‘Be­tween Float­ing Worlds’ evokes limbo of mi­grant life

The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE - Razmig Bedirian

At the very top, Ba­bel-like tow­ers with cut-out win­dows twist in ink, cast­ing shad­ows on the wall be­hind the cot­ton fab­ric. With cal­li­graphic strokes, the tow­ers flow down to form creased tex­tiles. A hu­man eye, a ser­pent’s scales and the feath­ery wing of an old de­ity peer out from the inky mass. All is kept to­gether by rope. Some­one is car­ry­ing this lay­ered bun­dle, though only the hem of her skirt and her feet are vis­i­ble. The load is ev­i­dently a heavy, bur­den­some one. Yet, one foot in front of the other, she per­se­veres.

The large, rec­tan­gu­lar art­work is ti­tled We take it as we

go. The piece is part of Kevork Mourad’s solo ex­hi­bi­tion

Be­tween Float­ing Worlds at Tabari Artspace, which opens to­day at Dubai In­ter­na­tional Fi­nan­cial Cen­tre. The works are all painted on cot­ton fab­ric and fea­ture a min­i­mal amount of colour, if at all. Mourad brought the cot­ton frag­ments of his work from New York in a back­pack, metic­u­lously lay­er­ing and fram­ing them in Dubai ahead of the ex­hi­bi­tion.

“Most of my work is in­spired by mi­gra­tion, whether forced or vol­un­tary, and the area that ex­ists be­tween cul­tures. With this piece, I was aim­ing to evoke that sense of try­ing to de­cide what to carry with you as you move from one coun­try to the next,” Mourad said of the afore­men­tioned art­work, “the his­tory we carry with us, the strength it gives us and the bur­den it also im­poses.”

Mourad is no stranger to the in­ter­zone that ex­ists be­tween cul­tures. Born in Syria, he went on to study paint­ing and book il­lus­tra­tion in Ar­me­nia be­fore mov­ing to Cal­i­for­nia in 1999. He now lives in New York.

“Lay­ers are an im­por­tant com­po­nent of my work,” he said. “It does best in rep­re­sent­ing mem­ory, where ev­ery layer is a slice of time. Some­thing we carry from where we have been to­wards where we are go­ing. I wanted each piece to seem whole at first glance. Only upon closer in­spec­tion do the lay­ers be­come more clear.”

Mourad’s process is an un­con­ven­tional one. He be­gins by smudg­ing ink on to a sheet of trans­par­ent ac­etate. Then, us­ing what­ever is at hand – from ho­tel key­cards to tools he fash­ions him­self – he draws cal­li­graphic strokes in the ink. He presses the ace­tone sheet against a stretched cot­ton fab­ric and care­fully cuts out the draw­ings be­fore lay­er­ing them in their fi­nal form, like a puz­zle piece. His de­signs range from Sume­rian and Baby­lo­nian in­flu­ences to in­spi­ra­tions de­rived from Ar­me­nian ar­chi­tec­ture.

With his tech­nique of spon­ta­neous paint­ing, he has per­formed, among oth­ers, at Brook­lyn Mu­seum of Art, Har­vard Univer­sity and Rhode Is­land School of De­sign. He was also a mem­ber of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road En­sem­ble, a col­lec­tive of mu­si­cians and artists.

“I want the works in this ex­hi­bi­tion to give a dream­like im­pres­sion. To seem fa­mil­iar to view­ers re­gard­less of where they are from. I hope they re­flect what they re­mem­ber of their home towns or the coun­tries they left be­hind.” Though the night­mar­ish el­e­ments of re­lo­cat­ing from one place to the other are al­luded to, Mourad said he also aimed to evoke op­ti­mism with each piece. “I be­lieve hu­man be­ings are in­her­ently op­ti­mistic, de­spite the fears and un­cer­tain­ties that grip us. Why else do we get out of bed ev­ery morn­ing? Re­lo­cat­ing is hard, no mat­ter the con­di­tions of our de­par­ture. Whether we are trav­el­ling for work, ed­u­ca­tion or as refugees, we leave be­hind so much and have to nit­pick what we take with us and within us. The grass is not al­ways greener on the other side. But there is al­ways the hope that we are mov­ing to a brighter, more pros­per­ous place.”

This is not the first time Mourad is ex­hibit­ing his work in the UAE. Ear­lier this year, he per­formed at Mad­i­nat The­atre in Dubai with the Syr­ian com­poser and clar­inetist Ki­nan Azmeh. The hour-long per­for­mance A Home Within set his art and Azmeh’s mu­sic in coun­ter­point to one an­other. The au­dio­vi­sual per­for­mance was in­spired by the events in Syria. His film Four Acts for

Syria, which he co-di­rected with Waref Abu Quba, has more than 30 of his works in an­i­ma­tion. “Syr­ian his­tory has been mul­ti­cul­tural for cen­turies. This film is a voy­age through Syr­ian cul­ture un­til to­day’s in­san­ity, try­ing to find hope for the Syr­ian peo­ple. Art has an im­por­tant role in unit­ing peo­ple through em­pa­thy and un­der­stand­ing,” he said. The film was fea­tured in a num­ber of fes­ti­vals and went on to win the Robert Bosch Stiftung film prize.

Mourad said his tech­nique of spon­ta­neous paint­ing con­tin­ues to evolve. He hopes to tackle on the prob­lem of cli­mate change in his up­com­ing work. “Artists should play an ac­tive role in the fight against global warm­ing. It is vi­tal we do not be­come en­snared in our safe zones and ac­tively take part in try­ing to se­cure a bet­ter, greener fu­ture.”

Pho­tos Tabari Artspace

Kevork Mourad’s cre­ative process in­cludes smudg­ing ink on to a trans­par­ent sheet of ac­etate, then draw­ing cal­li­graphic strokes in the liq­uid and press­ing the sheet on to fab­ric

‘We take it as we go’ is part of Kevork Mourad’s solo ex­hi­bi­tion at Tabari Artspace

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