Covid Conversations: UAE artists explore emotions ignited by pandemic in new Tashkeel exhibition

The show, which comprises paintings, photographs and sculpture, is on view until January

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It is hard to encompass a year like 2020, but the artists in Tashkeel’s latest group exhibition, Covid Conversations, have given it a try.

Exploring issues of loss, isolation, mental health and anxiety, 42 artists and designers in the UAE are taking stock of the Covid-19 pandemic through paintings, photographs and sculpture.

The works were selected from an open call in October, which received more than 160 submissions from talent across the UAE. The artists chosen come from around the world – from countries in North Africa and Latin America, as well as South and East Asia. Their creations range in emotion and reflect much of what the world has gone through since March.

Karoline Denisha's painting Anger Management, for example, expresses rage at what she sees as political inaction by certain world leaders. The artist takes particular aim at three figures – "all three leaders caught Covid-19" – and writes in her artist statement that "blood is on their hands".

Karoline Denisha, 'Anger Management' (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Tashkeel
Karoline Denisha, 'Anger Management' (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Tashkeel

Meanwhile, the work of Abeer Al Edani shows a different defiance – a bandaged hand is raised in a fist, intended as a symbol to keep fighting against the pandemic.

There are also more narrative-driven creations, such as the graphics of Akhbar Hassan's First Day Back, which taps into the fear and anxiety surrounding the pandemic in cartoon-style illustration.

Through photography, Spencer Hogg builds a story around survivors of an apocalyptic virus outbreak who brave the sea for a chance to start over. Their journey takes them to desert landscapes and mountains, and the series of works is a reflection on the effects of the pandemic on migrants.

Ruksana Hussain plays on the popular This is Fine meme, which shows a cartoon dog blissfully ignoring the burning chaos around it, in Everything is fine. In the artist's version, she is at her desk, working from home, while smoke and flames begin to engulf the room.

Hussain's artist statement explains that the visual reflects the mental anxiety and depression she experienced amid restrictions. "I was completely unprepared for the cascade of emotions that ensued … from loneliness to depression to a general lack of motivation for doing anything useful."

More tranquil and hopeful works are those by Khanjan Maru, titled Every Winter is replaced by spring! and Radiance, white paper-based pieces that conjure images of flowers, nature and regeneration. There's also Azza Al Qubaisi's more meditative sculptures of hands piled on top of each other that could be interpreted as a gesture of solidarity or a reminder of the erasure of physical contact.

Azza Al Qubaisi, 'impression c19' (2020). Courtesy the artist and Tashkeel
Azza Al Qubaisi, 'impression c19' (2020). Courtesy the artist and Tashkeel

In the exhibition catalogue, Tashkeel founder Lateefa bint Maktoum describes Covid Conversations as a "snapshot of the human response to this crisis and seeks to highlight the importance of creativity in times of adversity, as a means to comprehend, console, archive and endure".

On view until Monday, January 4, the artworks are priced between Dh145 and Dh30,000.

Tashkeel's exhibition join the ranks of other initiatives and shows that are attempting to understand our experience of the pandemic. It may be too soon to see the whole picture; indeed, the collective trauma and grief experienced this year will take time to process. But as the title suggests, the conversation has begun.

Covid Conversations is on view at Tashkeel until Monday, January 4. For more information, visit