Emirati artist Lamya Gargash presents new work in Dubai

Interiors of a different kind form the subject of Through the Looking Glass

Maria by the Emirati artist Lamya Gargash. Courtesy The Third Line and the artist
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A meteoric rise to fame can be dangerous for any artist. How do you build on an early work that has an immediate audience, is argued over by collectors and, in the rare case of Emirati artist Lamya Gargash, makes it into the Venice Biennale to represent your country on the international stage?

Gargash's Presence series - created between trips home while the artist was studying at Central Saint Martins in London - caught the eye of the curatorial team heading up the UAE's inaugural appearance at the biennale in 2009.

Presence depicted a country in the throes of rapid change. It featured haunting interior shots of Emirati homes that had been hastily abandoned - intact with furniture and domestic trinkets, some even with the TV left on - and were slated for demolition. After that, Gargash moved into rather less captivating images of the traditional Majlis. Basically, more interiors.

So it was necessary for her to strike out for new ground. This strange and disturbing new show at The Third Line is the result.

Through The Looking Glass is challenging stuff - a chamber of horrors for the insecurities buried in the psyche of Gargash's models. She conducted interviews with each of these people, asking them what that nagging interior voice says is their greatest physical flaw.

The artist then set about staging said fears, and photographed them against a two-tone Cindy Sherman-like backdrop on analogue film, rather than digital.

We see that Amer thinks he has a Klingon-esque brow, Bryce thinks he's got girlie hands, while Rosie (in perhaps the most unnerving image of all) reckons she has weaselly little eyes.

Gargash didn't resort to lazy digital manipulation. Instead, she worked with make-up artists to create grotesque prosthetics for each model, which are included in a glass case in the exhibition.

We can't help but recoil at seeing these insecurities laid so bare. What is perhaps most disturbing is just how superficial their issues are. Being physical flaws, of course they're not directly grandiose nor existential, but are purely about self-image.

They remind us that a globalised standard of beauty has become all-pervasive, and that fears of ugliness often outweigh the bigger questions of life.

Reinforced by a torrent of media and entertainment, each of these insecurities has developed in response to a perceived norm. The looking glass that the title refers to is perhaps not just about the imagined defects that we see when we look into a mirror, but rather the mirror of media that tells us what the world deems as physical perfection and deviancy.

We see ourselves in these fears, some of which are clearly the fallout from childhood taunts. They raise the question: what do our eyes immediately scrutinise when we stare back at ourselves each morning?

It'll be interesting to see how Gargash's collectors respond to this work. It's tough viewing, and is far removed from Presence.

But Through The Looking Glass demonstrates an artist keen to make a sharp about-turn from everything that made that series. It has meant, in the process, staring into interiors that are altogether more troubling.

Through The Looking Glass is showing at The Third Line, Al Quoz, Dubai and continues until May 30.