BY Rahel Aima in Critic's Guides | 01 MAR 24

The Five Best Shows to See During Art Dubai

From Farah Al Qasimi’s first exhibition of black and white photography to Katya Muromtseva’s watercolours of displaced women

BY Rahel Aima in Critic's Guides | 01 MAR 24

Farah Al Qasimi / The Third Line / 27 February – 19 April

Farah Al Qasimi, Horse Bucking Teeth, undated, archival Inkjet print, 51 × 69 cm. Courtesy: the artist and The Third Line, Dubai

Farah Al Qasimi’s lens-based practice functions as an Object Select Tool dragged over the textures and timbres of Khaleeji life. Known for the riotous profusion of colour and patterning that characterize her photographs, this exhibition is the first in which the New York and Abu Dhabi-based artist shows a significant number of black and white images. The yeehaw energy that usually suffuses her work is literalized here in an image of a horse, its lip curled and teeth bared in a flehmen response (Horse Bucking Teeth, undated). With its head thrown back so we only see its exposed, leathery throat, the effect is darkly creepy. Other black and white works in ‘Toy World’ take up the kind of desert imagery – animal bones, a burning palm frond, a dimple cookie of a sand dune – which has become so common in the region that it could be considered a kind of genre photography. But here, hung in quadtychs and interspersed with images shot in the US — a soldier, a collection of right-wing memorabilia – each image smells interesting and feels a little strange.

Iqra Tanveer / Grey Noise / 27 February – 20 April

Iqra Tanveer, Lament of a Tree, 2024, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist and Grey Noise, Dubai; photograph: Daniella Baptista

Open since 2012, Grey Noise is known for its spare, minimal and somewhat elegiac exhibitions. In ‘Lament of a Tree’, Iqra Tanveer continues this tradition with several poetic, if inscrutable, installations. A single candle burns in front of Witness to the passing breaths (all works 2023), which pairs a looping video projection of ocean waves with LaserJet prints of the sky and a dark cave. The second installation, Arrival, projects video footage of a ship at sea onto a vintage wood and fabric screen, with a line of chunky sea salt serving as an ersatz beach. The third, Chant, collects triptychs of various natural and domestic subjects – roses, waves, strings of heart plants, or hand mirrors and stone fountains – in angled, roof-like wooden vitrines. Each one feels like an altar in its own way; the show is described as a testament to collective mourning but, interestingly, it feels like one that doesn’t see grief as something to be overcome but rather a port of call.

Vikram Divecha and Mohammed Kazem / Gallery Isabelle / 27 February – 15 April

Mohammed Kazem, Window, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 1.5 × 1.8 m. Courtesy: the artist and Gallery Isabelle

A common sight in the UAE is to see groups of South Asian men resting – lounging, picnicking, or just hanging out – on grassy verges and shaded pavements, particularly towards the end of the workday or on their one day off.  This duo show at Gallery Isabelle brings together two artists to consider the relationships between rest and public space by focusing on these low-income workers. Hung in a long line, Divecha’s small drawings on handmade paper depict these men as sketchy inverted silhouettes against swathes of black ink: a circle for a head, some lines for limbs (e.g. Resting Bodies, [Island No.5], ). Focusing on their form and stripped of any racialized representation, the images have a beautiful, graceful quality. Kazem takes on a rather more ethnographic approach, with a suite of large paintings in styles ranging from illustration to something almost impressionistic – the effect is a little AI art style selector – that feel remarkably unsensational in the suspicious returned gazes they faithfully capture (all Window, 2023).

Katya Muromtseva / NIKA Project Space / 27 February – 4 May

Katya Muromtseva, To Gulbana, 2023, watercolour, acrylic ink, paper, 3.2 × 2 m. Courtesy: the artist

Taking its title from a Mahmoud Darwish poem about female resistance, ‘Over the Slopes of Speech’ draws on Katya Muromtseva’s experience of being displaced from Russia, while also widening its lens to consider immigration journeys beyond forced migration and refugee status. It is the product of a month-long residency in Dubai where the artist interviewed women from West Africa, South Asia and the former Soviet Bloc to explore what brought them to the UAE, and trace how they carved out and negotiated agency for themselves along the way. In the monumental watercolour paintings inspired by these conversations, women trudge, twirl and sometimes cavort with limbs entwined across the canvases, suggesting both water-marbled silk and, in their ink chromatography-like translucency, a pastiched rainforest of glass frogs. Each mostly monochromatic work bears the name of the woman who inspired it: To Anda, To Gulbana, To Evgenya (all works 2023). The exhibition is Muromtseva’s first in the UAE, extending the new – the space opened its doors last March – female focused gallery’s emphasis on research-driven practices and work that examines the experiences of women and the ways that they are able to assert their agency in patriarchal societies.

Mandy El-Sayegh / Lawrie Shabibi / 22 February – 4 April

Mandy El-Sayegh, ‘A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose’, 2024, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist and Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai; photograph: Ismail Noor of Seeing Things

At Lawrie Shabibi, the walls have been decoupaged with newsprint layered with screen printed textile swathes in peach and pea green. The red latex daubed floors look sticky with half-heartedly mopped up blood. This visceral, textured palette gives one the distinct sense of crawling into the centre of a fig. Against this backdrop hang Mandy El Sayegh’s large bricolage canvases. Burning Square: prayers for rest (2023), incorporate her signature grids, along with gold leaf iconography that evokes her Malaysian-Chinese and Palestinian heritage, like the keffiyeh pattern, joss paper and Chinese characters. Many works also include blown up paper money and a front page of the Evening Standard with the headline ‘Israel pounds Gaza as the ground war looms.’ Described as offering ‘an alternative perspective for reframing current events, histories and possible futures’, the show seems to suggest that the body doesn’t just keep the score but archives it too. 

Main image: Mandy El-Sayegh, Burning Square: prayers for rest (detail), 2023, oil and acrylic on canvas with collaged and silkscreened elements, joss paper and gold leaf, 1.9 × 1.5. Courtesy: the artist, Lehmann Maupin New York, Seoul, and Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai; photograph: Ismail Noor of Seeing Things

Rahel Aima is a writer. Her work has been published in ArtforumArtnewsArtReviewThe AtlanticBookforum, friezeMousse and Vogue Arabia, amongst others.