Utopic imagery had been destroyed by Israeli drones. Or so the canvas depicts.
A Gaza-born artist recalled her idyllic childhood in Palestine, using warm pastels and soft accents to sketch greenery and a plethora of birds, showcasing her memories at this year’s Art Dubai.
Laila Shawa’s “Birds of Paradise” mixed media piece told her story.
“It’s how she remembers Palestine from her youth,” the gallery exhibitor tells me, as I glanced at the Israeli planes cutting sorely through the green, pasted on with pop-art motifs.
It reveals how, at times, art can cut through the metaphors and create strikingly obvious messages, welcoming you to fathom their depth at face value, urging you to “get it” instantly.
This year, Art Dubai was where the Middle East came to scream.
A total of 75 galleries exhibited at the sixth edition of the fair, creating a smaller collection than the previous year that was “abundant yet cozy yet loud,” says Haleigh Collins, a Dubai-based art critic on her visit.
“It’s all about making big, gallant statements,” Collins adds.
A wall of toy army soldiers protrudes from a giant canvas, created by a Syrian-born artist only a few months ago; a photograph hangs of an Iranian woman wearing an Abaya and boxing gloves – the meanings are lucid, unambiguous.
Call them what you like; the “canvases of crisis,” or contemporary art “rages,” but let’s not use abstract, conceptual descriptions on works that attempt to steer away from exactly that.
Lebanese artist Pierre Koukjian crafted words in bright neon lights as they flash on and off to depict a prolonged electricity problem in his home country. A group of mostly Lebanese onlookers crowded around the blue neon on white chassis, reading the words “Electricity off, electricity on” (written in Arabic) and chuckled; almost as if they had understood some kind of punch line.
“This electricity problem has been going on for a long time which is why I think people still relate to this piece and are able to laugh at it,” says an excited Dina Hassanein, exhibitor at the Dubai-based gallery which is home to Koukjian’s pieces.
Then, another collection which speaks for itself. Visitors are met with the words “RIP Iraq” alongside the iconic image from the Abu Ghraib prison, “the hooded man,” oddly placed against a flowery backdrop of pink and blue.
“My attention is directed to issues of violence, gender and religion and how they find their place in our bubblegum culture,” says Lebanese artist Zena el-Khalil, who also describes herself as a writer and cultural activist.
“Walking along a street in Beirut, one will find a large painting of a martyr, next to a shop that sells lingerie, next to a billboard advertising beer, next to a cop holding a Kalashnikov, next to a man with a pushcart selling the latest pirated Shakira CD.”
Khalil’s mixed media work includes toy soldiers painted in Barbie-pink tones and an image of an Arab-looking fighter with a scarf covering his head and a machine gun slung across his body. But he is only wearing underwear and cowboy boots.
The gun is a bright pink also, undermining the weapon’s power, the exhibitor at the art fair says.
“I am trying to expose the superficialities of war in our region. I am trying to convey the message that war is a commercial venture and is as shallow and forged as the plastic in my soldiers,” Khalil says.
The fair brought together eclectic work from across the Middle East, alongside pieces from as far a field as Beijing, New York and Jakarta.
Statements were made loud and clear and meanings were not shielded by overly obscure concepts.
Art Dubai 2012 was where the avant-garde carried simplified messages; Middle Eastern cries for help were not clouded by imaginations that ran too wild.