Emirati artist Abdullah Al Saadi to represent UAE at Venice Biennale 2024

His solo exhibition at the annual international art show will be curated by Tarek Abou El Fetouh

MADHA, OMAN, AUGUST 11, 2015. Abdullah Al Saadi stands in front of one of his rock installation experiments outside his studio. Photo: Reem Mohammed / The National *** Local Caption ***  RM_20150811_SAADI_023.JPG
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Emirati conceptual artist Abdullah Al Saadi has been chosen to represent the UAE at the 60th Venice Art Biennale, opening in April.

National Pavilion UAE, which picked Al Saadi, said his solo exhibition would be curated by Tarek Abou El Fetouh.

Considered a key figure in the development of contemporary art in the UAE, Al Saadi’s practice, which started in the 1980s, ranges from painting, drawing, sculpture, performance and photography to collecting and cataloguing found objects, and the creation of new alphabets.

He is known for his comprehensive body of work connected to the landscapes of the Arabian Peninsula.

“The International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is an important international platform for knowledge and cultural exchange. Since 2009, the National Pavilion UAE has firmly established itself as a leading platform for showcasing Emirati heritage and the rich tapestry of the local arts and culture,” said Salem Al Qassimi, the UAE Minister of Culture and Youth.

"We will continue to support creative Emiratis as ambassadors for building cultural and creative communication with artists from various parts of the world, in line with the UAE vision and its mission. By empowering the next generation of creatives, we are building common grounds for the different cultures to meet and celebrate their diversity and creativity in the art and cultural fields."

Al Saadi said he was honoured to represent the UAE at the prestigious event.

“Since I was a student four decades ago, art has been an integral part of my daily life. My art is the result of interactions with places, people, ideas and aesthetics that I encounter every day where I live and in my journeys,” Al Saadi added. “I find myself driven to document these experiences visually or in written diaries and contemplations, seeking to transfigure the ordinary with the passage of time.”

Some of Al Saadi’s most notable works include Stone Slippers (2013), a collection of slippers made out of stone accompanied by drawings – a visual metaphor for the life of a wanderer who is constantly travelling in search of something he ardently longs for, and which remains elusive.

In 2017, he also presented The Purl and Silk Journey, a series of 13 scrolls and drawings produced in nature, at Sharjah Biennale.

Al Saadi's fascination with preserved historical manuscripts is expressed in Diaries (2016), a project showcased in Venice in 2017 at the 57th biennial, entitled Viva Arte Viva, curated by Christine Marcel.

Al Saadi's curator for the National Pavilion UAE exhibition at Venice Art Biennale, Abou El Fetouh, has focused on developing platforms to create opportunities for contemporary artists in the region through commissions, co-productions, touring projects, residencies and events. The pair recently collaborated for Al Saadi's exhibit Terhal at Expo 2020 Dubai.

National Pavilion UAE said Al Saadi chose Abou El Fetouh for the Venice Biennale project “to encourage an artist-led approach”.

“Abdullah’s practice has been, over the last 40 years, a continuous engagement with changing environments as well as personal and cultural histories, creating points where they meet and interweave,” said Abou El Fetouh.

“In his rich and diverse artistic practice, whether drawings, maps, diaries or objects, Abdullah’s visual language remains recognisable through his passionate longing for immersion in nature; he constructs a unique relationship with landscapes, which goes beyond the familiar.

“I am delighted to be working with him once again, curating his solo exhibition for the National Pavilion UAE in Venice.”

Laila Binbrek, the director of National Pavilion UAE, said Abdullah’s position within the art history of the UAE is reflected in his participation in two previous National Pavilion UAE group exhibitions, in 2011 and 2015.

“It is incredibly gratifying to include his work once again in this year’s Pavilion, this time for a solo exhibition, curated by Tarek Abou El Fetouh, who has spearheaded groundbreaking projects across the Emirates. We look forward to sharing yet another untold story of the UAE in 2024 through the lens of Abdullah’s work,” she said.

The National Pavilion UAE is commissioned by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and supported by the Ministry of Culture and Youth.

The 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia will take place from April 20 to November 24. Abdullah Al Saadi's exhibition will be on view at the National Pavilion UAE’s permanent space at the Arsenale – Sale d’Armi in Venice. More information is available at nationalpavilionuae.org

Updated: October 05, 2023, 1:28 PM