Kuwaiti artist draws analogy between oil and pearls

Monira Al-Qadiri
Updated 10 February 2017

Kuwaiti artist draws analogy between oil and pearls

Oil and pearls are not a usual combination in the world of art, but in Monira Al-Qadiri’s art project “Spectrum I,” currently showcased at Jeddah’s Athr Gallery until April, a link is drawn between the two precious materials produced in the Gulf.

Her solo exhibition is demonstrated with four other artists from the Gulf who participated with their contemporary artwork under the theme “And Along Came Polyester,” organized by the 21,39 initiative.

Al-Qadiri is an Amsterdam-based Kuwaiti artist, born in Senegal and educated in Japan for 10 years.

She did her Bachelors and Masters, and received a Ph.D. in inter-media art, from Tokyo University of Arts.

Her research focused on the aesthetics of sadness in the Middle East stemming from poetry, music, art and religious practices.

Her international experience influenced her understanding of art and enriched her creativity. She is currently doing a two-year artist residency at The Rijksakademie in the Dutch capital until 2018.

“My work in this exhibition is a new body of work... It’s an idea I started in late 2014,” Al-Qadiri said. “I made a public sculpture of a giant oil drill, which was commissioned, in Dubai. I was thinking of public monuments in the Gulf. They’re always a camel or pearl-diving boat and things like that.”

The artist, born in 1983, told Arab News that her generation, which was affected by the oil boom, is underrepresented in art.

“We don’t know anything about the oil industry, even though it has affected our lives so much,” she said. “I feel like it’s in my blood. It’s kind of this mysterious thing in the background. We should formalize it, create monuments of it, and remember and think about it.”

Al-Qadiri’s grandfather was a singer on a pearl-diving boat who she has never met or known anything about.

“His life feels like some sort of a fiction. It’s so detached from our lives in the contemporary Gulf. It feels unreal. So this monument was made in relation to him.”

The oil-drill monument was installed at the Shindagha Heritage Village in Dubai, which is an old port that had pearl-diving boats.

The public sculpture, covered in pearlescent paint, creates what Al-Qadiri said is a “formal relationship between pearls and oil, to create a continuity of history in the Gulf.”

Through her public artwork, she drew an analogy of the connection yet detachment between her generation and that of her grandfather.

“I discovered that they (black pearls and oil) have the same color, but in lighter and darker shades,” she noted. I thought this color could represent the pre- and post-oil (generations) through this color, so the drill is a self-portrait and the boat is my grandfather.

“The funny thing is, when I made this sculpture in late 2014 it was just two weeks before the oil crash, and it hasn’t stopped since. I think the work two years ago and now has a totally different meaning.”

She then developed the idea and produced smaller oil-drill sculptures. Six of those are displayed on the purple wall of her solo space of the exhibition.

“It’s really exciting to be approached to show this work in Saudi Arabia. I thought it’s the most important place where it should be shown.”

She added: “The idea from that work is that I’m imagining it from a futuristic perspective. So when oil is finished or when it’s worthless in the future, which will happen eventually like it happened to coal before, there’s going to be a new technology that will take over from this industry.

“We should have to try to think about it like it’s something from the past. So people in the future can look back at these objects that they don’t know what they were for, in their beautiful shapes and colors. Maybe they’ll think they were things used in some kind of a ritual or an archaeological artefact. So I’m trying to force people to think about the future.”

Most of the work was accomplished in Amsterdam, where she also worked on carving a real pearl into the shape of a drill.

“A pearl, like oil, is an invader (of our world). It’s a bacteria that enters the shell, and the shell wants to protect itself so it ends up making this beautiful thing (pearl).

“I always think of oil like an alien that came to us and then it will go away. The pearl feels like this kind of an alien as well.”

Art as a source of empowerment

When asked how art can empower women in the Gulf, she said: “I have a very unique background when it comes to this. My mother is also an artist, and she started in the 1960s. Her work is very much about women empowerment and rights. I grew up in this atmosphere, and to me it’s completely normal. She — Thuraya Al-Baqsami — is a painter and print-maker who showed her work worldwide.

“I never actually thought about women not having rights. In our house it was the norm. I do feel a sense of empowerment (as an artist). Of course it’s there, that I am a girl from Kuwait.

“We always look at the Gulf as a whole, but every country has its individual experience and history. Kuwait in particular had its own renaissance era in the 1960s-70s, so we’re second-generation modernized Kuwaitis.”

After she left Japan in 2010, Al-Qadiri lived in Kuwait for a while then moved to Lebanon, where she lived for five years with her Lebanese husband, who is also an artist.

“Beirut is very interesting. It felt like it’s the most advanced art scene in the Middle East. There are so many artists and so many exhibitions and events going on. I learned a lot from being there. Also the way they treat contemporary art and talk about it is completely different than what I was used to in Japan, which was interesting and eye-opening.”

About her future plans, she said: “I have one year left in Amsterdam, and after that who knows? I think artists should be free and uncomfortable and live in places they don’t know, because you have to transform yourself and grow, and you never stop learning as an artist.”

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UAE art fair brings together ancient and futuristic creative designs

Abu Dhabi Art is exhibiting more than 300 works of art by emerging and established talent. (Arab News)
Updated 38 min 53 sec ago

UAE art fair brings together ancient and futuristic creative designs

  • The 11th edition of Abu Dhabi Art boasts 50 leading regional and international galleries
  • Spread across the two main gallery halls, innovation, thought, and concept is explored through various artistic mediums

DUBAI: The world’s first robot artist, Ai-Da, was among the many attractions at a top Middle Eastern cultural event taking place in the UAE.

The 11th edition of Abu Dhabi Art, which runs until Nov. 23 at the capital’s Manarat Al-Saadiyat creative hub, boasts 50 leading regional and international galleries exhibiting more than 300 works of art by emerging and established talent.

Among a range of other activities taking place at the event are workshops, master classes (one of which will be led by Ai-Da), public talks and discussions looking into topical issues such as cultural identity, artistic talent from China, the rise of the Pacific region as a hotspot of contemporary art, and the multidimensionality of Islamic art.

Abu Dhabi Art runs until Nov. 23 at the capital’s Manarat Al-Saadiyat creative hub. (Arab News)

Spread across the two main gallery halls, innovation, thought, and concept is explored through various artistic mediums.

From Dubai, Ayyam Gallery has a solo presentation of vibrant works by the French-Tunisian calligraffiti artist eL Seed, who combines “the beauty of Arabic calligraphy with the roughness of graffiti.”

Meanwhile, the Lawrie Shabibi Gallery was showcasing paintings from the late 1950s onwards by Moroccan modernist Mohamed Melehi, known for his signature, retro-cool wave images.

Another popular exhibit was from Cuadro Fine Art Gallery, which showed Emirati artist Nasir Nasrallah’s bright neon artwork, reading in Arabic, “Visit me every year 365 times.”

Abu Dhabi Art is spread across the two main gallery halls. (Arab News)

From the wider region, Lebanese gallery owner and curator Salah Barakat of Agial Art Gallery introduced visitors to geometrical, steel sculptures by Anachar Basbous.

Jeddah’s Hafez Gallery was making its fourth appearance at the fair, bringing together a display of works by nearly 12 multidisciplinary artists from Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Egypt.

Hailing from Tunisia, Elmarsa Gallery displayed figurative paintings bursting with expression and color, by the 20th century Algerian artist Baya Mahieddine, who was highly regarded by the likes of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.

Beyond the gallery sections, the Abu Dhabi Art team had set up a number of special exhibitions. “New Horizons” looked into conceptual works created by Chinese and Indian artists, while “Gateway: Fragments, Yesterday and Today” explored archaeological artifacts of ceramics and musical instruments on loan from the Al Ain Museum.

Beyond the gallery sections, the Abu Dhabi Art team had set up a number of special exhibitions. (Arab News)

Alongside the historical items were works by contemporary artists, which exhibition curator Paolo Colombo said were aimed at examining “the ways in which everyday objects have survived long after the lives of individuals who shaped them, and how they have entered the language of a number of contemporary artists.”

Curated by Dr. Omar Kholeif – who was recently appointed senior curator of the Sharjah Art Foundation – the handpicked “Focus: Drawing, Tracing, Mapping” section was dedicated to understanding the medium of drawing in profound depth.

Kholeif said: “Here, drawing is not the simple act of applying graphite to paper, but rather, drawing is performance and social sculpture, as much as it is about the study, diagramming and impression of a portrayal. Here, drawings reveal hidden histories and contour realities. Drawing becomes a means to see the unseen.”

Among the eight participating galleries in the section was the Saudi Athr Gallery, with a solo booth of serene drawings of circles by the Saudi-Palestinian artist Dana Awartani. Created especially for the fair, the gallery said the works symbolized “acts of meditation and moments of contemplation as part of her (Awartani’s) daily rigor of being an artist, a method she frequently adopts to quiet the mind.”

Among the eight participating galleries in the section was the Saudi Athr Gallery. (Arab News)

A fair newcomer was the recently founded Al-Burda Endowment initiative, led by the country’s Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development. For this presentation – on display at Manarat Al-Saadiyat until Feb. 8, 2020 – a group of 10 artists from around the world were chosen to create pieces that celebrated Islamic art with a contemporary touch. Through this experimental exhibition, visitors were treated to a memorable viewing experience, encountering fabric installations to virtual reality.

UAE social enterprise, 81 Designs, forged an artistic dialogue between eL Seed and Palestinian women artisans from Lebanon’s Ain Al-Hilweh refugee camp. Inspired by eL Seed, the women have reproduced some of his calligraphic artworks through a time-honored tradition of cross-stitch embroidery.

“The message we want to get across is that art brings happiness to people, especially the underprivileged,” 81 Designs’ co-founder Nesrine Maalouf told Arab News. “We would like to empower women and make them feel that they are contributing to the livelihood and the household.”