Abu Dhabi art show with environmental conscience

A burning mangrove inspired Suhail Jashanmal to find artists to bring an eco-friendly message to the capital. Their response is Green Abu Dhabi.

October 18, 2010 / Abu Dhabi / (Rich-Joseph Facun / The National)  A work done by artist Fatema al Mazrouie (CQ),  on exhibit at the "Green Abu Dhabi" art show, at the Emirates Heritage Club, Monday, October 18, 2010 in Abu Dhabi.
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ABU DHABI // In an old bathtub at the Emirates Heritage Club, a smiling mannequin covered in dirt makes an arresting statement on careless water consumption.

The art installation, Sand Bath, is part of the three-week Green Abu Dhabi exhibit at the Al Bateen Marina that runs until November 6.

Suhail Jashanmal, 35, the curator of the show, said that the 27 pieces on display were a call to residents to think more about sustainable living.

"We consume four times as much water per person in this country, and probably have 10 times less than other countries. This is all about that excess," he said.

Through the creation, exhibition and auction of environmental-themed collages, art installations, photographs and photo montages, he hopes to inspire residents to "paint the town green".

Partial proceeds from the sale of the exhibits will go towards the Emirates Wildlife Society (EWS), which has coordinated projects including the clean-up of Abu Dhabi's mangroves - the coastal saltwater shrubs that have played an important role in the emirate's marine ecology. Green Abu Dhabi was Mr Jashanmal's brainchild, conceived a year ago with help from friends as a reaction against what he felt to be an indifference towards ecological issues. One offensive act of apathy last summer, he said, spurred him on to action. He was walking on Saada Street when he saw a fire.

"It was a mangrove, a bush probably, on fire," he said.

It took him about 10 minutes to douse the flames, which had consumed an area the size of a coffee table. He was not angry until he saw swimmers and fishermen nearby.

"They had been there before and watched it grow to that size," he said. "They had seen it smoking. They were three or four metres away.

"I was thinking about this apathy, this indifference," he said. "I was about to fall into that trap. So I did something."

Over the next six to eight months, he asked four local and international artists - Genoveva Kriechbaum, Fatema al Mazrouie, Tini Meyer and George Lewis - to explore themes of environment, heritage, resources and future sustainability issues in original works for Green Abu Dhabi.

Sponsors and partners include Masdar, the Indian Embassy, Sheikh Khalifa Medical City and Abu Dhabi Media Company, which publishes The National.

Ms Kriechbaum's work involves the layering of photographs on top of one another such as excavator treads overlaid on a pastoral beach scene or the Sheikh Zayed Bridge construction project blended with an image of camel herds.

"There are various layers telling different stories," she said. "You have the past, the future and a new creative present."

Ms Kriechbaum, an Austrian expat, said that while petrol has driven the economy, "you need water for culture and civilisation as well".

Ms Meyer, a German multimedia artist and creator of the Sand Bath, experimented with using broken mangrove roots painted gold for another work. "The roots were gold," she said. "They're precious and valuable to us."

The most important piece for her was a cement sculpture mixed with a year's worth of fish bones she had collected from Mina Port. The work is a commentary on overfishing.

"The sculpture makes the Arabic word 'samuk', which means fish," she said. "It was made to look fossilised."

Ms al Mazrouie, an Emirati artist, created murals exploring the erosion of local heritage in modern times, from the declining popularity of applying kohl to darken eyelids, to her feelings about the beauty of the Emirati burqa.

"We've also chosen an artist from abroad, with George Lewis," Mr Jashanmal said. "He's an Arabist." One of Mr Lewis's subjects is a black and white photograph of a Bidoon man - someone without nationality - and his Kuwaiti companion.

"This woman and this guy had a relationship," Mr Jashanmal said. "They are two together, but one is considered stateless and ostracised. In order to go forward, we must act upon our problems. That's what the point of this whole thing is, about acting."

All the works on display are for sale, with an estimated value of Dh940,000. About a quarter of the show has sold, Mr Jashanmal says.

For more information on Green Abu Dhabi including a community art auction on October 26 to raise money for EWS-WWF, visit www.greenabudhabi.org.