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DUBAI: This year, the Venice Biennale presents a strong exhibition of nations and artists from the Middle East.
In this 59th biennale, which runs until November 27, the Middle East region – comprising Iran, the Levant, the Gulf and North Africa – is represented through national pavilions, collateral events and individual artists.
The Saudi Arabia Pavilion, curated by Reem Fadda and Rotana Shaker, hosts Saudi artist Muhannad Shono’s work “The Teaching Tree” – a huge installation that has been, according to an official statement, “carefully crafted by combining natural elements and mechanical structure, creating a visceral effect”. effect on the viewer.
The piece references the drawn line as a fundamental visual necessity for any form of art or written word, and alludes to nature “as it twists, fights for survival, sheds its skin and inaugurates the hope of rebirth and new beginnings”, but also to the “wisdom contained in nature itself”, hence the title of the book.
For Shono, his presence at the Venice Biennale is a huge honor and a huge responsibility. “I don’t consider my presentation a personal achievement,” he told Arab News. “I carry with me a brave and irrepressible creative spirit from all over Saudi Arabia.”
The pavilion is also a reflection on the significant social changes that have taken place in the Kingdom and how these have channeled a new wave of creative explosion and critical dialogue. “The entire creative community in the Kingdom, not just in visual or conceptual space, but in all kinds of creative expressions, is reborn,” Shono said.
The UAE pavilion hosts “Between Sunrise and Sunset”, a solo exhibition by Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, curated by Maya Allison, featuring works created specifically for the event by the Khor Fakkan-born artist.
The show consists of a unique installation featuring dozens of Ibrahim’s human-sized organic sculptural forms, drawn from his deep connection to the natural surroundings of his hometown. The shapes have a range of colors, from bright hues to more neutral earth tones, and black and white as they progress through the room.
“In Khor Fakkan, the sun casts a shadow, not a real sunset,” Ibrahim told Arab News when discussing “Between sunrise and sunset” in February. “At the end of the day, the sun sets behind the mountains. When we were growing up, we didn’t see the sun go down, because the mountains hid it.
The Egyptian pavilion, meanwhile, features an evocative and eye-catching installation called “Eden-Like Garden”, created by Mohamed Shoukry, Weaam El-Masry and Ahmed El-Shaer. It looks like a series of cow’s udders hanging from the ceiling of a pink-walled room lined with black metal “fences.” It alludes to fertility, sexuality, purpose, serenity, temptation and desire and is both “sacred and profane”, according to a statement. “In this installation…the human being is enraptured in an eternal war between instinctive and willful nature.”
Oman has its very first pavilion at the Venice Biennale this year. Organized by Aisha Stoby, an art historian specializing in creations from Oman and the Arab world, the pavilion presents a kind of retrospective on the country’s contemporary scene, hitherto little considered by Arab historians.
For the collective exhibition “Destined Imaginaries”, Stoby includes five artists: pioneering Omani painter Anwar Sonya; Hassan Meer, founder of The Circle, an experimental art platform in the sultanate; Budoor Al-Riyami, installation artist and photographer who won the Grand Prize at the 13th Asian Art Biennale in 2008; Radhika Khimji, known for her feminist work that incorporates sculpture, collage and textiles; and the late sound and installation artist Raiya Al-Rawahi, who died of cancer in 2017, aged 30.
“Although we are showing three generations of Omani artists, this is a presentation presenting different perspectives on how we might (be seen) ourselves from a future perspective in terms of ecology, society and life. ‘art,” Stoby told Arab News.
She explained how Oman has a “thriving local ecosystem” for arts and culture, supported by state-funded institutions and initiatives. “This presentation in Venice is long overdue and we hope it will be the first of many,” she added.
Lebanon’s presence at the Biennale is a clear sign of the country’s desire to preserve and enhance its cultural identity through art, despite the serious economic, social and political challenges it is currently facing.
Funded by Lebanese private donors with the support of the Lebanese Ministry of Culture and organized by Nada Ghandour, the pavilion presents an installation by Beiruti artists Ayman Baalbaki and a video by Parisian filmmaker Danielle Arbid.
The exhibited work proposes a dialogue, according to the curator, between the Lebanese living in the country and those living abroad. Baalbaki, known for his expressionist canvases featuring bursts of rich impasto in vibrant palettes, often recounts the emotional impact of conflict in the Arab world, particularly in Lebanon. Abid’s work, on the other hand, draws its inspiration from his intercultural education experienced in France, Lebanon and the West.
“We wanted to participate this year to tell the world that Lebanon still exists internationally, especially through its art and culture,” Ghandour told Arab News. “We show another face of Lebanon, not only the country’s problems, but the art and culture we have.”