What looks like the biggest and best yet of Monira Al Qadiri’s outsized sculptures of iridescent oilwell drill bits has launched Expo 2020 Dubai’s Public Art Programme.
A Kuwaiti now living and working in Belrin, Monira Al Qadiri is known for research-based work that among other themes explores petrocultures and their possible futures – especially seeking links between the pre- and post-oil worlds. The drill bit is an explicit image, but for Chimera (which stands just short of 5m high) it’s finished with the same kind of iridescence that you’d find in a pearl shell – one of the characteristic social and economic icons of the pre-oil Gulf.
There’s a telling comment from Monira Al Qadiri in a recent interview with Ocula magazine: “I think that, in the Gulf especially, we’re in this endless loop of knowing the reality of oil and that it’s not going to last, but that the wealth it brings is always feeding this illusion of being grand and important and powerful”.
Also commissioned are works from Hamra Abbas, Afra Al Dhaheri, Shaikha Al Mazrou, Abdullah Al Saadi, Asma Belhamar, Olafur Eliasson, Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Khalil Rabah, Yinka Shonibare and Haegue Yang. All but one of them are originals. This impressive roster is intended to provide a creative journey around Expo 2020’s public spaces, subsequently living on in the post-Expo District 2020 city. Dubai Culture says “it will leave a lasting impact as part of the next World Expo’s legacy, provide an exciting addition to the UAE’s vibrant and thriving artistic scene, and boost Dubai’s position on the global cultural map”. To that end the artworks are cast in steel and welded on to plinths that are concreted in to their final positions.
Interestingly, this is the first curated permanent open-air exhibition of art in the UAE. In fact most public art here has been commissioned by non-institutional bodies to add lustre to real estate developments, which inevitably means that few risks are taken and few boundaries tested. The Public Art Programme of Expo 2020 Dubai looks like a more serious project, not least because it has a serious curator – Tarek Abou El Fetouh, curator/developer of many projects in the region – and a proper thematic basis in that it takes inspiration from the work of Ibn Al Haytham.
The 11th Century mathematician, astronomer, and physicist has been called “the father of modern optics”; the Public Art Programme is intended to provide a context for an exploration of Ibn Al Haytham’s theories – including his description of how it’s impossible to envision reality in full without the power of imagination, a useful definition of the role art in general.
Tarek Abou El Fetouh is obviously pleased that he’s been able to launch the Public Art Programme with Monira Al Qadiri’s Chimera. “Her bold sculpture with its magnified size and reflective colour makes it seem like a futuristic creature from outer space,” he said. “Through this sculpture, the artist attempts to merge the pre- and post-oil eras … She creates aesthetic connections between pearls and oil, through their colour, materiality, symbolism, ecology and economy in order to reimagine the past, present and future of the wider Gulf region.”
Expo 2020 runs from 1 October to 31 March 2022.