Instantly recognisable with their broad shoulders, thick forearms and broken fingernails, sculptors are the true grafters of the art world. There’s no flouncing about with sable-haired paintbrushes, creating clichéd sunsets with their Winsor & Newton box sets. Instead, this is a special collective of artist ‘builders’ who weld, mould, chisel and carve, come rain or shine, to create beautiful, awe-inspiring works of art.
On February 25, 17 international sculptors from as far afield as Europe, Korea, the US, Australia and Japan, not to mention local talents from the UAE, will come together for the inaugural Abu Dhabi Sculpture Symposium. Seeing the artists assemble en masse will be a rare sight for Abu Dhabi – this is, in fact, the first time such an event has taken place in the capital. Amid the buzz surrounding the opening of the Guggenheim, the Louvre and the building of various other cultural attractions within the city, it would be easy for an event like this to slip under the radar, but that would be of detriment to the art-loving public.
Rarely has a group of artists been invited to produce work that will, upon completion, take up permanent residency in locations around the city. The event will see the artists creating works at the Armed Forces Officers Club, near Sheikh Zayed mosque, as members of the public wander around to watch and engage with the masters at work. A calendar of events, workshops, desert trips and lectures (to be held at Zayed University campuses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai) will give a mini arts-festival feel to proceedings.
‘We reviewed more than 400 international sculptors and requested three different designs from each that would complement the UAE’s culture and history,’ says Symposium director Salwa Zeidan, who has played a central role in organising the event. She believes it will have a positive impact on the art form’s perception. ‘It was imperative that we find renowned and experienced artists who could not only elevate the standard of the event, but also add value to the lecture programme and in turn enrich interaction with the public and Zayed University students.’
The International Sculpture Symposium movement originated in Austria in 1959, when sculptor Karl Prantl created an event in an abandoned stone quarry in a bid to provide networking opportunities for artists working in 3D. Symposiums have since spread across the world, taking place in Austria, Japan, the US and Australia.
Zayed University vice president Dr Sulaiman Jassim believes the event has huge strategic importance. ‘Abu Dhabi is gradually affirming itself as a cultural capital in the region, and we are proud to be able to establish this artistic dialogue with such a diverse mix of artists through the art of sculpting,’ he says. ‘I have no doubt that the positive impact of this project will last for years to come.’
Many of the artists taking part believe the event will give them an important chance to put their message across. Konstantin Dimopoulos, one of the international artists, hopes his ‘wind driven kinetic sculpture’ will remind visitors and those involved in developing the city that ‘there still resides the people and natural environment that has existed here for centuries’.
Not all the artists are new to the emirate. American sculptor Jon Barlow Hudson first visited Abu Dhabi in 1991, and has returned several times since. ‘It is a fascinating city and intriguing in its growth and development as a cultural capital – it has a dynamic energy,’ he explains. Hudson will be building a six-metre-high painted steel structure, circular in shape, ‘to imply wholeness and unity’. And Lebanese artist Husam Chaya, a young, emerging talent, is planning a similarly inspiring piece made out of marble – the shape of which will encourage wind to whistle through the curves and chasms to create a kind of sculptural music.
Bulgarian sculptor Gheorghi Filin agreed to take part in the event only after she became aware of the high standard of fellow artists. ‘Encounters between artists of value always creates an exchange of positivity,’ she explains. ‘The organisation of the event in Abu Dhabi gives me hope that everything has been done well and chosen with skill.’
The Sculpture Symposium will run for six weeks, until April 7, and is co-organised by Zayed University, Salwa Zeidan Gallery, Abu Dhabi Municipality and the Armed Forces Officers Club. The intention is to make it an annual event, and there’s no doubt that this will generate international attention on the city’s cultural development agenda. Yet the sheer power of a sculpture symposium is the opportunity it poses for the public to meet and interact with artists. Now that’s how you go about building an organic art scene.
The Sculpture Symposium takes place on February 25-April 7 at several locations around Abu Dhabi. See www.adiss-uae.com and www.salwazeidangallery.com for details of events as they are announced.