Ishara: Signs, Symbols & Shared Languages opens in Concrete in Alserkal Avenue

26 March 2018

A collaboration between Alserkal Programming and UAE Unlimited, the exhibition shows new works from 10 UAE-based emerging artists


Ishara: Signs, Symbols and Shared Languages, UAE Unlimited’s fourth annual exhibition opens today in Concrete in Alserkal Avenue. Commissioned by UAE Unlimited, in collaboration with Alserkal Programming, and supported by the Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development, the exhibition will run until 1 April 2018. Ishara is curated by Karim Sultan and features new works by 10 UAE-based artists as well as a work by guest artists Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian that they describe as ‘visual poetry’.

“As our exhibitions have developed over the years, so too, have the size and scale of the artworks. With this year's edition, our commissioned artists were given the opportunity to produce artworks that would be on display in this spectacular space, Concrete; to experiment with proportions found only in leading global museums,” says H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, Founder and patron of UAE Unlimited.

“We are proud to have Concrete—a space re-imagined for the purpose of showcasing world-class talent—be part of UAE Unlimited’s journey through the Emirates. Art and culture have an immeasurable impact on our sense of identity and purpose and joining hands to further the cause of arts and culture helps us widen our reach,” added Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, Founder of Alserkal Avenue, Alserkal Programming and Concrete.

The ten artists—Amna Al Dabbagh, Cheb Moha, Chndy, Dina Khorchid, Farah Al Qasimi, Flounder Lee, Nasir Nasrallah, Saba Qizilbash, Salem Al Mansoori, and Shaikha Al Ketbi—created works for the exhibition that were thematically informed by the idea of lingua franca, and the understanding of the meaning and use of language. In Arabic, Ishara, denotes ‘sign’—the most basic form of communication, and refers to the linguistic marks, gestures and indications, as well as commonly used signals that transcend language, like those used in traffic or urban spaces. The artists have responded to the theme through a diverse set of practices and approaches, from drawing and print-making to immersive video works and responsive installations.

Dubai-based guest artists, Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, and Hesam Rahmanian played an important role in mentoring the commissioned artists and providing guidance to help grow their practices. This format of mentorship has been central to UAE Unlimited’s exhibitions since its inception in 2015.

Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, and Hesam Rahmanian have created a work for the exhibition, which they describe as visual poetry, based on the environment they created in their studio during reading groups, which brought the artists together for weekly discussions. For each session they curated the setting, choosing collected objects based on humble materials and discourses, that resonated with the themes in the readings as well as questions that were being asked by the artists as they presented their processes. “Books were selected that matched or countered the discussions, objects were gathered that intervened as well. They all became amalgamations that evolved and responded. We saw it all as visual poetry in the midst of discussion. Rather than being an exercise, the setting wasn’t discussed directly, it became
a catalyst for conversations at some point or otherwise a silent observer, often interested in complicating the notions of language at the core of the exhibition,” say the guest artists.

Ishara: Signs, Symbols and Shared Languages is curated by Karim Sultan, with Laura Metzler as Senior Adviser. The exhibition has been designed by Waqas Khan. Essays by UAE-based writers Saira Ansari and Taibah Albisher were included in the catalogue; this is the first time that UAE Unlimited has commissioned essays around the exhibition’s theme.

The works that are part of the exhibition are:

Amna Al Dabbagh: The Hanging Odes, 2018 is an interpretive poetry installation of the Al Mu’allaqat Being mostly concealed due to the form of the installation, the words of the poems are read in a different way that creates new meaning.

Dina Khorchid: In Through a Trail, 2018 prints and hanging scrolls add, subtract, hide and reveal information that is layered as though waiting to be unfolded, like tales of a present past, carried and transported in a non-linear language that travels through boundaries, intersections and times.

Farah Al Qasimi:Everybody was Invited to a Party, 2018 pulls inspiration from the 1980s Arabic version of Sesame Street (Iftah Ya Simsim), using puppets to present language and letters as malleable objects without fixed meaning. The video seeks moments where failure to communicate creates a new opportunity.

Flounder Lee:Mycelial Meshing, 2018 Using the materials of infrastructure—steel pipes, concrete, electrical cables—Mycelial Meshing looks at the varied networks of communication through the overlay of mycelial networks. Overall the work reacts to the audience, seemingly communicating about the visitor’s intrusion.

Nasir Nasrallah: Forgotten Title, 2018 encases 100 everyday objects in envelopes with a coded description written on the surface. The code does not have a key and will be forgotten completely over time, left undecipherable.

Saba Qizilbash: Land Marks, 2018 responds to the physical transitional spaces of borders allowing the artist to immerse herself in the inquiry of these imagined and inviolable boundaries where constant separation and surveillance take place.

Salem Al Mansoori: Going Inside, 2018,
In The Dictionary, 2018 and Body Language, 2018. In this project three seminal texts and a speech by Sheikh Zayed are used to control the profess of generative design. The texts were all read aloud and the quantifiable data of the recordings were fed through an algorithm to produce a physical interpretation of the contents.

Shaikha Al Ketbi: Ath’thaniyah, 2018 is an exploration of the artist’s subconscious, retrieving and constructing a monument accessed through her dreams. The work is process based, almost role playing the dream, and leads to more subconscious reactions, giving birth to more monuments.

This year Ishara is also including two projects by local creatives who are experimenting digitally. Chndy and Cheb Moha will each be developing projects on Instagram accounts that deal with the themes of language and communication. Viewers can access them on screens and iPads in the exhibition but also on their own devices and follow throughout the exhibition.

Cheb Moha @net3araf
Chndy @digitalbo0oy



Editor’s Notes:

About Alserkal Programming

Alserkal Programming is a platform for exhibitions, public art commissions, performances, films, talks and workshops that critically and creatively investigate themes pertinent to the region's arts community. Together, these programmes provide a platform to support the development of new ideas, open dialogue and collaboration across disciplines. The annual programme is thematically developed to focus on a particular issue, bringing artists and professionals from different fields together to examine a concept through wide-ranging means and perspectives.

More info:

About UAE Unlimited

Established in 2015, UAE Unlimited is an Abu Dhabi-based satellite platform supported by H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, who is a prominent patron and collector of the arts.

UAE Unlimited supports emerging Emirati and UAE-based artists by producing and promoting their works through strategic collaborations with art and culture organisations across the country. The initiative thrives on creating opportunities for both young and emerging UAE-based talent, thereby contributing to the overall cultural production in the UAE.

Recognising the importance of supporting and allowing young and emerging artists and curators to develop their skills, UAE Unlimited selects senior advisers who serve as mentors, not only for the artists but also for the curator. Artists and curators are encouraged to experiment and develop new practices, processes and techniques.

Employing this approach, UAE Unlimited has hosted a major annual exhibition every year since its founding, showcasing newly commissioned artworks based on selected themes. Recent exhibitions include "Al Haraka Baraka" with Maraya Art Centre Sharjah in 2016 with Mohammed Ibrahim Al Mansoori as guest artist, followed by "Bayn" with Warehouse421 Abu Dhabi in 2017 with acclaimed artist Manal Al Dowayan.

Shobha Pia Shamdsani is the Executive Director of UAE Unlimited; she is also the Art Adviser & Director of the Modern & Contemporary Middle Eastern Art Collection of H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan.

Facebook, Instagram: @uaeunlimited

About Concrete

A multi-disciplinary space conceptualised by Alserkal Avenue, Concrete is the first building in the UAE to be completed by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), founded by Rem Koolhaas. Located in Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, Concrete is an adaptable venue whose ability to metamorphose to bring creative visions to life makes it suitable for international, museum-grade exhibitions as well as events across art, design, fashion, and the performing arts.

Facebook, Instagram: #Concrete


His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan

His Highness Sheikh Zayed, (b. 1988) is the grandson of the President of the UAE, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan. He graduated from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, UK, receiving his Master of Arts with Honours in Middle East Studies and Modern History. With a keen interest, and a sense of duty to enhance the civic life of his country, Sheikh Zayed has sought to develop the artistic and creative voices of emerging generations, and support their efforts to enrich the cultural life of the UAE.

With this ideal in mind, H.H. Sheikh Zayed has garnered his talents and interests to become, at 29, one of the youngest, and most prominent patrons of the arts in the UAE. He is a keen collector of Middle Eastern art, both modern and contemporary, and including works from India, Iran and Turkey. In 2015, he established UAE Unlimited (formerly UAE Unlimited Arab Exploration), an open exhibition platform committed to the promotion of his country’s creative and artistic wellspring, within the UAE and internationally. UAE Unlimited is now in its fourth year of operation and has successfully begun its mission to positively impact the lives and careers of emerging artists. H.H. Sheikh Zayed is a Patron of the Centre Pompidou and the British Museum, and is on their Middle Eastern Acquisition Committees. He is also a Patron of the Sharjah Art Foundation and Honorary Patron of Art Dubai. Sheikh Zayed and UAE Unlimited have generously donated artworks from prominent UAE artists including Mohammed Kazem, Mohammed Ibrahim Al Mansoori, and Ammar Al Attar to the Centre Pompidou and the British Museum.

HH Sheikh Zayed also serves on the Board of the Make A Wish Foundation-UAE Chapter, is Chairman of the Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan Humanitarian and Scientific Foundation, and is Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Sultan bin Khalifa Thalassemia Award.

Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal

Founder of Alserkal Avenue, Alserkal Programming and Alserkal Residency

Abdelmonem Alserkal is the driving force behind Alserkal Avenue, a cultural destination that houses the most prominent contemporary art galleries in the region. In 2015, he launched Alserkal Programming, the not-for-profit arm of Alserkal Avenue, which supports locally-based and international artists through commissions and public programmes. As a natural extension of the programming arm, he established Alserkal Residency in early 2017. The Residency is designed to give artists, writers, curators, and researchers the opportunity to critically reflect on and experiment with their practice within the context of Dubai.

In 2016, Abdelmonem commissioned Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), which was founded by Pritzker Prize-winner Rem Koolhaas, to design Concrete, a space for alternative programmes and museum-grade exhibitions. Concrete is the first building to be completed in the UAE by the renowned architecture practice.

Featured in Surface magazine's 2016 Power 100, he serves on numerous boards of institutions around the world, including the British Museum's Contemporary and Modern Middle Eastern Art Acquisition Group; the Tate's Middle East and North Africa Acquisition Committee; and the Guggenheim's Middle Eastern Circle. Abdelmonem and the Alserkal family have long been supporters of the arts and have been awarded the Patron of the Arts award twice, in 2012 and 2013, by HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Karim Sultan

Karim Sultan is the director of Barjeel Art Foundation. He has recently curated a number of exhibitions such as The Sea Suspended at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Short Century (co-curated with Suheyla Takesh) at the Sharjah Art Museum, as well as a major exhibition of modern and contemporary Arab works at Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris (co-curated with Philippe van Cauteren of SMAK), and Between two rounds of fire, the exile of the sea at the American University Museum in Washington, D.C. Previously, he has been a contributing editor at Kalimat Magazine, and has worked with a number of arts organisations and initiatives in the Gulf region since 2012. His interests are focused around developing fluency with art histories and contemporary approaches to modernism in the Arab region. In addition, Karim is also a practicing and performing artist who works with sound, music, photography, video and installation.

Laura Metzler

Laura Metzler is the curator at Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah. She received her MA from the American University of Beirut and her BA from the University of Texas at Austin. Prior to holding this position she was the Associate Director at Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Beirut and The Third Line in Dubai. Recent projects include Sadik Al Fraji's Once Upon a Time: Hadiqat Al Umma, Collectivity: Objects and Associations in the UAE Art World and the launch of the Maraya Project Space. She has also worked on projects including exhibitions of artists such as Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Hayv Kahraman, Hassan Hajjaj, Rayyane Tabet, Haig Aivazian, Etel Adnan, Slavs and Tatars, and Monira Al Solh among others.

Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian

Ramin Haerizadeh (born 1975, Tehran), Rokni Haerizadeh (born 1978, Tehran) and Hesam Rahmanian (born 1980, Knoxville) have lived and worked together in Dubai since 2009. They work independently and together propagating a form of collaboration that doesn’t suppress individualism. The seeds of their language were sown as early as 1999 in Iran. Their practice offers up a novel redefinition of the collective, as theirs is constantly growing and contracting to incorporate friends, writers, and artists at large. It entails the use of both low and high art references, and freely embraces ‘what is considered marginal, wasted, wrong, messed up, useless, and taken for granted’. Their individual practices differ stylistically while political and social commentary become inherently subversive in a common reflection. The exhibitions they conceive are as much insights into their daily practice which they designate as the ritual of living and working together.

Their immersive and multimedia installations build upon their perception of life as a theatre while also making their process visible. Generally, their proposals begin with the ‘creatures’ that the three artists become, both physically and mentally, and whose very beings are the roles that are eventually played. Placing emphasis on the importance of ‘reporting on our time’, they wish to bring attention to the urgencies of the present moment while opening up questions over a spectrum of subjects such as views on art and culture, gender fluidity, and power mechanisms. ‘The conglomeration of things actually asks us to look at what is in front of us’ comment the artists, demanding time for contemplation. The artists seek to encourage the viewer to recognise the reality of interdependency and the value of solidarity with others. Therefore, they create a sense of alienation or estrangement from reality with depersonalised individual subjects (creatures) and inhomogeneous crafted objects. In doing so, they aim to exorcise the sentimentalism, resulting in an emotional distance to elicit from the viewer astonishment rather than empathy and ultimately allowing for critical analysis.

Recipients of the Han Nefkens Foundation/MACBA Award, the artists will stage a solo exhibition at the MACBA in Barcelona in October 2017. Recent solo exhibitions include The Birthday Party (2015) at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Boston, Slice A Slanted Arc Into Dry Paper Sky at the Zurich Kunsthalle (2015), Those Who Love Spiders, and Let Them Sleep in Their Hair at Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art in Copenhagen (2015) and Another Happy Day (2017) at the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. They also participated in The Restless Earth (2017) for the Milan Triennale in association with Fondazione Nicola Trussardi and contributed to the National Pavilion of the UAE at the 57th Venice Biennale's catalogue as an extended site of the exhibition. They took part in the Liverpool Biennale (2016), and the 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at the Queensland Gallery in Brisbane (2015).

A facsimile of their artist book Her Majesty? was published by Editions Patrick Frey in 2016 and a monograph of their work Ramin Haerizadeh Rokni Haerizadeh Hesam Rahmanian was published by Mousse Publishing in 2015.