Student art in Dubai

A new generation of artist emerges in Dubai. We go in search of the next big thing and select the best student artists.

Altamash Urooj
‘I was reading Dante’s inferno at the time’, says Altamash about these works. ‘I became really interested in the circles of Hell, the idea of levels – levels of love, pain, torture.’ The Karachi-born photographer explains that what he refers to as the ‘blanket project’ began life as a performance, and he tried to create movements that would reflect the stages of life where these fundamental human experiences are formed. ‘Working with the dancer, we developed six steps to encompass birth, growing old, eventually dying. What you see here in these photographs is two of those steps.’

Altamash is exuberant about Dubai’s emerging scene. A recent American University of Dubai graduate, he explains that it’s vital to remain positive about the city. ‘I’ve only been here four years and find myself calling this place home. When you first arrive it’s hard to feel in touch with it, it seems to be all about finance and plasticity. Now it’s coming up and changing, but the thing is we have to jump at it. Dubai’s going to grow whether we like it or not, so we have to find a way to grow with it and embrace it.’

So how do we understand the title, ‘Songs From The Siren?’ ‘It’s from Greek mythology, about the sirens that sing forth to bring the sailors and make them crash their ships. These are also works about romanticism, about seduction, that it might not always end in a happy place. Instead you might be crashing on to the rocks. There’s always a siren singing you to shipwreck.’
Altamash Urooj is part of the Basically Human collective ( Works by the artist appear in Meem Gallery. Until September.

Maitha Huraiz
Still a student at Zayed University, Maitha was called in to curate Elementa’s upcoming show of local artists. ‘I met the director of the gallery at Art Dubai and we talked about it. I asked her why locals don’t have the chance to show their works and she gave me this opportunity. I just want to show good, local talent’. ‘Most people have a certain perception of what Arab art is,’ she explains. ‘When they hear Middle Eastern art they expect to see calligraphy, Islamic art and so on. But this show is different. It will show them that our art can be very modern and contemporary’

Maitha’s photographic works are part of a series called Behind Closed Doors. She tells us that they are intentionally ambiguous. ‘I choose to create pictures with conceptual themes to keep my stories vague and hard to understand. I wanted, mostly, to reflect the values of a society that could be seen as closed and secretive, and that fears a lot for its daughters. Our local society is very conservative,’ she explains. ‘As an Emirati I feel invisible. Everything is done behind closed doors here.’
Maitha Huraiz curates Elementa’s Beyond Conventions show. August 24-September 25

Kholoud Sharafi
‘It’s my language. I hear it every day but when I get to use a visual language to express myself, I’d rather use the Arabic type to go with that,’ notes Kholoud. ‘It’s nothing to do with the aesthetic of Arabic script, though, it’s just because it’s my language, my culture. I’d rather use what I have.’ Kholoud’s style of incorporating elements of Arabic script makes her work very recognisable. But, she adds, it’s also the versatility of the script that attracts her to using it in her work. ‘It has a lot of different appearances, it’s a very fluid type and can be used in many different ways.’

Graduating this summer from the American University of Sharjah (AUS), Kholoud took the visage of Egyptian icon Umm Kulthum, and began to work the singer’s face into a series of prints on different materials. ‘I was looking at Egyptian movie posters from the 60s and she was the only woman in there. I decided to make this a kind of tribute to Umm Kulthum.’
Works by Kholoud Sharafi appear in Meem Gallery, until September, and Tashkeel until August 28

Khalid Mezaina
‘I’ve always been into comic books so I like to draw figurative stuff, people. But I’m into a lot of street motifs too – graffiti, urban stickers.’ Khalid came out of AUS in 2006 and has since joined the Sharjah Biennial team. Surely this orgiastic nightclub scene can’t have been inspired by Sharjah? At this, the artist starts laughing. ‘No! I live in Dubai now. This was for an exhibition put together by Lateefa bint Maktoum. The theme for the show was about creating parallel realities, so I thought about the heightened realities that exist here. Like the nightclub, people go to these places in search of another world. I was listening to a lot of trance music when I made this.’

It shows. Khalid’s use of dayglo block colour gives his work a psychedelic appearance. But, despite a nod to rave aesthetics, Khalid insists this is very much handmade graphics. ‘My work always starts with a hand-drawn illustration. The black smoky texture you see is smudged paint which I work by hand. Then I tend to scan and retouch it, adding colour. But I think it’s important to put something in there that gets your hands dirty.’
Works by Khalid Mezaina appear in Elementa’s Beyond Conventions. August 24-September 25

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