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  • Oct 05, 2023

UAE Names Veteran Artist for 60th Venice Biennale

*updated October 10, 2023

Portrait of ABDULLAH AL SAADI and TAREK ABOU EL FETOUH. Photo by Daryl Borja. Courtesy of National Pavilion UAE and La Biennale di Venezia.

On October 4, the National Pavilion UAE committee appointed conceptual artist Abdullah Al Saadi as the United Arab Emirates’s representative for the upcoming Venice Biennale in April 2024. Al Saadi has chosen to work with curator Tarek Abou El Fetouh, head of performance and senior curator at Sharjah Art Foundation, on his solo presentation at the Biennale. 

Considered one of UAE’s pioneering contemporary artists, Al Saadi has worked in various artistic mediums across his 40-year practice, including drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, and performance art. Based in his birthplace of Khor Fakkan on the eastern coast of the UAE, he explores the intersection of Arabian environments, history, and personal narratives, frequently using found objects and natural artifacts to highlight these themes. His interest in art dates back to the 1980s when he began documenting the Emirati art scene through sketches and diary entries. By the 1990s he began collecting bones and animal skulls in the mountainous region surrounding his family home. Emblematic of his mixed-media practice is Stone Slippers (2013), a collection of stones attached with plastic slipper sandal-straps and drawings that evoke the physical and emotional hardships of a nomadic lifestyle—based on tribulations he experienced during his journeys throughout the UAE and South America. 

Tarek Abou El Fetouh has said of Al Saadi: “In his rich and diverse artistic practice, whether drawings,  diaries, or objects, Abdullah’s visual language remains recognizable through his passionate maps longing for immersion in nature; he constructs a unique relationship with landscapes, which goes beyond the familiar.”

Al Saadi graduated from the United Arab Emirates University in 1993 with a bachelors degree in English literature, before studying Japanese painting at Kyoto Seika University from 1994–96. His work has been exhibited in numerous international solo and group shows, as well as numerous Sharjah Biennials and the 2004 Sao Paulo Biennial. It will be the fifth time Al Saadi has exhibited at the Venice Biennale, including in the UAE Pavilion in 2009 (ADACH), 2011, and 2015 and in the central exhibition at the 54th and 56th editions of the Biennale in 2013 and 2017, respectively. Al Saadi previously collaborated with Tarek Abou El Fetouh on a public intervention in Expo 2020 Dubai with his exhibition “Terhal.”

Located in the Sale D'Armi – Arsenale, the UAE Pavilion is commissioned by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and supported by the Ministry of Culture and Youth. The Biennale runs from April 20 to November 24, 2024.  

Anna Lenchner is assistant editor at ArtAsiaPacific.

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