Mahmoud Obaidi’s four stainless steel and glass sculptures bask in the simplicity of their geometric lines and graceful static shapes. At Dubai’s Meem Gallery they are presented along with their accompanying sketches, showcasing the elaborate thought process behind each work. Previously included in Hajj: The Journey through Art at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha in 2013, Obaidi’s The Cube opened for the first time in the UAE at Meem Gallery during the holy month of Ramadan.
Curated by the gallery’s development director Meagan Kelly Horsman, the exhibition weaves together theoretical mathematics, Platonic insight, architectural appreciation and, most importantly, Islamic thought into a beautiful four-piece display. Obaidi uses the Kaaba as a central reference point in his exploration of the complexity of the seemingly straightforward cuboid structure by delving into the philosophy behind Platonic solids and the notion that every object emanates a certain form of energy. Using his personal experience during Hajj as a starting point, Obaidi investigates how people experience the Kaaba as they walk around it in a rhythmic fashion during the tawaf (an Islamic ritual of pilgrimage), almost as though a certain ‘force’ propelled this sacred movement. Viewers of the exhibition are also encouraged to walk around the four cuboid, stainless steel and glass structures on display in order to symbolically experience the energy that electrifies the air during Hajj on a much smaller yet profound scale.
Mahmoud Obaidi's four interpretations of the cube at Meem Gallery in Dubai
Obaidi’s fascination with the Platonic complexity of the cube can be traced back to the early 20th century when art historians, architects, philosophers and mathematicians found themselves intrigued by the concept of the ‘black cube’ which was a central theme of discussion and exploration. Thus, through this exhibition, he hopes to reawaken an appreciation for this deceptively simple structure and bring it to the forefront of artistic thought once again.
Placed in the form of a square in a dimly lit cuboid room at the gallery to highlight their geometric shadows cast on the grey floors, the four installations reflect the artist’s interpretations of the energy emanated by the cube. The first cube, titled The Cube, is themed around the exploration of the spiritual significance of the cube itself and how the nature of the right-angled shape contributes to the spiritual experience of millions of Muslims worldwide during the Hajj. Obaidi manipulates the use of colour with his use of monochrome, black and the metallic colour of steel itself that intensify the cube’s shape and intriguing structure. The next cube, named 1000 Directions Of Energy, is a cuboid structure containing smaller interlocked cubes reflecting the product of Obaidi’s personal research that revealed that the cube is the only geometric structure containing multiple cubes in a perfect equation, with each smaller cube emitting energy in 48 directions. The third and fourth structures, titled The Hidden Pyramids Within the Cube and The Invisible Sphere Around The Cube reflect his interpretations of the stages and forms of energy radiating from within the cube. They reveal how the force of energy has an upward momentum in the shape of a pyramid, resulting in an intensified invisible sphere around the cube.
The Invisible Sphere Around the Cube (2013). Stainless steel and glass. 150x50x50cm.
All four interpretations of the cube embody his personal study of the correlation between the simplicity of the shape and the element of spirituality associated with it. His use of simple materials and subdued colour palettes were conscious decisions intended to bring out the architectural minimalism associated with the shape itself, while ensuring that the colour scheme does not interfere with the presence of the form in psychological reality. Instead of using bronze as Obaidi originally intended, he decided to use stainless steel instead due to its more pliable and less rigid composition. Moreover, the 100 per cent pure, German-manufactured glass showcases allow the viewer to peer into the hidden energy depicted by the sphere, pyramid and smaller cubes without any obstruction.
Obaidi uses multiple shapes to depict varying energies within a single cube to demonstrate how nothing is as it may seem, thereby highlighting the plurality and subjectivity of interpretations in his art. “The concept is something that you can muse on for hours and hours,” says Kelly Horsman. “Considering how the Kaaba affects those who interact with it, looking at the geometry and mathematical complexity behind this seemingly simple shape, and how the artist conveys his interpretation of the shape itself while representing human interaction with it.” Nonetheless, Obaidi hopes his viewers take home any message that the exhibition personally speaks to them about. The openness in interpretation, understanding and appreciation of this beautifully deconstructed geometric art form arrives at the perfect time amidst regional tensions, thereby encouraging viewers to highlight their shared experiences more than their differences.
The Hidden Pyramids Within the Cube (2013). Stainless steel and glass. 150x50x50cm.
Obaidi is currently working on a project based in Toronto, Canada, and he has the Quebec and Montreal Biennales in sight for the summer. We can only wait and see what Obaidi surprises us with next.
Mention of the curation of this show was erroneously stated in the Summer Art print issue; 'Hajj: The Journey through Art' exhibited at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha in 2013 was curated by the British Museum.
Mahmoud Obaidi’s ‘The Cube’ will be on display at Meem Gallery in Dubai, UAE, till 31 August. Meemartgallery.com