30 November 2021
A Walk through ICD Brookfield
It’s hard, booking a Careem at 5 PM. Press preview at 6 PM. My frustration mounts. Half an hour later, I’m half an hour away from DIFC. I clutch a bent, blank notebook in one hand. It’s never used once that night, at the opening of Hair Mapping Body; Body Mapping Land at ICD Brookfield Place.
Programmed by Alserkal Advisory and curated by Munira Al Sayegh and the newly-minted Dirwaza Curatorial Lab, it’s a double-feature) of Khorfakkan-born contemporary Emirati artist Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim and Afra Al Dhaheri, an Abu Dhabi-based contemporary artist who is well beyond emerging at this point. Mohamed Khalid, a recent recipient of Warehouse 421’s Artistic Development Exhibition Program, is set to stage an “ephemeral art piece” in response to both artists later to make this a triple feature.
My eyes glaze over each piece now at the gallery, and I allow myself to make a few hazy associations. Square sunflower, rope chair, yellow double-faucets, toy horse, nipple tree, little white book stands, gutted out speaker, municipality’s latest mutilated tree. However, the evening winds on and it’s getting harder to secure a place in front of any given piece. I eventually find respite behind Al Dhaheri’s Fil Al Shaar (2020) . The night ends for me at Tabari, pressed into a corner, listening to a ZU professor DJ.
Back in DIFC at noontime on a much quieter Saturday. The guest wifi is just strong enough for me to download a QR code scanner. I scroll through the exhibition catalogue, mostly for the all-important artwork labels. Now there’s less sidestepping, more circumnavigating. There’s room to breathe, for me and the artwork.
There’s a yo-yoing between the understated and declaratory, a disjointed ebb and flow that’s only just beginning to make itself apparent on this second visit. On opening night the space struck me as more of a mismatched showroom, everywhere spotlights like a bed and bath emporium. This Saturday it’s a set piece, or a brightly lit attic strewn with odds and ends, abandoned toys and busted furniture. Now there’s less anxious fixation, more deliberate cognitive connect-the-dots. I begin to see the sculptures there coalesce into a sort of uncanny vacation getaway scene.
There are also moments in the show where either artist seeks refuge, often in a corner. In one instance, I find myself following a seemingly spray painted track beginning from the left of the entrance that terminates in a duct taped arrow pointing at Orange Fork (2020). The trio of paintings are almost deity-like, the way Ibrahim’s everyday sygaldry balloons into overgrown single-celled organisms. They loom over me, staking claim over their solitary corner of the space.
Al Dhaheri’s One at a Time (To Detangle Series) (2020) occupies a similar position, nearly out of sight on the other side of the curtain, where it encircles one pillar in the far left of the gallery like a bracelet. It's this aforementioned trio of works, Orange Fork on the Table (2020), Orange Fork (2020), and Pink Garden (2020), whose corner placement somewhat mirrors that of One at a Time (To Detangle Series) (2020), that to me begs the question of which presentation is altogether more rewarding, both upon first and repeated viewings? Is it Ibrahim’s obvious, ostentatious canvases that occupy nearly an entire wall space or Al Dhaheri’s singular work, that quietly funnels attention away from Khorfakkan (2005) just a few feet away?
Al Dhaheri’s Fil Al Shaar (2020), the largest work in Hair Mapping Body; Body Mapping Land, begins to occupy more and more of my attention. As the day winds on, I’ve gotten very good at parting its curtains, head first, hands following, my curls against cotton rope. It’s art as a room divider, sheltering and obscuring, slicing the sunlight into slivers that rest along the scuffed, unfinished floor. With that in mind, the work also acts as a demarcator of time and a welcome contrast to the space’s static lighting.
On either side of Fil Al Shaar (2020) are Ibrahim’s largest sculptural works in the gallery, Untitled (2019) and Khorfakkan (2005). The former explodes upwards with bombastic colour, the latter congealing across a generous bit of floor space. Al Dhaheri’s work, however, extends downwards from the ceiling. It’s dominant and functional, like a canvas that Ibrahim’s works are superimposed against. Her works inject a sense of linear time, progression, and to some extent deterioration to Ibrahim’s. Many of his pieces, uncanny representations of everyday objects or natural formations that seem to stand outside of time, gain a certain patina in the presence of works that more directly evoke physical age. Al Dhaheri is present not only as an onlooker or witness to Ibrahim’s geographies but as a mapper of territories
Under the sunlight on the other side, Khorfakkan (2005) looks like a congregation of melted, malformed Haribo gummies. This bird's eye view of Ibrahim’s mountain range, the most art per square meter in the space, is something to freely circumambulate around now on my own. Back through the curtains again, I direct my attention to the raised circular platform, under the gallery spotlights. Ibrahim’s Sun flower (2018) raises its head to meet the light and fruit juice chills in a tub of ice in his Fruit basket(2010). Ibrahim’s other pieces, 2 Orange flowers in vase (2018), Swimming Pool (2018) and Lemon Tree (2013) all add to a growing sense of idle foreboding.
I turn to regard Ibrahim's Untitled (2019) again, and its green chandelier-interior seems almost like a womb for various smaller-scale works to plop out of. They crawl out from beneath its legs, washing off the amniotic fluid under what look like hot- and cold-water taps mounted on one side of the sculpture's frame. His Robot (2020) is a family dog that watches over a couple reconciling, hands clasped in Al Dhaheri’s No. 5 (To Detangle Series) (2020). Her No. 1 (To Detangle Series) (2020) is a morose, overgrown bundle of nerves laid out on a chair to the side, all of them baking under the sun. I hold the image in my mind’s eye for a while, of a family enjoying its uneasy truce, before turning away.
Ibrahim and Al Dhaheri’s works sometimes diverge, jostle for attention, or at least pleasantly clash. It’s in their rare flashes of cohesion that Hair Mapping Body; Body Mapping Land reveals itself as a potentially congenial exchange between two artists.