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‘Speculative Links’: UAE-based artists explore memory, displacement themes in artwork

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‘Speculative Links’, an exhibition which featured artists from multiple cohorts of the Salama Bint Hamdan’s Emerging Artists Fellowship (SEAF) and UAE-based art center Warehouse421, brought together pieces of art under the common themes of memory and displacement.

Al Arabiya English spoke to the artists and curators of the exhibit, which was one of art Dubai’s most featured showcases earlier this month, to discuss the artwork and the important of art to society.

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By Asma Khoury, SEAF, at Art Dubai 2022. (Supplied)
By Asma Khoury, SEAF, at Art Dubai 2022. (Supplied)

The exhibit was curated by Maryam al-Dabbagh and Mays al-Baik, and includes works by artists Asma Khoory, Tala Worrell, Dina Nazmi Khorchid, Sawsan al-Bahar, Shaikha al-Ketbi, Fatima al-Budoor, Mohamed Khalid and Malak Elghuel. The show attempted to reflect on the relationship between art pedagogy and production, and the connection forged between the artists’ authentic voice and the processes and critiques that shape their practice.

Artworks by Shaikha Al Ketbi at Art Dubai 2022. (Supplied)
Artworks by Shaikha Al Ketbi at Art Dubai 2022. (Supplied)

‘Maktoob - A Letter from Dad, 1990,’ ‘Engram’ by Dina Khorchid

Dina Khorchid- 'Engram' at Art Dubai 2022. (Supplied)
Dina Khorchid- 'Engram' at Art Dubai 2022. (Supplied)

With two artworks in the ‘Speculative Links’ exhibit, Dina Khorchid told Al Arabiya English that her works were all inspired by her late father. Her pieces were: ‘Maktoob- A Letter from Dad 1990’ - a photo transfer, lino-cut relief printing and pastel on paper- and ‘Engram’ – artwork created on woodblock prints on linen.

“They are very dear to my heart and mark the beginning of my investigations into subject matters and material properties that continue to shape and influence my art practice today,” she said.

Dina Khorchid- 'Maktoob- A Letter from Dad, 1990' at art Dubai 2022. (Supplied)
Dina Khorchid- 'Maktoob- A Letter from Dad, 1990' at art Dubai 2022. (Supplied)

“My late father is the main inspiration to all my work. He was unjustifiably abducted and never returned during the Gulf War in 1991. He had a vision of me becoming an artist and through my work, I connect back to his memory through symbols, building new narratives and meanings. In ‘Engram’ another source of inspiration was Palestinian embroidery motifs, and the late Etel Adnan’s poetic marriage of text and marks for ‘Maktoob - A Letter from Dad, 1990.’”

Both pieces were created during her time at SEAF in 2017.

Dina Khorchid- 'Engram' at Art Dubai 2022. (Supplied)
Dina Khorchid- 'Engram' at Art Dubai 2022. (Supplied)

“They are process-driven explorations in mark-making, delving into personal themes of loss, displacement and memory access.”

When asked about the advice she would give to aspiring artists, she said, “My advice to up-and-coming artists, like myself, is to play! Take your practice seriously but not too seriously that you hinder your own progress or not create at all. Keep making and connecting to materials.”

“The mind catches up with the hands and it all comes together when you have conversations with your work; through writing, researching, and talking to mentors and peers. Be genuine and true to your practice, there is no rush and no finish line,” she added.

She also said that her work for the Art Dubai exhibit in early March was centered around the idea of memory preservation and narration as well as connections to land and domesticity and the fragility of loss.

Dina Khorchid- 'Engram' at Art Dubai 2022. (Supplied)
Dina Khorchid- 'Engram' at Art Dubai 2022. (Supplied)

“Through symbols, mark-making and material studies, I delve into the broader contexts of identity politics, migration and psychoanalysis. My practice stems from a personal place that attempts to unravel family history and displacement, through textiles installations. Creating designed order, is my way to maneuver through the chaotic, nostalgic, burdened and anxious mind.”

“Art opens up avenues of personal expression, as well as dialogues and alternative methodologies that can expand societal views and cultural exchanges.”

‘Blue’ by Fatima al-Budoor

“My piece, ‘Blue’ is a textiles artwork made up of many layers of pure silk dyed with fabric dye. The work was part of my final exhibit in the SEAF fellowship when I was a fellow in 2016. At the time it was my first time working with print on textiles, as before that I had only made prints on paper and other materials,” artist Fatima al-Budoor said.

A graduate of Northeastern University in Boston, al-Budoor said that the inspiration behind her piece ‘Blue’ (2016) was nostalgia from her days as a university student in the US.

'Blue' by Fatima al-Budoor at Art Dubai 2022. (Supplied)
'Blue' by Fatima al-Budoor at Art Dubai 2022. (Supplied)

“When I created ‘Blue’ I was feeling nostalgic about memories of mine from my university days as a young art student in Boston, USA,” she said, adding that it can be interpreted as a self-portrait because she was reflecting on a time in her life “that now feels like a distant dream.”

‘Blue’ is a textiles installation made with pure silk, she explained. She dyed the piece with bleach and various fabric dyes, a process which took several hours to set up and around two days for the dye to set and absorb the colors.

“Many people don’t realize that art is the basis of so many things in the world around us,” she added.

'In the forest of estrangement' by Sawsan al-Bahar at Art Dubai 2022.
'In the forest of estrangement' by Sawsan al-Bahar at Art Dubai 2022.

“Every film you see in the cinema, every song you hear on the radio, or billboard you see on the streets is there because of the artists and the creative minds behind it. Art also has the power to draw people in and make them connect to their own feelings, when someone sees a painting and falls in love with it, it’s because the piece is speaking to them on a personal level.”

‘Speculative Links’ was commissioned by UAE-based arts and design center Warehouse421 and in partnership with SEAF – an intensive 10-month artistic education and development program for aspiring artists – for Art Dubai 2022 which took place from March 11 to 13 this year.

'If I Could Count You' by Malak Elghuel at Art Dubai 2022. (Supplied)
'If I Could Count You' by Malak Elghuel at Art Dubai 2022. (Supplied)

Established in 2013, SEAF focuses on the artistic development process, the critique process, immersive studio practice and the cultivation of an interactive online community for participating artists and faculty.

“We recognized how artists from different cohorts produced works that resonated achronically with each other, mapping a collective sense of vulnerable and precarious placement. The artists’ work spans a wide range of practices, including painting, drawing, engraving, mixed media, and embroidery, exploring, from personal memories to social commentaries, as well highlighting the intense homing desire,” al-Dabbagh, who is also a writer and researcher specialized in archiving and immigrant identity, added.

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