Beirut-born, Mumbai-raised artist Vikram Divecha, who has collaborated with municipal gardeners and rock-blasting engineers, and the Dubai-based artist Sara Al Haddad, whose chosen medium is crochet, are among the five artists chosen to represent the UAE at the world’s most prestigious art event.
Rock, Paper, Scissors: Positions in Play, the exhibition at the National Pavilion UAE during this year's Venice Biennale, will run from May 13 until November 26
The other chosen artists are the award-winning filmmaker and poet Nujoom Alghanem, the Dubai-based artist Lantian Xie, and veteran sculptor Dr Mohamed Yousif, from Sharjah.
A founding-member of the Emirates Fine Art Society, Yousif's work was also included in 1980 – Today: Exhibitions in the United Arab Emirates, the UAE National Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015.
This year’s exhibition, and its associated publication and public programme, which will discuss the history of art and contemporary practise in the country, are being curated by the Lahore-born, London-based writer and researcher, Hammad Nasar.
“There is an experimentation, a sense of chance and a sense of play to art in the Emirates that I originally found surprising,” said Nasar, recalling his first encounter with Emirati artist Mohammed Kazem at the eighth Sharjah Biennale in 2007.
“So when I was invited to submit a proposal [for the UAE National Pavilion] last year, it was that notion that I returned to,” the former head of research and programmes at the Asia Art Archive in Hong Kong explained during a launch event at the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation in Abu Dhabi.
“For this project I really wanted to start with three questions: where does this playfulness in the art from the emirates come from? What are its genealogies, and how and where is this playfulness nurtured – and perhaps most importantly, what does this play do?”
As well as founding Green Cardamon, a non-profit arts organisation in London with a focus on the arts of South Asia, Nasar has also served on the editorial board of art magazine Tate Etc., the jury for the V&A's Jameel Prize 4 and Art Basel's crowd-funding initiative with Kickstarter.
“One thinks about the UAE where, depending on which figures you believe, anything between 85 and 90 per cent of the people are not born in the UAE, that question of who you play with, where, and how play allows a place to become home, becomes really important – and those are the questions we want to address.”
The body responsible for commissioning the UAE National Pavilion and appointing its curator, the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, has organised the UAE’s presence at both the Venice Biennale and its bi-annual architectural equivalent, with the support of the UAE’s Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development, since 2013.
“We are really invested in promoting the arts of the UAE on an international platform, and in telling the world untold stories about the UAE, and this is a wonderful opportunity to talk about the UAE’s art and architecture at what is considered to be the art world’s Olympics,” said Khulood Al Atiyat, manager of arts, culture and heritage at the foundation.
“The Venice Biennale is a place where more than 80 countries participate with national pavilions, and more than half a million people can visit the exhibitions,” she added.
“So it is a very important platform to share our stories with those people and an opportunity for us to change perceptions and understanding and knowledge about the UAE, its people and its art.”
“This is not the British or the German pavilion. This matters,” Nasar added. “What the pavilion says about the place and practise [here] is actually the first draft of art history, and while the exhibition may be in Venice, the conversation it needs to enrich is actually happening here.”
• Rock, Paper, Scissors: Positions in Play is at La Biennale di Venezia from May 13 to November 26. For more information, visit www.nationalpavilionuae.org