Chairman, Emirates Fine Arts Society and Co-curator of From Barcelona to Abu Dhabi
What do you hope the audience will take away from seeing the exhibition From Barcelona to Abu Dhabi and what may surprise them most about it?
As part of the Abu Dhabi Festival 2018, From Barcelona to Abu Dhabi – Works from the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) in dialogue with the Emirates, explores the universal themes of our common human existence. Showcasing works by more than 70 artists over nine decades from MACBA, including 20 Emirati artists, the exhibition features artworks by some of the most prominent artists of the modern and contemporary eras, including Alexander Calder, Sol LeWitt, Anthony McCall, Lawrence Weiner, Piero Manzoni and Antoni Tàpies, in dialogue with artworks by pioneers of UAE contemporary practice, including Hassan Sharif, Mohammed Kazem and Ebtisam Abdul Aziz.
As part of Abu Dhabi Festival’s mission to promote cultural exchange, we hope that visitors to the exhibition are inspired by the dialogue between the artworks from MACBA and the works by Emirati artists, and are surprised by the overlaps and commonalities in the themes addressed by the artists.
During my research, I was astonished by the remarkable convergence between the works, the media and the ideology – something that creates important connections in this exhibition.
Using the same materials and symbols with different approaches, or elaborating shared philosophies with diverse outcomes, serves to emphasise the interdependence between civilisations and communities, which pre-dates the technological boom that turned the world into one shared community. Today, everyone can be connected through an infinite number of media channels, and such connectivity has created a visible intellectual amalgam, raising the physical and intellectual aspects of human matters, and shaping the manmade and natural ecosystems to meet the needs of human life, presenting art in all its complexity.
How will works from Spain interest a UAE audience?
The artworks from the MACBA collection include examples of some of the most important and influential artists of the modern and contemporary era. This exhibition marks the first time that these artists’ works are being shown in the Arab world, offering visitors unique access to this exceptional collection.
This exhibition sheds light on an intellectual dialogue between historically valuable collections and local artworks and artists, clearly demonstrating the diversity of artistic currents and knowledge sources that inspire artists, regardless of time or place. Human civilisations are intricately interconnected throughout eras, across continents, pushing humanity ever forward to reach our current moment of openness and unparalleled advancement. This is something that cannot be claimed by any country or civilisation, it is the culmination of our shared humanity, which is as old as time.
What have you learnt about Emirati artists when curating the show?
As Chairman of the Emirates Fine Arts Society, I have of course worked with this group of artists for many years. As with every new exhibition, a curator earns new insight into aspects of a particular artist’s work that they had not seen before. This unique exhibition allowed me to view the work of the Emirati artists in direct dialogue with those by giants of the modern and contemporary era, reinforcing my view of our local artists as pioneers of the contemporary practice in the region.
The UAE’s first generation of fine arts pioneers witnessed formative external contact, setting the rounds for the future artistic movement. This contact came through academic scholarships with local talents dispatched around the world, particularly to Egypt, Kuwait, the UK and USA. This helped diversify the knowledge sources of these pioneers, which, in turn, diversified the country’s artistic production. Starting with classic artworks that documented local heritage, all the way to abstract art in its diverse shapes and forms.
In the exhibition, we can see the importance of Hassan Sharif in the development of the contemporary art scene in the UAE. In the early eighties, contemporary art came to the fore, with the late artist Hassan Sharif leading the modern art scene. He returned from his studies in the UK with an innovative mind-set. His fierce determination culminated in finding a place for himself in locally organised exhibitions, particularly in the Emirates Fine Arts Society. This form of art was still struggling to gain acceptance among artists and curators alike, but Sharif’s bold grit and his relentless efforts to spread this movement through training young talents and managing a free studio, allowed him to introduce international artistic concepts to several new artists.
A group of contemporary practitioners emerged, under the name of ‘The Five’, a quintet including Hussain Sharif, Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, Abdullah Al Saadi, Mohammed Kazem and Hassan Sharif, each producing a different form of art, but sharing a deep intellectual and philosophical outlook. Soon after, a new generation of artists followed in the footsteps of Hassan Sharif and his team, influenced mostly by Sharif’s innovative contemporary approach.
From Barcelona to Abu Dhabi – Works from the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) will be on view until 31 March 2018 at Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi.