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'Rock, Paper, Scissors: Positions in Play' is United Arab Emirates' exhibition for the Venice Biennale
Installation view of the National Pavilion UAE exhibition at the 57th International Art Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia, titled Rock, Paper, Scissors: Positions in Play. Image courtesy National Pavilion UAE.

VENICE.- The National Pavilion United Arab Emirates opened its exhibition at the 57th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia.

Curated by Hammad Nasar, the exhibition, titled “Rock, Paper, Scissors: Positions in Play”, explores the concept of ‘playfulness’ as a connecting thread across multiple generations of artistic practice in the UAE. It attempts to address a set of nested enquiries: Where does ‘playfulness’ in artistic practice come from? How and where is ‘play’ nurtured? What does ‘play’ do?

Commissioned by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and supported by the UAE Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development, the exhibition runs from May 13th to November 26th, 2017, with a preview from 10th to 12th May, 2017.

The exhibition presents a mix of new commissions, existing works and re-fabrications of ‘lost’ pieces by five artists who call the UAE home: Nujoom Alghanem, Sara Al Haddad, Vikram Divecha, Lantian Xie and Dr. Mohamed Yousif. Their exhibited works approach play through movement, rhythm, form, time and place. The accompanying publication and program serve as additional sites of play.

“Play and playfulness are vehicles through which we as children learn to understand the world around us and navigate our place in it. This exhibition foregrounds a selection of artists whose practice takes this process of understanding and navigation as a source of inspiration and vitality,” says Hammad Nasar. “These artists fit within an artistic trajectory in the UAE of play and playfulness as a mode of creation. They variously experiment with materials, sound, texts and physical and social processes as part of their artmaking.”

“With more than half a million visitors attending each edition, the International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is one of the world’s most prominent cultural events. The UAE is proud to be participating in the Art Exhibition for the fifth time with an exhibition that captures a snapshot of the diverse cultural and creative conversations to which our nation is home,” says Khulood Al Atiyat, Manager of Arts, Culture and Heritage at the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation.

Nujoom Alghanem presents Between Heaven & Earth, the Body I Borrowed, a sound installation based on a poetry performance, Space, a visual poem, and a reproduction of Silsilat Al Ramad, Volume 1, a self-published journal produced by the artist and other members of the Aqwas collective in 1985.

Sara Al Haddad contributes three crocheted textile installations, including one existing work as you try to forget me and two new commissions: don’t you ever leave me alone, a hanging screen, and can’t you see how i feel, which Haddad sheaths one of the black steel pillars supporting the pavilion in different sized crocheted layers of pink yarn.

The works by Vikram Divecha are Degenerative Disarrangement, an existing work made from bricks which has been “relocated” in a new iteration, and Bathing Boulders, a commissioned video work which documents the process of washing large rocks as they were installed as part of Divecha’s 2014 work Boulder Plot.

Lantian Xie presents a selection of ‘things’ throughout the pavilion space, including existing works Hassan’s Ashtray, Half Cup Saffron and Taxidermy Peacock, as well as a major commission titled A rumble interrupted our chat – a series of objects and happenings which unfolds inside and outside of the pavilion throughout the Art months of the Biennale.

Dr. Mohamed Yousif has refabricated two previous works which were no longer in existence: Al insiyabiyya bil majadeef taht al maa, a large-scale installation of wooden oars, and Al Shawahid, an assemblage of anthropomorphic spoons looking on a burial mound, with a small mirror affixed in its center.

Dubai-based artists Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian have been commissioned to contribute a 30 page series of paintings and collages conceived as a creative playground for the publication, which go beyond the exhibition’s contents to explore the curatorial concept from additional creative perspectives, both visual and textual. Deepak Unnikrishnan has written a series of contemporary fables for the publication, while WTD Magazine contribute a project mapping informal spaces of play in the UAE; both contributions also have a physical presence within the exhibition space. These creative responses to the exhibition’s themes sit alongside a series of essays. Art historian Murtaza Vali explores the artistic genealogy of play in the UAE with a focus on the works of Hassan Sharif and Abdullah Al Saadi. Uzma Rizvi has written about fluidity and spaces of belonging, as journalist Osman Samiuddin contributes a piece on cricket, its history and stories within the UAE. Ethnomusicologist Aisha Bilkhair analyses Afro-Emirati music and folkloric games, and Reem Fadda and Maisa Al Qassimi write about the research on Abu Dhabi’s social clubs they incorporated in their curation of Emirati Expressions 2015.

In line with the curatorial premise, several cultural institutions across the UAE have been invited to join the conversation around the themes of the exhibition with activations in their own programming. Some of the confirmed institutions include Sharjah Art Foundation, The Art Gallery at NYU Abu Dhabi, Alserkal Programming, Tashkeel, Maraya Art Centre, Warehouse421 and London-based art school Central Saint Martins.

Dubai based artist Hind Mezaina has been commissioned to develop a program for the National Pavilion UAE exploring the curatorial concepts through her own practice.

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