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