Pioneering Emirati artist Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim will represent the United Arab Emirates at the 2022 edition of la Biennale di Venezia (Venice Biennale), in an exhibition curated by Maya Allison for the National Pavilion UAE.
Painter, sculptor and land artist, Ibrahim is known for being one of the UAE’s earliest experimental artists and an influential member of the country's now-historic avant-garde art community.
Through his form-led practice and handcrafted works, he responds to his environment, with keen affinity for the natural landscapes of the UAE.
Ibrahim has selected Maya Allison, Executive Director and Chief Curator of The NYUAD Art Gallery, as the curator for the exhibition. This marks an exciting move towards an artist-led approach to curating the National Pavilion UAE in the years to come, and in turn recognizes the strength of the UAE’s artistic community.
The 59th Venice Biennale will be held between April 23, 2022m and November 27, 2022, under the artistic direction of Cecilia Alemani.
Inspired by Khor Fakkan's natural environment
Born in 1962, Ibrahim is largely self-taught. He studied psychology at Al Ain University, graduating in 1986. But his acquaintance and friendship with pioneering Emirati avant garde and conceptual artist Hassan Sharif, who had returned from studying in the United Kingdom, proved to be a turning point in shaping Ibrahim’s ideas, concepts and techniques.
Ibrahim drew his inspiration, ideas and materials of his art from the surroundings of his birthplace, Khor Fakkan, where he lives and works. “I am inspired by the coasts, sierras and mountain lights of my home in Khor Fakkan, where my family has lived for generations,” he says.
“Here in the UAE we are surrounded by diverse and ancient landscapes as well as advanced urbanisation. This tension is one of the concepts I explore in my work through organic materials, by allowing my subconscious to find the forms. I am delighted to be able to share my locally-rooted practice with a global audience at the Venice Biennale.”
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In turn, Allison says, “When I first encountered a work by Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, its playful, abstract-yet-organic form electrified my curatorial senses. Later, discovering the depth and extent of his legacy was a watershed moment in my study of the UAE’s contemporary art movement, which dates back half a century. Ibrahim continues to innovate, with a prolific daily practice and several flourishing bodies of work.
“He is one of the most important artists working in the UAE today, and has influenced generations of artists here. I am looking forward to an even greater international audience discovering this work with his solo exhibition at the Venice Biennale.”
With this exhibition, the National Pavilion UAE is moving towards a more artist-led approach to curation in recognition of the strength of the UAE’s artistic community. This comes as a reflection of National Pavilion UAE’s growth as a pavilion, seen as a catalyst to the UAE’s cultural scene.
“Since the UAE’s inaugural pavilion in 2009, understanding and discourse around the UAE’s incredible artistic community has grown immensely, encouraged by the research and platforms that entities like the National Pavilion UAE provide,” says Angela Migally, Executive Director of the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, which commissions the National Pavilion UAE.
Part of the UAE’s avant-garde scene
Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim is part of the UAE's first generation of contemporary artists from the late 1980s, an avant-garde scene that included Hassan Sharif, Abdullah Al Saadi, Hussein Sharif, and Mohammed Kazem.
Ibrahim once said that “inspiration always comes from things that nature creates and the artist can only care about and be in harmony with the spirit of the site.”
Ibrahim’s work has been inspired by a lifelong relationship with the environment of Khorfakkan, his place of birth, with the Gulf of Oman on one side and the Hajar Mountains on the other.
This deep connection to his local environment repeats itself throughout his studio practice, whether through his installations, drawings or objects, and the materials he has worked with for over three decades.
His hand made objects are shaped like primitive tools, bones or parts of trees and appear to have been unearthed from some ancient den, rather than handcrafted.
His works on paper reveal his own form of language -- inscriptions, lines and abstract forms that are reminiscent of ancient cave drawings -- marking time and memory through meditative repetition, which links him to Sharif, Al Saadi, and Sherif.
Ibrahim likes to leave the interpretation of his work open-ended, and viewers are free to draw their own conclusions.
Major institutions that have acquired his work include the British Museum, Centre George Pompidou, Sharjah Art Foundation, Art Jameel, and Barjeel Art Foundation. His work was included in the Kochi-Muziris Biennial 2016 and numerous solo and group exhibitions internationally.
Latest works on show in Dubai
Lawrie Shabibi in Al Serkal Avenue, Dubai, which represents the artist, is currently exhibiting Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim’s latest works done during his time in isolation during lockdown in his Khorfakkan studio for the past five months during the coronavirus pandemic shutdown.
The show is titled ‘Memory Drum’ and will be open until November 12, 2020. This is the artist’s second solo at the gallery.
Two new bodies of work have emerged from Ibrahim’s six months of seclusion: a group of large paintings with plant-like forms (either trees or flowers) -- his Boulevard and Flower series; and a group of sculptures that are either vaguely anthropomorphic, or else resemble toys from earliest stages of childhood.
Both bodies of work are seen through a minimalist lens and alternate between brightly-colored and neutral hues.
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