The lo­cal artist who’s bring­ing in­ter­na­tional fame to the Gulf

Emirates Man - - CONTENTS -

When Mo­hammed Kazem steps out of his stu­dio and gallery space in Dubai, he’d be for­given for shak­ing his head in dis­be­lief. Af­ter all, when he be­gan dab­bling in art in the 1980s, the no­tion of a con­tem­po­rary art scene was as fan­ci­ful as his home city boast­ing the world’s tallest build­ing. Now, Empty 10 is at the cen­tre of a thriv­ing artis­tic district in Al Quoz, the UAE boasts a pavil­ion at the pres­ti­gious Venice Bi­en­nale – last year Kazem lled it with his work – and Art Dubai has de­vel­oped into one of the most in­trigu­ing fairs in the world, let alone the re­gion. “None of this ex­isted be­fore,” he marvels. “Ten years ago I couldn’t re­ally show my work in a gallery, now im­por­tant cu­ra­tors, mu­se­ums and col­lec­tors from around the world come to see what we are do­ing.” And proof that Dubai’s art scene is now mak­ing se­ri­ous waves in­ter­na­tion­ally also came with the re­cent Mod­ern And Con­tem­po­rary Mid­dle East­ern Art sale by pres­ti­gious Lon­don auc­tion­eers Bon­hams. Ex­ceed­ing Dhs5.6 mil­lon in sales, a sub­sec­tion was cu­rated by JAMM, a gallery also based in Al Quoz, which show­cased ve artists from the Gulf, in­clud­ing a 2008 piece from Kazem, Scratches On Paper. In the event, Kazem’s piece didn’t make its list price, but Bon­hams’ specialist in Mod­ern and Con­tem­po­rary Mid­dle East­ern Art, Nima Sagharchi, is re­fresh­ingly un­con­cerned. “It’s hon­estly not just about mak­ing a sale,” he says. “It’s about spread­ing the word. There is a lot of ex­cit­ing work com­ing out of the Gulf which is nd­ing a mar­ket, Kazem in­cluded, and in the JAMM sec­tion, Has­san Meer from Oman and Nasser Al Aswadi from Ye­men both sold – which is very en­cour­ag­ing.” And Kazem doesn’t seem that both­ered ei­ther – prob­a­bly be­cause, as he ad­mits, gen­er­ally his pro le is de­rived from his par­tic­i­pa­tion in bi­en­ni­als and art fairs rather than auc­tions. Per­haps he needed to ex­plain

"Ten years ago I couldn’t re­ally show my work in a gallery. Now im­por­tant mu­se­ums from around the world come to see what we are do­ing"

Scratches On Paper per­son­ally to po­ten­tial bid­ders; on rst in­spec­tion it seems just a lit­eral in­ter­pre­ta­tion of its ti­tle. But when Kazem says that it came from a project on mu­sic he was un­der­tak­ing in Ger­many, it im­me­di­ately be­comes a lot more com­pelling. “When you scratch on paper, you cre­ate sound,” he ex­plains, “and I liked show­ing this piece at sun­rise and sun­set, when the light made the scratches ap­pear to move and change.” Doc­u­ment­ing change is very much at the heart of Kazem’s work. Most of it is re­lated to Dubai – most ob­vi­ously re ected in his on-go­ing Di­rec­tions project, which com- co-or­di­nates in his work has be­come a trade­mark for Kazem – and it all be­gan when he fell from a shing boat into the Gulf and was lost for over half an hour. “It just made me think that if I’d had a GPS de­vice on me per­son­ally, I would not have been lost, so I be­gan to use it as a way of think­ing about mov­ing around the world, and what bound­aries mean. It’s evolved into some­thing I like to play with. The co-or­di­nates are signi cant in terms of plac­ing our­selves in the world, but in the end they’re just num­bers.” As, in the end, are the gures in the Bon­hams auc­tion. Of more signi cance is that Kazem cur­rently has work show­ing in Amer­ica, is plan­ning a new ex­hi­bi­tion in Dubai for Novem­ber and wants to try and cre­ate “some­thing big” for Expo 2020. He’d never call him­self a pioneer – Kazem is too mod­est for that – but he’s cer­tainly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of what is now pos­si­ble for an artist in the UAE.

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