What to expect from Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim’s exhibition at the 2022 Venice Biennale
Nestled between Fujairah and Dibba on the east coast of the country, Khor Fakkan is exceptional at dawn.
The sun rises behind the Gulf of Oman and the greens, browns and blues of the city and its natural landscape come alive in the direct sunlight. However, the town falls into the shade after noon, as the jagged rocky heights surrounding it block out the sun. The colors fade and continue to darken until the sun sets unseen beyond the Hajar Mountains.
The geography and the extraordinary palette of colors of Khor Fakkan inspire the work of Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim. The city’s corals and cliffs are presented in his art as artistic allusions or materials. Their patterns and textures appear in his paintings. In sculptures like Fresh and salty, they are used as a medium in themselves.
The exhibition that the Emirati artist will present at the upcoming Venice Biennale for the National Pavilion of the United Arab Emirates is no different. Featuring abstract and organic sculptural forms on a human scale, Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim: Between Sunrise and Sunset is inspired by Ibrahim’s deep connection to the local environment of Khor Fakkan, and in particular the mountains of his hometown.
At the Venice Biennale, which runs from April 23 to November 27, the exhibition will also be a point of view celebrating the four-decade career of one of the country’s most influential experimental artists.
Curated by Maya Allison, Executive Director of New York University Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim: Between Sunrise and Sunset lays bare Ibrahim’s fascination with the mountains of his hometown, as well as their influence on each other. .
“The ocean is right there, but for him it was always about the mountains,” says Allison.
The curator, whose collaborative friendship with Ibrahim dates back a decade, says the exhibition at the biennale will be broader than his previous work.
“The installation is a manifestation of this transition from color to black and white between sunrise and sunset. It will fill the center of the space. And as you walk around it, I hope you have some sort of physical relationship with it in the sense that, you know, it’s body-sized shapes. Go from color to black and white, from sunrise to sunset.”
“There’s another layer to that,” she says. “Ibrahim also views the facility as a landmass, like the United Arab Emirates, with one side receiving sunrise and the other witnessing sunset.”
The work is also intended to reflect on this year’s theme of the Venice Biennale.
This year’s event, the 59th, is organized by Italian curator and artistic director Cecilia Alemani, who lives in New York, under the theme The Milk of Dreams. She questions the representation of bodies and their metamorphoses, and the link between bodies and the earth.
“Resonating with this theme, Ibrahim’s biomorphic sculptures come together in undulating color and movement – suggesting bodies, mutations and metamorphoses,” reads the description of the work from the National Pavilion UAE.
“These forms come from his physical dialogue with the materials of the work: accretions of papier-mâché are built on loose skeletal structures that shift and settle into their final position as he works. Often incorporating earth, leaves, tea, coffee and tobacco, the texture of the forms derives from its raw materials.
The installation at the Venice Biennale will give visitors a powerful taste of Ibrahim’s artistic methodology, but it will be a unique work. An eponymous publication, to be released during the biennale, offers a deeper look at Ibrahim’s works and career, exploring his contribution to UAE art history.
Co-edited by Allison and Cristiana de Marchi, Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim: Between sunrise and sunset marks the artist’s first monograph. The book features key examples of Ibrahim’s work as well as essays from the editors as well as art experts and practitioners who explore the disparate work academically or personally.
The book also includes texts by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, curator of the National Pavilion of the United Arab Emirates, and Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth of the United Arab Emirates.
The book explores Ibrahim’s work in detail and documents a facet of the country’s long-standing experimental art community. It is as much a monograph as it is an overview of the founding era of contemporary art in the UAE.
“We approached a number of writers who come from very different areas of expertise,” says de Marchi. “For example, Nada Shabout explores the context of the UAE art scene in the late 1980s and 1990s through the publication of the Emirates Fine Art Society. We have an introduction by Salwa Mikdadi and an academic text by Venetia Porter, and that’s more in the first section, which, along with my in-depth essay, covers an academic perspective of the work.
The second half of the book, Sunset, dives into remembrance, says de Marchi.
“In this second section, we focus on the memories of different people who have had a relationship or met Mohamed Ahmed over the years. In this section we have Adel Khozam, a poet and writer from the United Arab Emirates and a longtime friend of Mohamed Ahmed. We have Vivek Vilasini, who is an Indian artist who lived with the group in the 1990s. We have Fumio Nanjo, former director of the Mori Art Museum in Japan, who also gives us a perspective on the landscape of the United Arab Emirates in the 1980s and 1990s. He happens to have visited the region very early. Then we have Munira Al Sayegh, who is a young Emirati curator who collaborated and organized Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim during a residency in 2015, and who really explores the importance of Mohamed Ahmed’s work for the younger generation.
The final section of the book features an interview between de Marchi and Ibrahim, where the two discuss the artist’s influences, practice, collaborations and travels.
“We explore his approach to the creative side of his life through the lens of meaningful friendships,” says de Marchi.
Ibrahim is part of a distinct group of Emirati artists called “The Five”. This close-knit avant-garde community also included the late Hassan Sharif, Abdullah Al Saadi, Hussein Sharif and Mohammed Kazem, and was one form of mutual mentorship.
“Indeed, each brought distinct insights to the group,” Allison writes in her essay. in the book titled Not knowing. “Hassan Sharif had studied art in London and had particularly reacted to the work of Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys and Fluxus – and it is through this lens that the work of this community is most often interpreted.
“Hassan’s brother, Hussain, studied theater design in Kuwait. Mohammed Kazem studied music and is an excellent oud player. Abdullah Al Saadi studied English but also spent a year studying traditional art in Japan.
As for Ibrahim, his studies took him from Pakistan, where he explored archeology, to Al Ain, where he studied psychology. He grew up as an artist in the United Arab Emirates at a time when the visual arts were not yet culturally valued or taught as part of university curricula. But in 1986 Ibrahim met Hassan Sharif, a founding member of the influential Emirates Fine Art Society, and moved from an isolated practice to an artistic methodology that blurred the lines between friendship, mentorship and collaboration. , while laying the foundation for today’s UAE creative community.
The Venice Biennale runs from April 23 to November 27. Updates on the release of Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim: Between Sunrise and Sunset will be available at pavilionnationaluae.org
Updated: April 18, 2022, 11:07 a.m.