On September 12, the art space Traffic received a mandate from the Media Office of the Dubai Government prohibiting the sale of artist Lantian Xie’s paintings, which duplicate the official portrait of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Prime Minister and Vice President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and constitutional monarch of Dubai.
The series of oil paintings on display at Traffic for Xie’s solo exhibition, “I Think I Love You,” were produced by art workers in Dafen, China. Each painting, measuring 1.3 meters wide by 2 meters tall, was crafted as a replica of the single publicly distributed image of the Sheikh.A government official came to inspect the show and later returned with a notice (written up on the same type of paper that is issued for parking tickets and other minor offenses in Dubai) with a summons for the artist to appear at the Media Office. Rami Farook, owner and founder of Traffic, went on Xie’s behalf and explained the nature of the artist’s paintings to officials, who in turn decided that the show could take place on the condition that no work would be available for purchase.
ArtAsiaPacific obtained a copy of the mandate, signed by Farook and the Media Office’s Head of Communication, Hessa al-Rasheed, who states in the letter, “We would like to bring to your attention that you are prohibited to sell any paintings from this exhibition. Additionally, it cannot be used in any commercial transaction in any shape or form.” Clarifying the reasoning behind the proscription, al-Rasheed continues, “This is in keeping with the applicable rules regarding the usage of His Highness’ official image as well as images of the ruling family of Dubai.”
When approached about the situation, Xie responded with “no comment.” Farook, meanwhile, had nothing but praise for the way the situation was handled, writing in an email to AAP, “I dealt with the issue from beginning to end and was impressed. [The Media Office] finding out about the exhibition, politely inviting me over, asking the right questions, then requesting us not to commercialize the picture of the ruler [are] examples as to why the likes of Xie would love this Sheikh.”
Dubai- and New York-based artist Lantian Xie was born in China and raised between Bahrain and the UAE. He is a graduate of the MFA program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a recipient of this year’s Sheikha Manal Young Artist Award, which recognizes Xie as an emerging talent in the UAE.
Traffic serves as a creative forum for social studies, research and development, and hosts in addition to contemporary art exhibitions, workshops, film screenings, artisan markets and a myriad of public programs. Additionally, Traffic runs an in-house book store, Print, and publishes the recently launched sociohistorical journal, The State.