Lawrence Abu Hamdan wins 2018 Abraaj Group Art Prize

The Berlin-based artist has been awarded US$100,000 to realise a "dream project" at the next edition of Art Dubai

Eric T. White
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Lawrence Abu Hamdan is the winner of the 2018 Abraaj Group Art Prize, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary at the next edition of Art Dubai.

Each year, the Abraaj Group, a Dubai-headquartered private equity investor, awards US$100,000 (Dh367,290) to a winning artist and US$10,000 to three shortlisted artists to support their practice.

The shortlisted recipients of the 2018 prize are the Kuwait-born, Palestinian artist Basma Alsharif, the Franco-Algerian artist Neil Beloufa and the Paris and Beirut-based filmmaker and artist Ali Cherri, who will also exhibit works at the art fair, which will run from March 21 to 24.

Born in Jordan but raised in the UK, Abu Hamdan specialises in politically-focused, sound-based works that often engage with the representation of violence, which has allowed them to operate beyond the world of art and as part of testimonies that have been employed in legal and historical investigations.

The Berlin-based artist has made audio analyses for legal investigations at the UK asylum Tribunal and advocacy for organisations such as Amnesty International and Defence for Children International, forensic audio investigations are conducted as part of his research at Goldsmiths College London where Abu Hamdan is also a PhD candidate.

Tate Modern has just announced its acquisition of Abu Hamdan's 2016 video Rubber Coated Steel, an investigation into the killing of two West Bank teenagers, Nadeem Nawara and Mohamad Abu Daher in 2014. The short film won the short film award at the Rotterdam International Film festival 2017.

In his 2016 exhibition Earshot, Abu Hamdan conducted a detailed acoustic analysis of the recorded gunshots associated with the same shooting to determine whether soldiers from the Israeli Defence Force had used rubber bullets, as they claimed, or had broken the law by firing live ammunition.

The work, which employed techniques designed to visualize the sound frequencies of the gunshots, was presented before the U. S. Congress as an example of Israel’s contravention of the American-Israeli arms agreement. It also earned Abu Hamdan the Nam June Paik Award in 2016.

In August, Abu Hamdan opened Shifting Ground: The Underground Is Not the Past, the third of four off-site events for the Sharjah Biennial 13: Tamawuj in Ramallah, Palestine with a performance of his audio essay Bird Watching.

An acoustic investigation into the regime at Saydnaya prison in Syria, where torture and mass executions have taken place, Bird Watching uses the testimonies of former prisoners. Abu Hamdan delivered the piece by telephone from Berlin.

“The prize allows me to produce and conceive a work using materials and technologies previously unavailable to me, and in doing so enables me to deepen my exploration of the most contemporary ways of seeing and hearing world,” Abu Hamdan said of his win in a statement.

While Abu Hamdan will realise a new work for the 2018 Abraaj Group Art Prize, Alsharif, Beloufa and Cherri will all work alongside the Tunisian, Paris-based curator and writer Myriam Ben Salah to realise a group exhibition based on their existing work.

Each year the Prize jury awards both an artist and a chosen guest curator based on their proposals, rather than a completed work and the curator then joins the jury panel in selecting the winning artist and the three shortlisted artists.

Ben Salah commented on the selection process for this year’s Prize, which attracted applications from 65 countries.

“I am very excited about the jury’s final selection, as I think Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Basma Alsharif, Neil Beloufa and Ali Cherri are four exceptional artists, and figures who are important in today’s world,” she said in a statement.

“Although their practices are very different, they share a certain number of interests and interrogations which I look forward to exploring while working with them on the exhibition.”

Since it was founded in 2008, the Abraaj Group Art Prize has recognised 44 mid-career artists from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia and has loaned and exhibited winning artwork from each year at museums, biennials and shows all over the world, as part of The Abraaj Group Art Prize Collection, which now includes 29 major works.

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