Enlightening and inspiring: UAE ambassador praises first international Abu Dhabi Arts Fair in London

Emirati artists' work is on display at London's Cromwell Place

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The UAE’s ambassador to the UK has praised the works of Emirati artists on display at Cromwell Place, London’s latest art hub.

Abu Dhabi Art chose the new exhibition space to host its first fair abroad showing pieces by rising UAE-based artists in the UK capital.

Speaking to The National at the end of a tour of the fair, His Excellency Mansoor Abulhoul called the exhibition "enlightening and inspiring" and said he was pleased to see a strong artistic representation from the region.

The Dubai-based Lawrie Shabibi gallery is displaying the works of Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, a self-taught artist whose work is closely related to the landscape where he grew up in the east coast UAE fishing village of Khor Fakkan.

Mr Abulhoul said the pieces evoked memories of his own experiences. “He considers himself a land artist and as someone who enjoys the UAE, where I cycle a lot and I’ve been to Khor Fakkan, it resonated with me.”

Gallery co-owner Will Lawrie explained how Ibrahim, who will be representing the UAE in next year’s Venice Biennale, created brightly coloured sculptures that reflected the artist’s isolated upbringing.

"Being in Khor Fakkan, sandwiched between the mountains on one side and the sea on the other, you never get to see a sunset and [Mohamed] still remembers very vividly the first time he went outside his village and saw these bright colours," Mr Lawrie told The National.

Artwork by Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim on display at The Lawrie Shabibi exhibition at Cromwell Place. Courtesy Cromwell Place

Exploring the forms of labour undertaken by mothers, Lebanese artist Aya Haidar displayed hung baby clothes, hand-stitched with chores she had done during the pandemic. By sewing in words like "read story" and "feeding", her Highly Strung installation is an expression of the mundane acts comprising her everyday life as a mother, wife, carer and woman.

Mr Abulhoul said the work had made him reflect on his own young family and the responsibilities of parenthood, particularly with the difficulties of Covid-19 restrictions.
"We feel sometimes time has been stolen from us because we want to see family members," he said of the difficulty of lockdowns.

Haidar’s artwork evoked the difficulties of not seeing loved ones over such a prolonged period, he said, while underlining the idea that “we have to remain positive and persevere”.

The ambassador previously expressed his disappointment that the UAE remained on Britain's travel red list despite its highly successful vaccination and testing campaigns.

This year’s annual Abu Dhabi Art, organised by the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, is the first art fair to collaborate with Cromwell Place, the membership organisation that opened in west London in October. Three of the emerging UAE artists included in the exhibition, Hind Mezaina, Afra Al Dhaheri and Afra Al Suwaidi, were supported by curator Maya El Khalil.

Dyala Nusseibeh, director of Abu Dhabi Art, said the exhibition would kick-start a year of “adaptation and growth”.

"The community models emerging from a challenging year of the pandemic for artists, galleries, curators and even fairs are here to stay and this is a positive new development for the wider art market," she said.

The artwork will be displayed among presentations of UAE-based galleries Tabari Artspace, Lawrie Shabibi, Third Line Gallery and Isabelle Van Den Eynde at Cromwell Place until June 13.