In the studio

Palestinian artist Tarek Al Ghoussein talks to us


How do you think the UAE did at this year’s Venice Biennale?
I think it was received well. It was the first time the UAE ever participated and I would say it was a very positive opening to the Venice Biennale, for sure. I didn’t really get to talk to many people about their response, but from what I’ve read the ideas behind it did seem to come across.

So much of the art scene here has been about forming a hub or platform for Middle Eastern art and yet the pavilion was almost entirely Emirati artists…
To be fair to them, it’s the first time they’ve had a pavilion so they will want to look after their own people too. I think any country all over the world would want to do that, especially for the first time. But it’s good that they let in non-nationals, me being one.

One of the curator Tirdad Zolghadr’s main ideas behind this pavilion was an exploration of national identity, and that, despite how globalised we think we are, where our passport says we’re from is still relevant. Do you agree with him on this?
Of course, however much we think it doesn’t, it does. For example, I’ve got my first show in Palestine in September and I’m not able to go to see it. Things like that raise this question about identity, what is national identity exactly? Who is the we and the you? Eighty per cent of people here are expats. What’s an Emirati artist or an English artist? Is it down to their passport or where they’ve been living for some time?
In Absentia by Tarek Al Ghoussein is available from The Third Line gallery (04 341 1367). For information on the new UAE Art Archive go to

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