An award-winning installation inspired by the Emirati ayala dance is on show
The acclaimed installation Sila was officially unveiled at New York University Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. This year’s recipient of The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award, the piece, which stands in the campus’s central plaza and is open to the public, was developed by three students at the American University of Sharjah.
Falwah Alhouti, who studies graphic design, and Ibrahim Abdellatif and Omer Al Raee, who both study architecture, took as their starting point the ayala, a traditional Emirati dance performed by men moving in unison to drum beats and poetic chanting.
During the dance, performers form two rows and face one another in a symbolic battle, carrying thin bamboo canes that represent swords.
Speaking to The National,
Al Raee and Abdellatif said that “unity” and “rhythm” are at the core of Sila. The work is also made up of two rows, each comprising units that alternate in height and colour, giving an illusion of movement from afar.
Like the dancers, these black and white units work together to create a gradient-like effect, and the rows taper towards each other to enhance this. It is fitting for the title, which is an Arabic term for “connection”.
“Architecture can deliver a message in a different way,” said Abdellatif, who is studying the profession. “If people see this for the first time … they can experience the ayala dance as something static.”
Through Sila, the students have extracted the essence of the dance and presented it in an abstract way.
Both Al Raee and Abdellatif said the project had made them consider creating more architectural artworks, rather than working directly in building development.
“After doing this project, we were more attracted to this side of architecture, where it is not just an art piece or structure that is functional. It is somewhere in between,” Al Raee said.
For Sila, Alhouti’s primary role was in developing the concept and the narrative of the piece, while Al Raee worked with software to draft the designs and model.
Abdellatif was in charge of prototyping and fabrication. The three will share the $10,000 (Dh36,725) prize.
The Christo and JeanneClaude Award draws its name from artists Christo Javacheff and Jeanne-Claude Denat. The couple, who were married until Jeanne-Claude’s death in 2009, worked with environmental and installation art, often using everyday materials such as plastic and fabric. Their 1983 Surrounding Islands, in which they wrapped the shores of 11 islands in Florida with pink plastic, attracted thousands of visitors and marked the beginning of their monumental projects.
The practice of wrapping and draping extended to historic structures such as the Pont Neuf in Paris (1985) and the Reichstag in Berlin (1995). Their most recent projects include The Floating Piers (2016) in Italy – walkways that allowed visitors to cross Lake Iseo in Brescia – and The London Mastaba (2018) in England – a mastaba or tomb comprised of more than 7,506 oil barrels afloat on a Hyde Park lake.
The award is supported by the patronage of Sheikha Shamsa bint Hamdan Al Nahyan, and presented by NYUAD in partnership with Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation.
Submissions for the award, which was established in 2013, are accepted from students and graduates in the UAE who are interested in creating new installation artwork.
The application process for the 2020 award is now open.
Sila will travel to Abu Dhabi Art on Thursday, November 21, and later to Umm Al Emarat Park, also in the capital.
The winning work of this year’s Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award on display at NYUAD