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‘Collectivity’ explores formal, informal ties that make up UAE’s art world

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‘Collectivity: Objects and associations in the UAE art world’, an exhibition curated by Laura Metzler, which has been currently on at on at the Maraya Art Centre, Sharjah.

The show endeavors to examine the formal and informal relationships that make up the UAE art scene, with over 80 participants working in all sectors within the art world from commercial galleries to non-profit foundations, art fairs to framers, freelance workers to museums.

Giuseppe Moscatello, Director, Al Maraya Art Centre, speaking to Al Arabiya English, said he was particularly proud because Metzler came up with this innovative idea that combines new perspectives of curatorial practice and community involvement which are both essential part of our mission at Maraya.”

Metzler is a curator and art historian from Houston, Texas, but she has been very much part of the Middle East as well as the UAE art scene.

She received her MA from the American University of Beirut and her BA from the University of Texas at Austin. She has been living and working in the arts in the Middle East since 2011 and has previously been the Associate Director of The Third Line, Dubai and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Beirut.

She is particularly interested in transnational narratives and emerging art historiographies. Her research has focused on the later works of Lebanese sculptor Saloua Raouda Choucair.

Al Arabiya English spoke to Laura Triggs Metzler, Curator of the show on the concept behind the show and its logistics. The following are the excerpts:


As a Curator, what was the thinking behind the concept for 'Collectivity'?

The project is an experiment pulling from questions I’ve asked through my research and experience working in the industry. It’s a world where the personal and the professional blend constantly so the exhibition takes that as a starting point and asks what we can learn about the art world and how it operates through the objects that are at the heart of it and the stories behind them.

The artworks are indexes for the formal and informal relationships that make the larger network that gives the art world form and the stories are your legend for reading them.

Everything about it was an experiment. I didn’t know who was going to respond and I didn’t interfere in the decisions they made when selecting their contribution, and did only very minimal editing of the stories so the individual responses remain true to each contributor. With all of these variables the physical form of the show developed step by step and it was my challenge to figure out how to best display everything together and to create an experience that gave visitors different avenues to engage with the work and the people who are tied together through it.



How long did it take you to select these exhibits? Was there an open call? What was the time period between conception and the actual show opening?

The invitations to participate went out in March just after Art Dubai. I personally e-mailed as many people as I could which amounted to 298 people across 104 organizations. Most of the organizations are listed in an attachment to the essay on the website. Everyone who was initially invited to participate also was invited to extend the invitation to anyone who fit the criteria, so some of the participants I actually hadn’t met in person until the opening. Everything was done to try to be as inclusive as possible and the goal in the contact phase was to reach as many people in as many different facets of the industry as possible.

Are all the works intimately connected to the UAE art world?

They’re intimately connected to the people working in art in the UAE. Some of them are from other places and make references to other discourses or histories but these show how the UAE is situated in other dialogues through the presence of these people and their contributions.

What has been the feedback from the artistic community, general viewers and the art critics?

The feedback has been very positive. There’s something to discover whether you are part of the art world or not and there are lots of different ways of connecting and engaging with the show. The opening was very special because a lot of contributors and their friends or families came together at once to discover it. Everyone was sharing stories and finding new links that didn’t even show up in the initial texts. In this way the feedback as the exhibition continues is actually expanding the project constantly.

Is there a commonality and continuity in the theme of ‘Collectivity’, when you consider that Maraya Art Centre had earlier organized ‘Art Index 0.1’ a series of analogue portraits of the personalities involved in art making, production and curation in the UAE?

It’s essentially an inversion of Ammar Al Attar’s Art Index 1.0 project and I particularly liked that one of the submissions was this catalogue because it does make reference to the acknowledgement of the community by local artists. It’s also an interesting navigation and tracing of the network through the contributor’s continual project trying to get everyone included to sign it.

Both projects are interested in looking at the art world in the UAE but do so in different ways that complement one another. Art Index 1.0 is one artists vision and relationships catalogued through his practice, it follows the artist to labor network relationship I discussed in the essay and also includes artists, but they are all literally framed by the artist himself and the focus is on these people themselves They are displayed in one cohesive format. ‘Collectivity’ reverses this dynamic and starts with the network and expands in different directions through the art objects rather than focusing on the specific actors. The people and the art objects become a larger network and system that are equally important to one another. Essentially Art Index 1.0 asks who are the people involved in the art of the UAE, and ‘Collectivity’ carries this question forward to also ask what they value and what can you learn about how and why they are connected from these objects and their relationships to them and through them. The objects and their histories come forward and become references for the people.

Being a small country and with the practitioners involved closely in art making since the 1970s, did you notice a closeness and camaraderie among the art community not found elsewhere to this extent? What are your observations?

The closeness and camaraderie I think is inherently part of the art world because of the nature of the industry. You’ll find it anywhere but the larger the art world the more difficult it can be to identify because of the sheer volume of people involved. You can absolutely see it and feel it in the UAE because of the scale and that’s something that made doing a project like this exciting here.

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The exhibition will close on Saturday, August 19, 2017.