Four UAE-based artists explore the myriad meanings, metaphorical and literal, inherent within their surrounding landscape in NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery’s exhibition, Speculative Landscapes. Curated by Chief Curator at NYU Abu Dhabi and Executive Director of the NYUAD Art Gallery, Maya Allison, the works reflect on shared futures by envisioning the interaction between living organisms and their surrounding environments. “The term speculative means to hypothesise—the beautiful act of imagining, guessing and extrapolating from where we are now, into the future,” says Allison. “And landscape has the dual meaning of a natural land formation and of a story of place.”
Inspired by the study of plant life in Al Noor Island in Sharjah, Between muddles and tangles (2019) by Saudi Arabia-born experimental artist Ayman Zedani highlights the intersection between the natural world and the artificial world through a multimedia installation comprising LED lights, a wooden shelf and plants. “Here, a third habitat emerges, one that could not exist without that intersection,” says Allison. “Insects are making new homes in these plants, centred on the lights.” Previously, Zedani’s work has been showcased by a number of regional group shows including at the Sharjah Art Foundation and Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, France in 2018. The same year, the artist became the inaugural recipient of the Ithra Art Prize at Art Dubai.
Areej Kaoud. 2ill7a2ny 1.0 (Help me). 2018. Custom green LED Panel + software. 17x49cm. Commissioned by Tashkeel
Courtesy of the artist
Another work on show is BRZ5 Imagined (2019) by Dubai-based multimedia artist Jumairy, a digital collage depicting the relationship between our natural bodies and virtual realities. The work merges an imagined realm with an existing one, proposing a world where artificial intelligence is manifested through living organisms and their surrounding landscapes. “In both cases, the artists invite the viewers to reconsider our environments through less binary terms than natural or artificial,” says Allison. “It’s an invitation to view the world around us here through third positions.”
The works challenge traditional definitions by exploring the metaphorical associations attached to the term “landscapes.” “When we ask ‘where are we?’ we might just as easily be asking a geographic or a metaphorical question,” says Allison. “Landscapes have a long history of metaphorical use, from Dante’s Inferno and the Garden of Eden to phrases like ‘the political landscape.’ I saw in the artists’ work the intersection of both meanings of speculative and the fluid meaning of landscape—and I found this deeply moving and intellectually exciting.”
Ayman Zedani. Between muddles and tangles. 2019. Multimedia installation with 2-channel video; wooden shelf, LED plant light, beakers and watch glasses, Kaff Maryam and water; print on archival paper. Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist
Also on view are works by Sharjah-based Palestinian conceptual artist Areej Kaoud and Dubai-based artist Raja’a Khalid. “These four artists share a particular quality of observing our environment in the UAE in the 21st century and developing those observations through research and installation,” says Allison. “Each work they make is a kind of thought-experiment about our world and our landscape.”
The four artists are ultimately navigating the relationship between the natural, artificial and virtual, provoking the viewer to contemplate how living organisms create, survive and inhabit these worlds. “My hope is that, ultimately, the art historical work now being done on this region will enable the art historical canon to more accurately tell the story of art around the world, even as contemporary art is telling us the story of where we are now,” says Allison. The artists have been thoughtfully selected to represent a new group of budding artists in the Middle Eastern region.
“This group represents not the youngest generation working today, but what I might call the third wave, who came into maturity as artists in the last decade—they have experienced the shift in the arts ecology here first-hand,” adds Allison. “My hope for the future for art from this region is that artists will resist the ebbs and flows of international interest in their work and ride the wave, not the reverse.” nyuad-artgallery.org
Speculative Landscapes is open to the public from 16 September until 7 December 2019 at the NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) Art Gallery
From the Autumn issue of Harper's Bazaar Art
Watch: Everything You Need To Know About Abu Dhabi Art 2018