Winning submission of The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award unveiled

The work 'Sila' explores themes of unity and movement, inspired by the traditional Emirati Al-Ayyalah dance

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , Nov 5  – 2019 :- View of the winning work of Christo & Jeanne-Claude Award 2019 on display at the NYUAD in Abu Dhabi. ( Pawan Singh / The National )  For Art & Culture. Story by Alexandra Chaves
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Sila, the winning work of The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award, was officially unveiled at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) on Tuesday.

The installation, which stands in the campus’s central plaza and is open to the public, was developed by three students from the American University of Sharjah, Falwah Alhouti, who studies graphic design, and Ibrahim Abdellatif, and Omer Al Raee, who both study architecture.

Folkloric dance was the starting point for this design, specifically the Al-Ayyalah, a traditional Emirati dance performed by men moving in unison to drum beats and poetic chanting. During the dance, performers form two rows and face each other in a symbolic battle, carrying thin bamboo canes that represent swords.

Speaking to The National, Al Raee and Abdellatif said that "unity" and "rhythm" are at the core of Sila. The work is also made up of two rows, each comprised of units that alternate in height and colour, giving an illusion of movement from afar. Like the dancers, these black and white units work together to create a gradient-like effect, and the rows taper towards each other to further enhance this. It is fitting for the title, which is an Arabic term for connection.

"Architecture can deliver a message in a different way," said Abdellatif. "If people see this for the first time… they can experience the Al-Ayyalah dance as something static." Through Sila, the students have extracted the essence of the dance and presented it in an abstract way.

Both students added that the project has made them consider creating more architectural artworks, rather than working directly with developing buildings. “After doing this project, we were more attracted to this side of architecture, where it is not just an art piece or structure that is functional. It is somewhere in between,” said Al Raee.

For Sila, Alhouti's primary role was in developing the concept and the narrative of the piece, while Al Raee worked with software to draft the designs and model. Abdellatif was in charge of prototyping and fabrication. The three will share the $10,000 (Dh36,725) prize.

After doing this project, we were more attracted to this side of architecture, where it is not just an art piece or structure that is functional. It is somewhere in between.

Established in 2013, The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award draws its name from artists Christo Vladimirov Javacheff and Jeanne-Claude Marie Denat. The two, who were married until Jeanne-Claude's death in 2009, worked with environmental and installation art, often using everyday materials such as plastic and fabric. Their 1983 Surrounding Islands, where they wrapped the shores of 11 islands in Florida with pink plastic, attracted thousands of visitors and marked the beginning of their monumental projects.

The practice of wrapping and draping extended to historical buildings such as the Pont Neuf in Paris (1985) and the Reichstag in Berlin (1995). Their most recent projects include The Floating Piers (2016) in Italy – walkways that allowed visitors to cross Lake Iseo in Brescia – and The London Mastaba (2018) in England – a mastaba or tomb comprised of more 7,506 oil barrels afloat on a Hyde Park lake.

The award is supported by the patronage of Sheikha Shamsa Bint Hamdan Al Nahyan, and presented by NYUAD in partnership with Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation (ADMAF). Held every year, the award accepts submissions from UAE-based students and graduates who are interested in creating new installation artwork. The applications for the 2020 award are now open.

Sila will travel to Abu Dhabi Art on Thursday, November 21, and eventually to Umm Al Emarat Park in Abu Dhabi.