Art Review

New shows to try in Dubai this month


Those in need of reassurance that we do, in fact, have a living, breathing art scene in Dubai would do well to check out this vast retrospective of the past 12 months in the life of Traffic. With owner and director Rami Farook picking up first place in the International Young Design Entrepreneur Award last month on the eve (more or less) of Traffic’s second birthday, this show couldn’t be better timed.

Farook’s assertion that the design gallery has evolved from ‘exhibitor to creator’, which acts as a leader into the show, is also spot on. Featuring several of resident designer James Clar’s exceptional light installations, with highlights from his For Your Eyes Only solo show, the exhibition saunters through the past 12 months and gives a worthwhile reminder of just how entrenched Traffic has become in the local scene. Unrealised proposals on show include an installation planned for the Dubai Metro, which places T-shaped frames of lights around three columns that progressively lose their shape, alongside photos from the pavilion at the UAE’s debut at the Venice Biennale, also designed by Traffic.

But Clar’s installations dominate the show. A glass display case containing a matrix of hundreds of lights, arranged into three-dimensional layers, creates constantly shifting and glowing shapes within. Argyle, a recent work that places light fixtures within a layered mirror, blurs a wall into hazy, psychedelic infinity, while at the entrance, Clar has created some effective ‘globe lights’ (think elaborate lampshades).

As a whole, this is a worthwhile insight into how pivotal Traffic has become, not just to local operations but also in terms of lifting Dubai’s international credibility. The gallery’s second design competition kicks off this week, with submission deadlines falling early next year, and there are also rumours that the space will be relocating (deeper into Al Quoz, we hear) in the next few months. Whether or not the content of certain events or spaces has been up to scratch is not quite the point – either way they have always looked the part, and that has been down to Traffic.
Traffic, Al Barsha. Until October 29.

Once Upon A Sting

Hero and heroine walk off into the sunset. Foes are vanquished, obstacles overcome. All seems set in place. Now cue credits. Then what? Happily ever after? It is this misty period that three Dubai-based Pakistani artists explore in this refreshing, deeply personal show. All three are recently married and, through painting, delve into some of the insecurities and realities of post-marital life after the credits roll.

Nerissa Fernandez employs gouache on wasli to evoke a contained, sharp world of intertwining thorns and bodily banana leaves. Trained in the miniature painting style of the Subcontinent, Fernandez uses this technique to weave branches of thorns into a complicated, tactile tangle. The style itself is excellent, evoking the contained and highly stylised world of miniature painting to express the complications that arise once reality ekes into a perfect relationship. It’s honest and abrupt, yet executed with enough sensitivity to give the entire collection an otherworldly atmosphere.

Zara Mahmood draws super-realistic forms, and although the subject of this realism is never explicit, there’s a sense of human tissue about the pieces. Pierced with pins or filled with buttons and pomegranate seeds (right), loss permeates the images – it’s something indefinable, but touching on the idea that, post-marriage, some sense of one’s solitariness is lost. These powerful and startlingly personal works offer dashes of watercolour, giving the whole collection a tender and at once stark mood.

Saba Qizilbash, however, is a little less subtle in her style. The acrylic paint of her works clashes with the visual solemnity of the other artists in the show and feels, at points, a little misplaced. Nonetheless, the works are brash, a jolt in this otherwise murmuring exhibition, and depict children in dangerously close proximity to insects and animals with a sting. Children are wrapped in jellyfish (left); a little girl plays with a wasp: the suggestion being that, in innocence, we tend to assume harmony in a world that conceals a rather nasty bite.

An exceptional show, the artists here reveal something that lies deep in each of their psyches. The stories are subtly contained in brilliantly executed imagery and, despite a slightly off-kilter brashness in what Saba has put together, work well together. An apt reminder of how few deeply personal works we see in Dubai, and a solid expression of locally based talent.

thejamjar, Al Quoz. Until October 24.

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