Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim discusses sunsets, nature and his hometown ahead of the Venice Biennale

Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim discusses sunsets, nature and his hometown ahead of the Venice Biennale
Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, The Space Between The Eyelid and The Eyeball Installation View, Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 2019. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 01 February 2022

Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim discusses sunsets, nature and his hometown ahead of the Venice Biennale

Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim discusses sunsets, nature and his hometown ahead of the Venice Biennale

DUBAI: Known for his playful and colorful abstract organic sculptures that dialogue with the land and its surroundings, Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim has a deep connection to the local environment, particularly that of his hometown of Khor Fakkan, on the Gulf of Oman, near Fujairah in the UAE.

Known for its beachfront and dramatic Al-Hajar mountains with their waterfalls and natural pools, it has one of the most stunning natural landscapes in the Gulf nation.

His work, notable for its electric colors and anamorphous forms, appear immediately at one with the landscape in which they are placed, as if they have always belonged there.

Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, Falling Stones Garden, installation view at Desert X AlUla. (Supplied)

Ibrahim is part of the UAE's first generation of contemporary artists from the late 1980s, an avant-garde scene that included Hassan Sharif, Abdullah Al Saadi, Hussein Sharif, and Mohammed Kazem.

What distinguishes his work is his lifelong and deep connection to the landscape of his hometown and the Hajar mountains, both which he continuously references through his installations, paintings, drawings and objects.

“I love working with organic material because it comes from nature,” he told Arab News. “I use an experimental mix of materials. Papier-mache, leaves, clay, and glue. When I start creating, I prepare the material and then I make the objects, and it is through making the objects that I start to make an assemblage. It is through this process, working with the materials and forms, that my ideas come.” 

Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, Untitled, 2019. (Supplied)

He then studies the colors to see which best suit the objects he is creating.

“I am a child when I create my art; it is like I am playing,” he laughs. Indeed, his artwork evokes a childlike wonder and view onto the world, one never lacking in exuberance. “Playing gives way to seriousness,” he adds.

The dichotomy could not be more apparent in his work—his objects, installations and drawings play with their surroundings as much as they offer fruit for serious contemplation.

The materials he uses, and their resulting forms, reflect his interest in archaeology and also psychology. 

Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, Khorfakkan, 2005. (Supplied)

Many might have seen his current installation “Hugs at Terra” in the Sustainability Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, an interactive installation forming a reflective walk-through space covered in his signature indecipherable symbols in black and white.

The installation acts like a metaphorical and also literal hug for visitors, prompting them to question if they honor their values over their desire for comfort and convenience. 

In “Memory Drum,” the second solo show of the artist at Lawrie Shabibi in Alserkal Avenue in Dubai, presenting works the artist made during the 2020 lockdown in the UAE, he explored the psychological theory of the memory drum and how the unconscious neutral patterns acquired from past experiences were stored in the central nervous system within a memory storage organ.

Nature, and that of his UAE homeland, is ultimately Ibrahim’s greatest inspiration. It is through nature that the artist examines society and human psychology.

Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, Untitled, 2016. (Supplied)

His works serve as joyful contemplations of the world around him, and they provide lightness and vibrancy to even the darkness of spaces. 

In “Falling Stones,” for example, his installation for Desert X Al Ula in 2020, a site-specific installation comprising 320 sculptures, varying in size and hue, were all inspired by the natural landscape and surrounding natural rockfalls and sandstone cliffs of AlUla.

Ibrahim’s colored sculptures added dynamism and contemporary vibrancy to the ancient region’s old rocky landscape but in a manner that seemed almost natural, as if his sculptures had been there in AlUla for years, decades even.

Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, Green Boulevard, 2020. (Supplied)

Now the artist is embarking on his most prestigious work yet: An exhibition at the UAE pavilion of the 2022 Venice Biennale, which takes place from April 23 until Nov. 27. Titled “Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim: Between Sunrise and Sunset” and curated by Maya Allison, executive director of the New York University Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, the presentation will reveal a human-sized sculpture in the artist’s signature abstract and organic sculptural forms. The artist has been working on the piece for over two years since the biennale’s original dates were delayed due to COVID-19.

The work, like its title, refers to the various states of the sun throughout the day.

“In Khor Fakkan, the sun makes a shadow not a proper sunset,” the artist said. “At the end of the day the sun goes to the back of the mountains. When we were growing up, we didn’t see the sunset because the mountains would hide it.”

His new work will be revealed at the UAE’s pavilion during the opening of the Venice Biennale in April.

Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, Installation view, Memory Drum, 2020. (Supplied)

Experimentation, he said, was a crucial component of his artistic practice.

“I experiment with my materials, shapes and my thoughts. Sometimes I make an object that looks like a figure but is not a figure. I give a chance to the viewer to read my work as they see it in these experimental works. I create my art out of a need not for someone or something.”

Regardless of how much is explored through his artistic practice, one constant is the landscape of Khor Fakkan. In the land, he said: “You can see poetry and almost hear music.” In this sense he hoped that his works took on an otherworldly quality, which he hoped led his viewers to states of transcendence, joy, and to find deeper meaning with the natural world.

His works on paper often incorporate his own indecipherable language. Featuring lines, inscriptions and abstract forms that evoke ancient cave drawings, while they might be devoid of any literal meaning, Ibrahim’s symbols serve to mark time and memory through the meditative repetition of forms and symbols. 

Their resulting depiction is itself another form of visual language that communicates between individuals and the natural landscape of the artist’s homeland through the simplicity yet poignant use of the artist’s forms and color.