculpture in London from 2012 to 22; Mohammed Kazem, the noted Emirati artist; and Maya El Khalil, independent curator and art advisor.

Art Here, including SoftBank, runs to 18 February at Louvre Abu Dhabi.

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