Four shows to see on Alserkal Avenue in January 2013

Our highlights of brand-new shows getting an airing this evening in Alserkal Avenue.

There are several other brand-new shows getting an airing this evening in Alserkal Avenue. All openings begin at 7.30pm on Monday, 13 January 2013.

King Give Us Soldiers

The Hungarian Zsolt Bodoni gets his first solo show in the Middle East, with scenes that have the patina of a once-pleasant postcard left to bleach in the sun.

Bodoni's paintings take settings that are either industrial or forebodingly uniform in their style. Classrooms, concrete enclaves or textures reminiscent of the inner ramparts of a military submarine become landscapes through which incongruously chipper-looking individuals dance or skip hand-in-hand.

At the heart of this collection of works from 2012 is Bodoni's recurrent vision of frivolity caged in bleak environments. A group of swim-capped dancers take on the look of a regiment in the watery institutional light of a schoolroom, two child gymnasts recline in eerie tandem and high divers float in mid-air like a squadron.

These characters emerge from foggy, Richter-esque bruises of abstraction on the canvas, which serves to heighten the atmosphere of something buried being made manifest.

It's the second time that Green Art Gallery has hosted works by Bodoni, after including several of his pieces in the group show Referencing History in May last year. This was key work in a show that showed differing perspectives of those who grew up after communism's fall in Eastern Europe. King Give Us Soldiers offers further insight into an artist who teases out the more personal implications of those years in world history, and the long shadow they have cast since.

Until March 3 at Green Art Gallery

Boya Boya Boya

"Our capital is some colours, a box and a brush," sings Nasri Shamseddine, in his role as a bright-eyed shoeshine in the play Loulou, starring alongside the Lebanese starlet Fairuz.

In Shamseddine's signature song in the play, the jollity of his quick-toed performance and expansive gestures stand in opposition to his mournful sung monologue about struggles on the breadline.

A video of this, annotated in English, features in the Syrian artist Ammar Al Beik's latest solo show, Boya Boya Boya. The exhibition is Al Beik's tribute to a humble blue box - the tools of a shoeshiner - purchased from an "old man with a gentle, time-stricken face".

Al Beik meticulously explores the contents of this box; from its fraying brushes to the improvised paint pots made out of discarded Tropicana bottles. In cataloguing these objects, he gives them the significance of artefacts: traces of the life of an unknown craftsman that are indelibly marked by the passage of time and working hands.

Boya Boya Boya is something of a departure for an artist largely known for both his films and his photographic works that juxtapose archival imagery with hundreds of ceramic statues. "Nowadays, I find what am looking for in shoeshine boxes," says the artist, describing them as treasures of "sight and the insight".

Until February 22 at Ayyam Art Centre

Internal Markings

Continuing its focus on contemporary African art, Showcase Gallery pairs the South African artist and curator Grace Kotze with the Casablanca-based painter Mrani Mhamed.

Writing is a feature in both artists' ways of working, but there's some divergence between them. Mhamed skirts a line between Arabic calligraphy and abstracted painting, while Kotze delves into a form of blossoming lines that have the subtle characteristics of an alphabet yet are ultimately spontaneous and without cognitive meaning.

"I have always been intrigued how certain font styles can dictate and alter the meaning of a word," says Kotze in a statement on the works. "Somehow, these observations surfaced yet left the literal content of words behind."

Kotze explains that she is dyslexic, and therefore reading and writing are often a struggle. "These paintings felt like all those battles had just fallen away," she adds. "I was writing effortlessly."

Until February 14 at Showcase Gallery

Past and Present Encounter

This sizeable look back over Farghali Abdel Hafiz's career - spanning the 1970s through to eight recent works - gives full rein to the raw, vitalised voice of this artist.

Working with unmixed paint and a variety of earthen materials such as straw and clay, his colour-soaked tableaux bring together a cast of beatific characters inspired by the folk art found in the rural hinterlands of Egypt.

Abdel Hafiz represented Egypt in 1972 at the Venice Biennale, and was one of four Egyptian artists in the somewhat influential Axis Group during the 1980s.

Naivety of expression and form, and the impression that we could be looking at hastily drawn scenes wrought on a stucco wall, are all features of the artist's work. The most striking element here is a profusion of bold and intoxicating colour - it announces Abdel Hafiz's world in all its richness: a place in which exoticism and unfettered traces of Egyptian culture mingle together.

Until March 3 at Lawrie Shabibi

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