Meet the 10 Al Burda Endowment artists showing at Abu Dhabi Art

Working with fabric art, collage, painting and virtual reality, the Al Burda Endowment artists are finding new ways to explore Islamic art

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Islamic art finds new forms through the Al Burda Endowment exhibition, which is currently on view at Manarat Al Saadiyat. The initiative was founded by the UAE Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development as a way to celebrate Islamic art and culture, but also support contemporary artists who are transforming the traditional form with modern elements.

In November last year, Al Burda launched its Endowment programme, for which they selected 10 artists to produce works specifically for the initiative that will then be shown at exhibitions and the Al Burda Festival in 2020. For the first edition, Al Burda has provided Dh500,000 worth of financial support to the selected candidates.

For 2019, these artists have worked with various mediums to produce works that deconstruct, challenge and transform traditional Islamic art forms. The result is an exhibition that reveals the potential of contemporary Islamic art, and how much further the boundaries can be pushed when it comes to these styles.

Ebtisam Abdulaziz

The multidisciplinary artist uses her background in science and mathematics to create structures and systems that explore identity and cultural expression. She has exhibited widely abroad, including in the inaugural UAE and Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture & Heritage (ADACH) Pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale. The Emirati artist also ventures into performance art, such as her controversial Autobiography (2007), a critique of class and social status, where she donned a black bodysuit with digits from her bank statements printed on it, and walked around public places in Sharjah.

Her work for Al Burda, Focal Illusion, marks the first time that Abdulaziz has turned her geometric canvasses into a 3D painting. The work pulses with a variety of colours and shapes that seem to stretch and gravitate to the centre of the painting. Viewers get pulled into the focal point as well, creating the effect of entering an optical illusion.

Aisha Khalid

Aisha Khalid's 'The Garden of Love is Green Without Limit', comprised of five paintings and a textile structure. Courtesy: Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development
Aisha Khalid's 'The Garden of Love is Green Without Limit', comprised of five paintings and a textile structure. Courtesy: Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development

One of the highlights of the exhibition, Aisha Khalid's hanging fabric structure resembles the Kaaba and its cloth cover, and the tapestry's colour is borrowed from the dome of the Prophet's Mosque in Medina. On the textile pieces are ornate golden visions of birds and arabesque patterns, influenced by traditional Persian carpet design. Once visitors look behind the fabric, however, they can see that this 'embroidery' is not made from threads, but thousands of gold-plated pins. As part of the titled The Garden of Love is Green Without Limit, five paintings of gouache and gold leaf mimic the design of the structure, though in a more minimalist and geometric way.

Khalid’s formal training includes a specialization in miniature painting, and her work is featured in the collections of the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, Sharjah Art Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Aljoud Lootah

The Emirati product designer infuses elements of traditional craftsmanship and contemporary design in her works. She became the first Emirati designer to have her work acquired by an international gallery after the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne acquired two pieces from her Oru Series.

For her project Falak, Lootah has combined geometric shapes with modern materials to create a modular room divider. The work features interlocking hexagonal patterns made of leather-bound copper. Borrowing from the Islamic art style of repeating patterns, Lootah creates the illusion of multiple connections of the rings.

Dana Awartani

Known for deconstructing traditional art forms, Dana Awartani's works often make use of textiles to evoke ideas of feminism and visibility. In a previous work titled Listen to My Words, Awartani created an installation of hand-embroidered screens modelled after mashrabiyas to critique how these architectural elements were used to obscure women from view.

In Come, let me Heal Your Wounds. Let me Mend Your Broken Bones, as we Stand Here Mourning, Awartani returns to this aesthetic of screens, but this time focuses on collective healing. Taking handwoven silks dipped into various herbs and spices to produce shades of amber, yellow and red. Awartani has torn the fabric in some places, then repaired them with the process of darning. This act references the destruction of cultural landmarks by extremist groups in seven Arab nations, while the use of natural dyes offers a defense of alternative traditional medicine. Suspended from the ceiling, the diaphanous cloths exude a delicateness.

Khalid Al Banna

In Dynamics of Motion, the artist reflects on fading cultural customs in the face of consumerism through fabric collage. Al Banna ripped apart traditional fabrics worn by Emirati women and arranged them in a circular piece that is textured with beads, crystals and mirrors.

This interest in form and space was influenced by Al Banna’s academic background in architectural engineering. He developed his artistic practice with informal training at the Emirates Fine Arts Society and an etching apprenticeship with Yasir Al Duwaik. He has since given up etching, opting for drawing and painting and now moving to mixed media pieces.

Stanley Siu

Stanley Siu's 'Conversion', a metal structure with a ceiling decorated with Chinese ink brushes. Courtesy: Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development
Stanley Siu's 'Conversion', a metal structure with a ceiling decorated with Chinese ink brushes. Courtesy: Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development

At first glance, Stanley Siu's work may look like a plain metal frame. Step inside it, and you'll see the full beauty of Conversion when you look up. By arranging various Chinese ink brushes, the artist has created a varicoloured Islamic Pattern that references both Middle Eastern and East Asian artistic practices.

According to Siu, this cross-cultural approach to his art is influenced by his upbringing in Hong Kong, a diverse city that brings together people from around the world. He finds parallels in the non-figurative style of Islamic geometry and the gestural approach of Chinese calligraphy. Trained in architecture, the artist runs a design and architectural firm in Hong Kong, which follows the same principles of unique art perspectives seen in his Al Burda work.

Zoulikha Bouabdellah

Born in Moscow, Bouabdellah grew up in Algiers and moved to France at the age of 16. Through her works, she investigates the effects of globalisation with elements of humor. In the gallery, her painted metal structure spins, the geometric shapes from Arab-Andalusian design casts shadows on the floor. This choreography and the seemingly precarious way in which the sculpture is hung, speaks to vulnerable conditions of heritage and culture that are left to stagnate.

For Bouabdellah, it is important for visitors to walk around the piece as the geometric forms seem to morph when seen from various angles. Her previous works have been included in the collections of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and MUSAC Museum of Contemporary Art in Leon.

Fatima Uzdenova

Detail view of Fatima Uzdenova's 'You Only Live Twice'. Courtesy: Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development
Detail view of Fatima Uzdenova's 'You Only Live Twice'. Courtesy: Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development

Grief led Fatima Uzdenova to contemplate on the afterlife. First, she was interested in how paradise could be seen as a garden, but in her research, Uzdenova discovered the idea of limbo or 'barzakh' in Arabic. In her work titled You Only Live Twice, the Russian artist has developed an interactive garden meant to mirror the state of being in purgatory. As can be seen in her work, the concept of barzakh is both mysterious and multi-layered. The room has no definitive characteristics, save for a gray wall. Instead, it carries the feel of transient spaces such as airports, hotels and borders. Across the floor are strange, unidentifiable shapes that visitors can pick up and move around.  On the walls are scribbled texts and forms revealing the artist's own contemplations of life and death.

Uzdenova completed her master’s in sculpture from the Royal College of Art in London, and she was also part of the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Emerging Artists Fellowship in 2015.

Nasser Al Salem

Born in Mecca, Nasser al Salem takes a minimalist approach to his practice, stripping down elements of Islamic art to essential and innovative forms. He is specifically interested in calligraphy and drawing verses from the Quran, which he has done so for his Al Burda work.

The beginnings of What No Eye Has Seen can be traced to 2015-2016 work-on-paper with Al Salem writing out a hadith by Prophet Muhammad that discusses paradise – "I have prepared for my righteous servants what no eye has seen, no ear has heard and no danger to the human heart." He has developed this work to inspire a more contemplative experience, creating a large-scale white cube with its interior walls painted green. Entering the space is like entering a green screen, a call for visitors to project their own visions of paradise within the space. Running across the wall is the hadith script that Al Salem previously used.

Ammar Al Attar

The Emirati photographer, who presented work at Al Ain’s Qasr Al Muwaiji as part of the fair’s Beyond programme last year, has turned to Virtual Reality to create a 360-degree video montage. In his installation, visitors can put on VR glasses and be immersed in a malid or mawlid, a celebratory performance usually held during the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. It involves men gathering around to chant to drums.

In some parts of the Arab world, specifically Saudi Arabia, the malid is considered a “bid’ah” or religious innovation and therefore forbidden from being performed. For Al Attar, producing this project during UAE’s Year of Tolerance is the best time to break barriers and extend the acceptance of this practice. His shots focus on facial expressions and hand movements of the performers as a way to hone in on the energy of the malid rather than its technical choreography.

The Al Burda Endowment exhibition is on view at Manarat Al Saadiyat until February 2020 before it travels to Alserkal Avenue, Dubai in March 2020. For details, visit