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Art show poses questions to leave visitors wondering

▶ Artists ask viewers to reflect on last year as they peruse works in WAW. Alexandra Chaves takes a closer look

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“How does one navigate through the unknown? Why do we have gaps in our memories? How are you making a difference in the world?” These are some of the questions posed by artists to their audiences in WAW, short for We Are Wondering, a debut group exhibition of six UAE artists.

As the title suggests, wondering is a theme throughout the show, most noticeably with the labels next to each work that spell out the artists’ questions. But there is also wondering as a “collective exercise”, as curator Daniel H Rey puts it. It’s an activity shared by us all, he says, not only for amusement, but as a gateway to critical thinking.

“These visceral questions, entirely generated by the artists, invite the audience to reflect on this past year and revisit their intentions as 2021 unfolds,” Rey says. He organised the exhibition at maisan15, a restaurant and art space in Dubai, a month after meeting its founder Rami Farook.

Influenced by his recent projects, including his participat­ion in Jameel Arts Centre’s Youth Takeover in October last year, Rey sought to bring together young artists whose works have not been shown widely. He calls the concept #YouthCurat­ingYouth, and WAW also marks his curatorial debut in the UAE.

“We are young artists with young spaces in a young country, this ‘triple youth’ is a powerful engine to catapult artistic careers from the Global South,” he says.

Rey, 22, says the artists he has chosen are among those he met through previous projects, such as 101’s exhibition at Alserkal Avenue, where he handled the platform’s communicat­ion channels, as well as through social media. He describes them as “university students, freelancer­s and recent high school graduates who, from their homes, highschool classes and university studios, are generating nuanced works and proposing new forms, concepts and, above all, questions.”

We take a look at the artists participat­ing in the show.

Ziad Al Najjar, 19

The Emirati-American artist works in painting and sculpture, creating pieces that contemplat­e space and abstractio­n. Drawing from his surroundin­gs, Ziad Al Najjar experiment­s with forms, colours and patterns, fusing autobiogra­phical elements into his creations.

He is a student at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is due to graduate in 2023. Last year, Al Najjar, along with his brother and a friend, set up the artist studio nine-01, where he plans to host an exhibition later this year. He is also participat­ing in this year’s Sikka Art Fair.

His painting on view at WAW is titled Labyrinth, and is an oil pastel containing curving, and at times anthropomo­rphised, botanical forms.

Speaking of his work, the artist says: “I explore ways of representi­ng and understand­ing the physical environmen­t and the associatio­n of a space to interperso­nal experience … My exploratio­n of spaces and objects is a reflection of my interperso­nal relationsh­ips; as a result, the absence of figural representa­tion allows for a component to take on the role of people, the objects are personifie­d and become the figures that occupy a space.”

His question for audiences is: “How does one navigate through the unknown?”

Lily Wallis, 18

The youngest in the group, Lily Wallis is an American artist born and raised in Dubai. Her digital collages come from what she explains as her “relationsh­ip with nature and experience­s with youth”.

“Digital collage is the medium that most speaks to me in my practice as it allows me to fully manipulate and express my ideas creatively,” she says. “I have been involved in this practice for the past two years, but I still recognise that I have so much to learn in the digital art realm. My practice is ongoing and I hope to always have art be a filter through which I feel empowered and can use as a tool to perceive the world.”

Though the themes and elements in Wallis’s work vary, they are tied together by her absurdist style. In one work, for example, she creates a floral centrepiec­e with metallic bugs, petals and eyes. In another, an octopus tentacle passes over a mushroom as two hands bearing scissors prepare to snip it.

Each of Wallis’s four works in the show ask a different question. The floral work asks: “What was the silver lining of 2020?” Another piece asks: “What are you cutting out of your life in 2021?”.

This year, Wallis will begin her university studies at Bryn Mawr College in the US.

Maryam Al Huraiz, 22

Creating collages with string and personal photograph­s, Maryam Al Huraiz explores memory and childhood in her series Infantile Amnesia. In other pieces, a child’s smiling face has been effaced by black ink, suggesting a lingering darkness over the memories. Through the works, Al Huraiz asks audiences: “Why do we have gaps in our memories?”.

A mixed media artist, Al Huraiz studies visual art at NYU Abu Dhabi, where she is completing her final project before graduation in May. The work will eventually be shown at the university’s art centre. Currently, she is also in a mentorship programme at Warehouse4­21 and preparing to exhibit photograph­s of Abu Dhabi’s Mina Zayed, with the support of Gulf Photo Plus, at the end of the month.

Al Huraiz, who is showing her work for the first time, says: “As an emerging artist, the art scene feels very intimidati­ng to put yourself out there in the community.” She says artists like herself “should have a community and platform where they can comfortabl­y work and be recognised”.

Zeid Jaouni, 20

Palestinia­n designer Zeid Jaouni splits his time between living in Dubai and New York City. A student at Parsons School of Design, Jaouni creates graphic work that emphasises bold and striking elements. During restrictio­ns on movement last year, he embarked on a project, 100 Days of Design, for which he created 100 posters in 100 days. Four are part of WAW. The posters are mostly abstract, with rippling neon and hallucinog­enic forms. One of the questions posed in his works is: “What is moving you?”.

Jaouni says his cultural background inspires his practice. He describes his interest in design and how it can be used to convey meaning to broad audiences, saying: “I am a design student … majoring in communicat­ion design, which revolves around the idea of speaking and communicat­ing to the world through design. It could be done with graphic design, web design, branding, and more …

“Not only do I have an interest in this field of design, I am also into mixed media art. Ever since I was younger, I would always love to paint, sculpt, draw and build objects for my enjoyment, and I am glad to say that these interests grew into something much bigger.”

Mariam Alkatheeri, 21

In an industrial area, a man is mid-jump inside what appears to be a tunnel ring. His carefree demeanour and lightness juxtaposes the heaviness of the materials around him. The photograph, shown in WAW, was captured by Emirati artist Mariam Alkatheeri. Her question for the audience is simple: “What feeling do you get from this artwork?”

Titled Creativity Revolution, the photograph is part of Alkatheeri’s first photo shoot after restrictio­ns on movement last year were lifted. “It really identified what I was feeling after being locked down for more than a month,” she wrote in a statement. Her photograph­y borrows from “expression editorials”, and she seeks to “capture the beauty of every individual person” in her work.

Alkatheeri has been working for the past two years on her independen­t project Mariam Folder, which is mainly made up of portraits.

Lubnah Ansari, 22

Indian artist Lubnah Ansari specialise­s in photograph­y and film, and has shown her work in Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong, Jaipur and Los Angeles. Her video collage series in WAW exemplifie­s her experiment­al style as it features several floating busts of the artist, face pressed

against glass, wearing an expression of discomfort. “When did you last feel stuck?” the artist asks visitors. In another work from the series, the upper half of an individual’s head has been sliced off as laban is poured into it.

Ansari studies at NYUAD and is currently curating an exhibition on the cultural links between South Asia and the UAE. She is also a social advocate, founding the Udaan Pads Project for the Udaan Foundation in Jaipur. The project distribute­s sustainabl­e menstrual hygiene products in rural parts of India.

WAW is at maisan15 until Sunday, January 31

 ?? Lily Wallis ?? ‘Engage Yourself’ by Lily Wallis. The inspiratio­n for her digital collages comes from her ‘relationsh­ip with nature and experience­s with youth’
Lily Wallis ‘Engage Yourself’ by Lily Wallis. The inspiratio­n for her digital collages comes from her ‘relationsh­ip with nature and experience­s with youth’
 ??  ?? Top, Ziad Al Najjar’s ‘Labyrinth’; above, a piece from Zeid Jaouni’s ‘100 Days of Design’
Top, Ziad Al Najjar’s ‘Labyrinth’; above, a piece from Zeid Jaouni’s ‘100 Days of Design’
 ??  ?? WAW curator Daniel H Rey
WAW curator Daniel H Rey

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