Jan 30 2015

Theme and Participating Artists of UAE National Pavilion at 56th Venice Biennale Announced

by Kevin Jones

Exterior of the United Arab Emirates national pavilion in Venice. Courtesy National Pavilion UAE

On January 27, Sheikha Hoor bint Sultan al-Qasimi, curator of the national pavilion of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the 56th Venice Biennale, announced the 14 Emirati artists whose works will be featured in the exhibition. The first Emirati curator to head the UAE pavilion, which was initiated in 2009, Sheikha Hoor is also president and director of the Sharjah Art Foundation and has been a guiding force behind the Sharjah Biennial since taking over its program in 2003. Titled “1980-Today: Exhibitions in the UAE,” this year’s national pavilion will examine four formative decades in the emergence of contemporary art practices in the Emirates. The exhibition takes as its departure point the Emirates Fine Arts Society, a non-profit association founded in Sharjah in 1980, which was instrumental in training artists and nurturing talent in the country.

Countering the common perception that contemporary art in the UAE is a product of the recent art “boom,” the show hones in on its “underexposed historical record," as mentioned in a statement.

Featured artists will include Hassan Sharif, Mohamed Kazem, Abdullah al-Saadi—perhaps the most internationally known artists of the group—as well as more locally notable modernist and contemporary artists: Ahmed al-Ansari, Moosa al- Halyan, Mohammed al-Qassab, Abdul Qader al-Rais, Mohammed Abdullah Bulhiah, Salem Jawhar, Dr. Najat Meky, Abdulraheem Salim, Obaid Suroor, Dr. Mohamed Yousif and Abdulrahman Zainal.

In 2013, the UAE became the first Gulf Cooperation Council country to secure a permanent pavilion at the Venice Biennale, located in the Arsenale—Sale di Armi. In 2009, the country’s first participation in the Biennale was marked by controversial “competing” installations: the national pavilion, featuring work by Lamya Gargash and curated by Tirdad Zolghadr; and the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH) platform, curated by Catherine David. ADACH merged with the current Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority in 2012.