Barrak Alzaid explains the rationale behind his unique show devoted to body hair.
Featuring six artists from across the world, curator Barrak Alzaid’s exhibition at thejamjar in Al Quoz uses body hair to explore narratives ranging from masculine narcissism and feminine beauty to people’s sense of self and their cultural beliefs.
The artists take a number of different approaches, from an unsettling video of a hirsute gent from New York blow-drying his chest hair, to a disturbing installation of sheep’s hair surrounding a deathly cast of a woman’s face via eye-catching prints.
For Dubai, the exhibition is both liberating and challenging – it’s almost impossible not to have some reaction. Yet shocking an audience is the opposite of what Alzaid is actually looking to achieve. When asked what he was aiming for with his show, he says: ‘I didn’t want people to feel that I was confronting or challenging their perceptions of what they thought was acceptable. ‘
For starters, Sean Fader’s video installation is intimate and unusual. Alzaid describes how his work bridges the ‘boundaries between social experiences online and social experiences in the real world.’
This is particularly apparent in the artist’s prints on gelatine paper.
The project is called Pelts, and involved an experiment where the public was invited to rub Fader’s chest and make a wish. The participants were photographed and the images became the basis for the art.
Raed Yassin’s art involves classically posed portraits of the artist alongside vegetables. The idea came from Yassin’s residency in Amsterdam, where he became acutely aware of his Arabic cultural identity in contrast to the Dutch population in the city. This was opposite to what he found with food in the city, grown and sourced from across the globe.
Alzaid believes that, far from being a critique of segregation or an attempt to highlight the hypocrisy of social prejudice in relation to individuals’ relationship with foods, it’s an observation: ‘The story of food is inextricably linked to the formation of ourselves and our understanding of culture. He’s just bringing it into a contemporary context.’
Dalal Ani’s work is possibly the most eccentric aspect of this show. The artist focussed her work on the agal (the black cord which holds the ghutra or headdress in place). Once unravelled, the black cords reveal colourful threads, which are embedded inside. Ani then used the materials to create a chaotic outfit, which she wore on the streets of New York. She happened to stumble across a threading shop and the results of this unusual juxtaposition between Hani’s unconventional attire and her complicity in a beauty ritual that many women experience were photographed.
In comparison to the often addressed subject of the Islamic veil in art, the agal is not something which is in our moral consciousness. Despite the potentially polarising subject matter, Alzaid is measured, quipping: ‘I don’t have an opinion one way or another but I think studying the phenomenon is interesting.’
Other artworks include photographs of the bodies of Dubai-based brothers Rokni and Ramin Haerizadeh. The colourful duo are pictured with delicate flowers against their torsos, creating a contrast between the beauty of the flower against the human imperfections of their bodies. Cleverly, the pictures were photographed in the frame of the computer screens on which they were projected, raising pertinent questions about our relationship with social media and the increasingly interchangeable roles of our virtual and actual experiences.
The final, centre piece of the exhibition is perhaps the most intriguing. The artist, Monira Al Qadiri, focuses on the topic of male narcissism and the symbols of this authority, in this particular case, the male beard. The installation, which sits inside a glass case, contains slightly disturbing-looking hair, which transpires to be sheep hair, surrounding a dental alginate, or mould, which Monira made of her face. Alzaid delights in telling me a particular reaction to the piece. ‘Someone was looking at it on the opening night and said, “that’s disgusting”. Monira, the artist, who was standing on the other side at the time, responded: “Yeah, this is my work.” The woman apologised and Monira said: “No – I like that.”’
Intrigued about the reaction that such an overtly candid exhibition would elicit from others here in Dubai, Alzaid is optimistic and upbeat: ‘People are so excited to be seeing something that’s so different.’
With the contributing artists coming from across the world, it’s an eclectic and strangely cohesive exhibition. Yet, Alzaid sees things differently. He doesn’t want the nationality of the participants to shape people’s perception of what they’re seeing: ‘I want the work to speak for itself.’ Having seen the show, I find it hard to disagree.
Exhibition: ‘How to Do Things With Hair’ runs until December 2 at thejamjar, Al Quoz (04 341 1367).
Artists: Raed Yassin, Monira Al Qadiri, Dalal Ani, Sean Fader, Rokni and Ramin Haerizadeh
Price of works: On request