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'Speculative Landscapes' now open at NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery
Installation view.

ABU DHABI.- NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, the university’s academic museum-gallery, has opened its fall show, Speculative Landscapes. Curated by Maya Allison (Executive Director of the NYUAD Art Gallery and the university’s Chief Curator), this exhibition features four new installations by UAE-based artists. Each offers a distinct lens onto the UAE and the region, and their work is gaining international recognition for its conceptual speculations on our contemporary world. Together the exhibition offers a landmark presentation of these important artists, both in terms of the scale of the new projects, and the distinct voice and perspective they offer.

Areej Kaoud, Ayman Zedani, Jumairy, and Raja’a Khalid each have an established reputation in the UAE, and are gaining international attention. Each installation in the exhibition can be experienced as both a physical and metaphorical landscape of the artist’s projected world. Working from observations of life in the UAE and beyond, these artists reflect back on our surroundings through: the lenses of risk (Kaoud), virtual reality (Jumairy), human-plant relations (Zedani), and the intersection of marketing with our metaphysical body (Khalid).

Kaoud’s projects revolve around the risk and preparing for emergencies. These emergency preparations can take on a humorous quality that, as she puts it, “breaks the ice” of what her family had been through as Palestinians. In Unknown Safety, a red, rubber dome rises in the middle of the room, but with no instructions or guidance on its use; is it a playground or higher ground (in case of flood)? From the wall emanate An Escalation, two sound pieces, one in English, one in Arabic, in which the artist reads her free-associations between daily life and the brutality of war, as with a paper cut making her think of hemorrhage.

The artist known as “Jumairy” is inspired by a lifelong fascination with pop stars, and uses the internet to stage the “Jumairy Universe” through performance art and experiments. In a major new installation, A Comma, In Arabic, a slice of this universe appears in the gallery. The artist asks: where does AI go when its technology body dies? Visitors will traverse twenty tons of synthetic sand dyed Pantone 213, a hot pink of both popular culture and apocalypse. Jumairy imagines visitors to the installation as ‘smart entities’ accessing a virtual landscape, like a Facebook friend coming online.

In a dark room, plants glow and ripple with electric light at night; Zedani’s Between Muddles and Tangles offers a meditation on nature and technology. When an LED light enables a plant to sprout, where is the line between natural and electric life? An immersive video installation takes the viewer into the night view of Al Noor Island in Sharjah, where humans have brought plants from all over the world, and the plants, in turn, create tender new habitats for insect life.

Khalid’s a.quiet.wave presents a possible yoga studio from 2021: here, famous yoga influencers will perform flows, which will appear on Instagram @nyuadartgallery. Yet the viewer will never see yoga happening in the space. The space is painted Coloro ‘Quiet Wave,’ predicted to be one of the five key colors of spring/summer 2021. Described in sales material as ‘optimistic and futuristic… a perfect mood-setter for the start of the new decade,’ it reflects Khalid’s interest in the way the wellness industry commodifies physical and spiritual health. Commercialism and serenity exist side-by-side, creating opportunities to reflect, but also to promote products; visitors choose how to interpret this landscape.

Since the launch of The NYUAD Art Gallery in 2014, landscape has been one of the central themes of its curatorial framework, with the aim to encourage reflection on the experience of the UAE both culturally and physically. With Speculative Landscapes, the Chief Curator returns to the question of the UAE’s landscape with artists who extrapolate from the rapidly evolving physical world around them in a series of conceptual meditations on their environment.

Allison notes: “I’ve been following the work of this ‘emerged’ group of UAE-based artists for some time. They are part of a larger group that has developed a serious practice rooted in the UAE. They are taking on big questions in their work, and with these four in particular, I was struck by their ‘call and response’ dialogue with the UAE surroundings and its expression of our contemporary world. These are among the most important rising UAE artists to watch if you are interested in art from the contemporary Middle East (or as we call it: West Asia). Because intense physical landscape and rapid urbanization characterize the experience of the UAE, we felt landscape was a critical subject for the Gallery when we opened in 2014, and I’m delighted that the artists responded to my invitation to propose a new commission in a manner that links so closely to the question of our landscapes.”

A public program of talks, screenings, and family tours will take place throughout the duration of the exhibition.

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