Zayed University Launches Gallery Space in Alserkal Avenue

BY Rebecca Anne Proctor / Apr 23 2019 / 13:45 PM

Rarely does a university operate a gallery beyond campus, Abu Dhabi’s Zayed University has done just that

Zayed University Launches Gallery Space in Alserkal Avenue
Courtesy of Zayed University.
Meera Alhameli. Abandoned Trauma #1. 2018. Archival pigment print. 70x 100cm. Edition of 10

Located at the tip of The Yard, Alserkal Avenue’s multi-purpose outdoor event space that has the aesthetic of an Italian piazza, for the first time in its history Zayed University has opened a permanent gallery in Dubai. Called the Zayed University Urban Satellite Space, the gallery gives students and recent graduates from the university’s College of Arts and Creative Enterprises (CACE) a public platform for their work. At the helm is Walter Willems, a Dutch artist and curator who was appointed two years ago to lead the project, which he developed in collaboration with former College of Arts and Creative Enterprises dean Ann-Maree Reaney and current dean Kevin Badni.

Jumaanah Alhashemi. Through the Fabric-ation of Time. 2018. IKEA clocks and ice. 60x90cm

“The idea of an off-campus project space started in 2016 when Ann-Maree Reaney, the former dean of the College of Arts and Creative Enterprises, and I approached some of the team at Alserkal Avenue with the idea of programming pop-up exhibitions of work by our students and alumni,” says Willems. “They responded enthusiastically, and after two years of curating these pop-up shows, we presented a proposal for a permanent space with the objective of creating exhibition opportunities that give our students tangible experience in a professional art and design environment.” The space, Zayed University Urban Satellite Space (ZUUSS), was inaugurated on 14 January in the presence of HE Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development and President of Zayed University, and Abdelmonem Alserkal, founder of Alserkal Avenue. “It is important for our students to be exposed to this [Alserkal Avenue] and see independent businesses operating. Having our students working or presenting their work there stimulates collaboration and cross-pollination between practices,” adds Willems. “It serves as an example of how passion can fuel business.”

The present show, titled Peeling Back the Blue Sky, showcases the works of recent graduates from Zayed University’s art course, including Alyaa Nasser Al Breiki, Ayesha Hadhir, Jumaanah Alhashemi, Maitha Abdalla, Mariam Eisa Al Fahim, Meera Alhameli, Narjes Noureddine, Rawdha alKetbi and Shaikha Al Ketbi. Of note are works by Meera Alhameli, such as Abandoned Trauma 2 (2018) in which the artist photographs herself in the midst of derelict building painting; a large vibrantly coloured painting by Maitha Abdalla adorning the back wall comprising a myriad of theatrical motifs; and a large sculpture made with abandoned items that the artist, Rawda AlKetbi, found in the desert. The piece looks like a UFO of sorts, and is made of a part of an aircraft that apparently the artist found in the desert: a rusted silo for storing grain and a part of an aircraft that Willems says took three people to lift. Step inside and you’ll find a video showcasing images scanned from old passports. It’s as if, says Willems, that this was a crew abandoned in the desert.

The inauguration kicked off with an installation work about time. Created by Jumaanah AlHashemi, it took the form a giant ice block onto which old-fashioned tick alarm clocks were placed as if to predict the piece’s destruction. Titled Through the Fabric-ation of Time (2018), the work offers two modes for telling time as well as expectations. Interestingly, the company that sold the ice block said it would melt in 14 to 18 hours. Yet it actually stayed up for more than 36.

Ayesha Hadhir. Self-Portrait with 701. 2016. Archival pigment print. 701x701mm. Edition of 10

ZUUSS will run an annual programme of exhibitions, workshops, lectures and critique sessions related to the curriculum of CACE, as well as organise community events that tie in with the programming at Alserkal Avenue. “Getting this space up and running within the bureaucratic structure of a university has been a great feat and also serves as testament to the institution’s forward-thinking attitudes and dedication to investing in the future careers of its students and alumni,” adds Williams.

The space has been given to Zayed University by Alserkal Avenue for free. The site of the former Art Jameel Project Space, it comprises a main room for exhibitions, in addition to a smaller one for one-off projects, lectures and workshops. The vision of the ZUUSS is high. “It takes visionaries and educated risk-takers within the institutions to understand that it is the institution that should follow the artist and not the other way around,” says Willems. “That’s a complex task within a bureaucratic setting and museological practice. And that’s what ZUUSS is about in part; creating the circumstance for events to occur which propel an artist’s work into new grounds through openness, rigour and experimentation. It’s a laboratory of sorts.” Indeed it is as well as one that fuels the imagination as well as dispels stereotypes.  

ZUUSS is located in Alserkal Avenue in Warehouse 48.

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