A new body of work by Emirati artist Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim will be presented at the National Pavilion UAE for the 59th Venice Biennale.
The exhibition, titled Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim: Between Sunrise and Sunset, features abstract sculptures, often made of papier-mache built over skeleton structures, which continue the artist’s explorations of form, colour, material and texture that have been inspired by the natural landscape of his native Khor Fakkan.
In 2020, the artist nominated Maya Allison, executive director of NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, to curate the exhibition, a move that marked a new approach for the pavilion, which typically selected curators first. The two have collaborated over many years, with Allison including Ibrahim’s works at the NYUAD Art Gallery’s inaugural show.
Allison describes Between Sunrise and Sunset as a single work made up of “human-sized, biomorphic sculptures” rendered in a colour spectrum that changes across the installation, “from bright hues to earth tones, to stark black and white”.
The range of the palette is reflected in the title, which also evokes Ibrahim’s memories of the sunrises over the UAE’s east coast and the sunsets obscured behind Khor Fakkan’s Hajar mountains.
“The installation takes this tension between sunrise and sunset, colour and black and white, as a starting point. He also thinks of the installation like a land mass, like the UAE, with one side receiving sunrise, and the other witnessing sunset,” the curator explains.
She says that Ibrahim is working with a new scale, one that is “much broader than any previous work”.
Born in 1962, Ibrahim is a founding figure in the UAE’s contemporary art movement in the late 1980s to 2000s. His work, which includes sculptures and paintings, reflect a deep appreciation for and connection to the natural environment, utilising organic materials such as clay, branches and stones in his creations.
Growing up in Khor Fakkan, Ibrahim would go on walks and camping trips into the mountains as a child. These trips opened up new ways of looking at landscape and nature, to a spiritual degree.
“This was the beginning of my special relationship with nature, when I was 16 or 17. I began to deal with it as if it were a human being, as if there was a soul in it. I started to become a friend to it,” he told The National in 2020.
During the Venice Biennale, which opens in April, the first monograph on the artist will also be released to accompany the exhibition. The volume is co-edited by Allison and Cristiana de Marchi, an artist and curator who has been part of the UAE art community for decades.
Titled Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim: Between Sunrise and Sunset / Works: 1986-2022, the monograph includes commissioned texts that trace Ibrahim’s practice, as well his influence and contributions to the development of experimental art in the UAE in the 1970s onwards.
It is also filled with new details about Ibrahim’s thinking and process, including insight into how the artist moves from line to form. The artist’s signature abstract symbols emerged from experimental gestures using gouache on the page.
“That 1980s period of discovery and development also saw his growing interest in philosophical art concepts, in particular the relationship between the point and the plane,” Allison says.
“Ibrahim found this concept first in the writings of the Arabic philosophers Ikhwan al-Safa, who developed the idea that a dot begins a line. This image recurs in Arabic philosophy, including in the writings of Ibn Sina, who uses it to highlight the role of imagination in human perception,” she explains.
The aim behind the book is to help provide scholars with research material about the UAE’s art history.