Artist wins prize for artwork inspired by Abu Dhabi sand dunes

Dunescape will be on display until May 11 at the New York University Abu Dhabi campus, then at Umm Al Emarat Park from May 18 to June 3.

Christo and Anna Kurkova, the winner of the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award, view Dunescape, an installation by Ms Kurkova which was unveiled at NYUAD on Wednesday. Delores Johnson / The National
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ABU DHABI // The winner of a prestigious art prize unveiled her masterpiece, which was inspired by the emirate’s sand dunes, at New York University Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

Anna Kurkova won the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award for her installation, Dunescape, made of three large glass panel-shaped tanks that appear to contain piles of coppery sand.

But Kurkova, a graduate student in art history at Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi, said that the tanks actually contain millions of shards of shredded glass – which are, in a way, also sand. “Glass is made from sand, so it goes full circle,” she said. “My piece is all about recycling and sustainability, because what you’re looking at is part of the desert, but also at the same time part of the urban landscape.”

Christo takes decades to complete his own works of art. His current project, The Mastaba, was conceived 40 years ago. The 150-metre monument made from brightly-coloured barrels will be erected in Liwa.

“The whole experience is a taster of what it’s like to be an artist,” said award director Emily Doherty.

“We choose people at the beginning of their careers, who are studying or have studied in the UAE.”

The award, in its fifth year, is made in memory of Christo’s late wife, Jeanne-Claude, under the patronage of Sheikha Shamsa bint Hamdan Al Nahyan, and presented by NYU Abu Dhabi with the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation.

Kurkova, who is from Belarus, was chosen from 30 applications and given US$5,000 (Dh18,365) to turn her idea into a reality, which she did in just three months.

Christo – whose previous installation, Floating Piers on Italy's Lake Iseo, was the most visited art event in the world last year – spent some time chatting to his young protege about her work before it was unveiled.

But, he said, he never gives advice to any artist.

“Doing art is a very private affair,” he said. “I never teach, judge, or advise people, because art is really about the private life of humans.

“The most important thing is that she is very young and very courageous to do this work.”

Dunescape will be on display at the NYU Abu Dhabi campus until May 11, then at Umm Al Emarat Park in Abu Dhabi from May 18 to June 3.