YEESOOKYUNG, Twin Dance, 2012, still from single-channel video: 11 minutes 38 seconds. Courtesy the artist and Maraya Art Centre, Sharjah. 

Ana: Please Keep Your Eyes Closed For a Moment

Maraya Art Centre
United Arab Emirates Korea, South

Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah is currently hosting “Ana: Please Keep Your Eyes Closed For a Moment,” the first exhibition of contemporary Korean art hosted by a public institution within the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region.

With Korean art being shown in the Middle East, the world has truly become globalized; it could be said that we are all citizens of a multicultural society, and that where we are from no longer solely defines us. In a similar vein, exhibition curator JW Stella destroys the boundaries of labels and unites works from different regions under the same umbrella of “art.” The Korean show at Maraya Art Centre is meant to encourage viewers to recognize that art contributes to a universal discourse—one that focuses not on differentiating people by their personal identities, but on exploring the various conversations that such individualities create.

Thirteen contemporary artists—twelve from Korea and one Saudi Arabian—make up the exhibition. Several works on view resulted from Maraya Art Centre’s two-month-long artist-residency exchange program, in collaboration with Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture; as part of the project, Dubai-based Saudi Arabian artist Ghada Da and Sujin Lee from Seoul swapped and explored each other’s cities.

Walking into the exhibition, the museum’s large space immediately immerses the audience with its high ceilings and grey walls. The large, open room is filled with the sound of chimes and string instruments being played slowly and in a drawn-out manner. Standing within this environment, the full meaning of the exhibition’s title is revealed to the viewers. The term “Ana” in the title refers to the Arabic word ana, meaning “I,” “oneself” or “me”—which in the Korean language is na. This explores the notion of the individual and identity that are created with or without cultural context. The engaging, instrumental sound playing in the background is tied to the exhibition’s subtitle, “please keep your eyes closed for a moment,” which is a quote taken from the 1999 novel The Infinite Ethereal Breath by Korean avant-garde writer Insung Lee. This passage asks the audience to be active participants of the show and to take in their environment by recognizing their own presence within their surroundings.

A wall barrier divides the room, and one can choose to enter the space from either side. To the left are two pieces by Gayoung Jun. One is stella.drawing (2015), a pink pattern emerging from the center of a piece of paper. The second is a massive drawing that spans from wall to wall, applied directly onto the gallery surface. Entitled gayoung.drawing (2015), it measures 15 meters in length and comprises a gridded pattern with squares shaded in with various colors and varying intensity.

The opposite side of the room displays work by Hong Soun. Ordinary Monument (2015) is a triptych of large-scale oil paintings. They are gray, still-life-style renderings of 60 sculpture objects that are scattered across the floor in front of the paintings. The installation exudes a sense of eeriness, where the sculptures having a ghostly, metallic feel and the mechanical objects have been left wrapped in Clingfilm. Meanwhile, two identical chandeliers with white lights float nearby, as part of a work titled When I Become You (2015) by Yeesookyung.

Also on view by Yeesookyung is Twin Dance (2012), a single-channel video presented on a large wall in the exhibition space. Two figures in identical clothing are seen dancing across the screen in opposite directions. They are performing a traditional Korean dance called “Gyobang-chum,” which used to be practiced at the royal court during the Goryeo Dynasty (918–1392). The figures make rhythmic and gentle moves within a white space. A part of Yeesookyung’s long-term project “When I Become You” (2015), this dance piece is a symbol of traditional identity, as well as the discovering of new ones through cultural practice.

In the center of the room is Juyeon Kim’s YI:SUK-X (2015), an installation comprising 7,000 Emirati newspapers as a compost base to grow plant life. As an element of the “living art” installation, the smell of plants and wet newspaper permeates the area. The piece—consisting of several wooden pallets stacked on top of each other, whose in-between spaces are wedged in with newspaper containing plant seedlings, which are being grown for the duration of the exhibition—demonstrates that the world is made up of an accumulation of various, individual elements. 

JUYEON KIMYI:SUK-X, 2015, seven thousand newspapers, shelves, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Maraya Art Centre, Sharjah. 

HYOJIN JEONG, Alice in Tearpool – Part 2 (Jin-do, South Korea), 2015, stills from single-channel video: 5 minutes 30 seconds. Courtesy the artist, GyeongGi Cultural Foundation and Maraya Art Centre, Sharjah. 

Visible throughout the exhibition floor is Hyojin Jeong’s work videos and her neon-lit sign installation White Roses in Red (2015), which stand out in the grey-hued space. Written in Arabic, the neon sign contains the first few sentences of Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s tale Alice in Wonderland (1865). In another reference to Alice, Jeong explores “global upheaval and conflicts” with her films Alice in Tearpool Part 1 (Sharjah, UAE) (2015) and Alice in Tearpool Part 2 (Jin-do, South Korea), with each film featuring their respective locations. The former depicts mosaic rooms and grass outside a Mosque in Sharjah, while the latter takes place in South Korea on a rainy day by the docks, with paper boats floating off to sea. The artist is present in both, wearing Alice’s iconic blue-and-white dress made famous by Disney’s adaptation of Carroll’s work. While Carroll’s tale illustrates and criticizes adult issues and societal obscurities through the playful, yet dark and mysterious universe of “Wonderland,” Jeong engages with and reinterprets the fantastical universe through a contemporary context.  

The large exhibition space at Maraya Art Centre brings together different identities and global issues, discussing each with equal focus. Bridging gaps between cultures, artists have come together to explore the self and its relevance within our globalized world today. The show, which hosts a variety of media and concepts, engages the audience at every moment.

HYOJIN JEONGWhite Roses in Red, 2015, neon, 50 × 250 cm. Courtesy the artist and Maraya Art Centre, Sharjah. 

“Ana: Please Keep Your Eyes Closed for a Moment,” is on view at Maraya Art Centre, Sharjah, until January 2, 2016.