Award-winning sculptures by Erin Meekhof

Erin Meekhof from NYU Abu Dhabi has been named the winner of the second annual Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award.

Erin Meekhof, winner of this year's Jean-Claude and Christo award, working on her sculpture for her big final project in a studio in Sama Tower where NYU Abu Dhabi offices are based. Ravindranath K / The National
Powered by automated translation

They might look like abstract sculptures – five strange, black, boxy objects – but Erin Meekhof’s art is representative of alphabet trees, the result of her inquisitive studies into language and its roots.

Meekhof, who is in her final year at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) and will be among the first class to graduate from the institution this summer, is this year’s winner of the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award.

The award, held under the patronage of Sheikha Shamsa bint Hamdan Al Nahyan and presented by the NYUAD Institute in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation, is open to all university students.

Meekhof was selected from 27 shortlisted artists for her sculptures that combine her research into linguistics and her design studies. The result was an artistic interpretation of the development of the visual components of both Arabic and Roman scripts.

The five sculptures take the symbols for the phonemes used in the Proto-Canaanite alphabet and show their development through to Phoenician use, which is where the Arabic and Roman alphabets took different courses of development. The Arabic alphabet developed from the Nabataean script and the Roman from Etruscan letters. The design of the sculptures shows this development in what Meekhof describes as a “phylogenetic tree” and gives a fascinating glimpse into how the alphabets are linked.

“I’m a designer, so I am interested in the visual representation of non-­visual things and alphabets are one of the most interesting versions of that,” she explains. “A letter carries so much meaning.”

Prior to winning the award in January, Meekhof had developed the historical alphabetical trees for 16 letters and turned one of them into a sculpture for a design class.

The past two months have been spent making the other four, and tomorrow, the final five pieces, collectively titled Abjad, will be unveiled at the NYUAD campus.

“Winning the award has given me the freedom to realise the original vision that I had for this project,” she says. “As sculptures, they are much more present than on paper, there is much more of a sense of the boundaries between foreign and familiar. The entire experience is a really great opportunity for me.”

• Abjad by Erin Meekhof will be unveiled tomorrow night at the NYUAD campus. It will remain there until April 6, before going on a nationwide tour that includes exhibitions in Liwa and Al Ain