Power through art in Dubai

Traffic's latest show focuses on dominance and control


Local gallery Traffic is renowned for wearing its heart on its sleeve, celebrating art that pushes boundaries, and this time the focus is on the concept of master and slave relations. In the fourth instalment of the gallery’s ‘The State’ series, entitled ‘Domination, Hegemony and the Panopticon’, gallery owner Rami Farook has taken inspiration from philosophers Jean Baudrillard and Michel Foucault to explore ideas behind power, dictatorship and the dominated. Here, three of the artists dissect their work.

Hesam Rahmanian, 32, American

What does the title of the exhibition mean to you?
It means complete domination by a greater power, such as a dictator. In this exhibition, you have to bend over or tiptoe in order to see a work.

What does the title of your piece, ‘You Fight So I Can Dance’, mean?
It refers to those who lead and send others to war for their own benefit.

What is depicted in this work?
It shows Iran’s parliament at the top leading a blood sport: boxing.

How does it relate to the theme?
In this piece there is a greater power ruling and leading a game. The players are ordinary people and the force/master/dictator sits at the top.

Sara Naim, 25, Syrian

What does the title of the exhibition mean to you?
It’s about social control: submissiveness versus order. It describes a system that we live in, regardless if we agree with its structure or not. It’s a system that instills powerful men above others
so that when they wave their finger, the world will listen.

What’s depicted in your piece, ‘Gida’?
It’s a portrait of my cousin Gida. She has more personality than anyone I know. She took me to a park when I was visiting her in the US and she was really moody and short-tempered. The sun was in her face, and a perfect time to show off her expression.

How does it relate to the theme?
It relates to the description of the ‘panopticon’ in the show’s title – a building that allows the observer to observe people without them being able to tell they are being watched. Though Gida could see I was
carrying my camera, she was blinded as to when I would photograph. I was taking photos throughout the day, becoming almost like the panopticon ‘observer’. It sparked that interesting dynamic between viewer and sitter.

Lantian Xie, 24, Chinese

What does the title of the exhibition mean to you?
The title means a million things. What I drew from it were questions about the implicit politics of viewing and what it means for the viewer to enact the role of the panopticon, looking outward and surveying the universe.

What is depicted in your piece, ‘Al Sarab Cafeteria’?
It’s an interactive video installation of text and images appropriated from cafeteria menus in the UAE. The work is activated when sound is made by the viewer.

How does it relate to the theme?
Domination has many faces. Hegemony is generally thought of as soft order. Food is often thought of as respite from hegemony. Eating binds us to people and places. Inevitably, it leads us to tradition and territory. And for this we are glad. Eating becomes a vehicle with which we try to qualify our imagined selves.

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