While the past decade has seen a kind of revolution in the commercial gallery scene in Dubai and opened up the prospect of permanent heavyweight institutions being constructed in our capital, there is a generation of artists who have been practising and working in the UAE for many more years. They have developed sophisticated and avant-garde voices that can hold their own against any of the more familiar names of the contemporary art world.
Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim is one of these artists and his solo exhibition currently showing in Cuadro Fine Art Gallery clearly displays his unique talent.
Ibrahim, who is from Khor Fakkan, an enclave of the emirate of Sharjah on the UAE’s east coast, has one theme that runs through all his pieces – to challenge himself to draw out the most primordial forms with whatever medium he chooses.
In simple terms, this means that he creates shapes and abstract sculptures that remind you of a thousand different things but at the same time are indefinable.
As if to complement this theory, he uses completely organic material that he finds in the natural environment around his home in Khor Fakkan. The results are such pieces as Palms, small earthenware pot-like structures with slits in the base that are made from palm leaves, wood and clay.
Or the piece that hangs at the gallery’s entrance titled Male and Female, a long, phallic object that hangs over a receiving bowl. This piece won Ibrahim the first prize for sculpture at the Sharjah Biennial in 2001 and although it appears crudely formed and made of rudimentary material, it speaks an artistic language that not many could comprehend a decade ago.
“Ibrahim was certainly ahead of his time,” says Bashar Al Shroogi, the gallery director at Cuadro. “But he was recognised because he still won awards.”
Perhaps the most spectacular example of his abstract organic sculptures is the Khorfakkan series, which populates the centre space of the gallery.
With their bright colours – pink, blue, green and red – it is almost impossible to believe that the shapes are made from purely natural materials such as flower petals, soil and sand but this is just one visual proof of the dedication the artist gives to his craft.
“Most artists have a progression in their work that they move forward to a process of conclusion, but Ibrahim tackles it backwards to a process of mystery,” explains Al Shroogi. “He concentrates on finding the most intriguing primitive forms and that is his continual challenge.”
The patience he displays in pursuing this challenge is clearly evident in this show that spans more than 25 years of his practice.
The other pieces in the Khorfakkan series are made from simple brown clay that comes from a pit near to the artist’s home. This pit only fills up once a year during spring. Another piece, titled simply Stones Wrapped in Copper Wire is made of rocks that Ibrahim selected for their similar shape and size. He took them to his studio and wrapped them in copper wire before setting them back to their original place and leaving them for several seasons to become weathered before collecting them again.
“They look like relics – they look awkward and out of place, but that is his signature,” says Al Shroogi. “He wants to draw out the forms that existed before we had coined the word art.”
Completing the exhibition is Forms, an ink-on-paper series of hieroglyph-style marks that could be a primitive form of cave drawing.
Again strangely familiar but elusive of definition, they are some of the most recent pieces of the show.
• Primordial by Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim is at Cuadro Fine Art Gallery until March 6. For more info call 04 425 0400 or visit www.cuadroart.com