Mohammed Kazem, born 1969, is a renowned contemporary Emirati artist based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Kazem’s work largely focuses on videography, sound art, found objects and performance art. He is one of the five conceptual Emirati artists whose projects were recognised as a group showcased in the 2002 exhibition 5 UAE at the Ludwig Museum, Aachen. Kazem’s fondness for art helped him escape reality and express himself as a teenager, and he gradually began investigating his environment to discover modern methods of art. “I remember while walking to and from school, I would often find discarded objects on the street – mundane, broke and unimportant,” Kazem says. “They fascinated me and I began to collect domestic detritus.”
As a teenager, Kazem studied painting at the Emirates Fine Art Society, Sharjah, and in the early 1990s at Al Rayat Music Institute, Dubai. “In early 1984, a family friend, Youssef Salem Ahmad, who had heard about the Emirates Fine Arts Society in Sharjah, took me to the society to inquire about art lessons,” says the artist. “I was just fifteen when I met Hassan Sharif, who took me very seriously right away. Twenty years earlier, Sharif himself had struggled to learn more about art from the few illustrated books available in the UAE. He understood that because of his background he could make me, an aspiring artist, more aware of current artistic theory and art philosophy. So, while I proceeded to take regular classes with Hassan Sharif, I also began to learn from him through artistic dialogue, including discussions and heated arguments.” Not only has Kazem actively worked with the late Emirati artist Hassan Sharif, but as a conceptual artist he often portrays his own body in drawings, performances and photographs as a way to locate his subjectivity concerning the swift modernisation of his homeland, “It was then that I felt not only understood but also guided into this new, progressive and constructive realm of contemporary art, by what was soon to be called the “first generation” of contemporary artists in the UAE,” expresses Kazem.
Kazem’s recent exhibition Infinite Angles, presented by Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, has revealed some of his newest pieces. The exhibition features works on paper, paintings, which show the continuation of Kazem’s never-ending discovery of materiality and the visualisation of light and sound. The displayed artworks are imprints and records of both material and immaterial objects in the world; they reveal an invisible light and imperceptible sound that exists in a continuous sequence with no beginning or end. “A highlight, I would say is The Sign of Time (2018), which is a found bathroom door I encountered at an Italian restaurant in Cincinnati, Ohio,” says the artist. “I invite viewers to push it open and interact with it. The door’s paint is faded from years of use where people pressed their palms against it to push the door open. I immediately felt like this door was related to my scratching technique as people have been ‘scratching’ the door. Of course, they did it for a purpose, to open the door to go to the bathroom. My purpose is different. Mine is an intervention, as I am taking the object from one context and putting it into my project. The door is part of a larger installation in this exhibition called Sound of Angles that brings together new scratches on paper, each colour is taken from the layers of paint on the door.”
Kazem stresses his dealings with ephemeral elements, such as the imperceptible movements of apparently fixed objects and situations, and the passing of time. Furthermore, Kazem explains the importance of sound imperative to his artistry as it presents the motion and length of scratching that he wishes to preserve.
Sound of Angles (2020) is an installation that combines a found door and new scratched on paper. Kazem’s scratching technique began in the 1990s when he created abrasions into the paper’s surface with a pair of scissors as it pushes and pulls the blade against the paper, tearing and scratching the material to extract sound visually. This installation encourages visitors to push through the door, activating its hinges and it’s likely to continue harnessing the energy from the force of each hand. On the other side, a display of new scratch works on coloured paper marks the sound of individual angles made as to the door swings. “Sound of Angles is related to the angle created when one opens a door. Sound is invisible, and everything makes a sound, even the presence of shade, the very shape of objects. Any fixed angle has a sound, such as a corner in a building, and in general any shape. When you open the door, you don’t calculate the angle. In the same way, when I made these works, the defining moment was the one when I traced the line with the cutter – then I decided. There was no measurement. I am establishing a parallel between the action of the visitor experiencing the work and myself as an artist, playing with the idea of purpose and intention.”
The artist created multi-dimensional works that are traced back to Scratches of Paper (1990), a series that established his scratching technique. Scratches on Paper is meant to capture the movement of both light and sound and represent space. “I want to convert the intangible into tangible,” he remarks, explaining the purpose behind this series. “Sound, light and movement are recreated in a way so that they embodied and have composition and dimension.” The creation of sound is simultaneously sculpted into the paper as scratches are created, which also produces lines that often appear random.
Kazem believes that, “devotion is important to discover new ways and develop. It’s more about diligence and training than any elusive or mystical element.”
Infinite Angles is on show until May 20, 2020 at Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde