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Helping emerging artists establish identities
by Muhammad Yusuf June 19, 2014
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Throwing its doors open during May-end at what its director Rebia Naim called “a truly unique location” on the 40th floor of Media One Hotel, Dubai, the International Emerging Artist Awards (IEAA) revealed the winners of its third edition.

During the event, key pieces from the self-portrait series ‘Deliverance’ by Emirati winner Saeed Khalifa and the series ‘Traces’ by international winner Timothy Hyunsoo Lee, were unveiled for the first time.

Alongside the winners, art enthusiasts were given the opportunity to admire the work of 12 Emirati laureates and the Top 15 international artists. An honorary award was given to Emirati laureate Sheikha Alyazia Al Nahyan bint Mubarak Al Nahyan for the Carrom station, a traditional game board converted into a contemporary art installation.

IEAA is giving this year’s winners the unprecedented opportunity to launch their careers onto an international level: securing both winners a two-year representation at Sabrina Amrani Art Gallery, Madrid, Spain, which includes the participation at international arts fairs and group shows. In addition, the artwork was showcased on Elevision Media’s platform of digital screens across Dubai and an exclusive broadcast on Ikono TV.

Khalifa, a self-taught visual artist living and working in Dubai, was chosen for his digital photographic work. He is attracted to the “unusual – the little things people usually don’t notice”.

He is interested in body language, which, according to him, is overlooked in modern society as a form of communication method. He usually works with the body of the human being as a canvas and tends to keep the subject of the image honest but the surroundings bent or broken.

“Currently, most of my work is either conceptual or political, and unique in the way that it is personal to each individual (and not just personal to me)”, Khalifa said. “I have put emotions the wall, just as protestors put posters on walls with ideological slogans. I call it a kind of “emotional rebellion”. My series of ten also contains ideas of birth and rebirth”. It made huge sense in the context of the Arab Spring, which has been a highly emotional event – and with plenty of posters put up on the walls. 

Lee, an emerging Korean-American artist working in New York, USA, withdrew his ambition of attending medical school and instead focused on his art aspirations. He has developed a novel system of mind-mapping — a cartography of his psychopathology where he tries to study a part of himself. He would have had to do that, if he had studied developmental biology and neuroscience in college! He works almost exclusively in watercolour and gouache since he prefers this medium over other paints and marking systems due to watercolour’s unstable nature.

His love for drawing began as a child, but his decision to pursue art professionally happened during his last year as a Biology, Drawing and Neuroscience major at Wesleyan University (Middletown, Connecticut, USA). Drawn to the studio and the creative process of making art, he rented a space in Williamsburg upon graduation, where he currently works.

His works are inspired by themes of social stigma, identity and more recently, of spirituality and religion. He explores these themes through a novel vector – paintings and sculptures consisting largely of cell-like marks that vary in size, colour, and saturation which show molecular patterns, coming right out of Lee’s medical school experiences.  

They may be ethereal and delicate — but the extremely labour-intensive compositions, marked by intensely obsessive repetitions, betray the initial perception. According to Sabrina Amrani, founder of the Sabrina Amrani Art Gallery, they are a “diary of emotions” where there is controlled use of colour and where each colour has been chosen not randomly, but deliberately. The overall impression is one of fragility and power - something representative, perhaps, of the duality of life itself.  

Maitha Abdalla, who had presented her work ‘Silent Thoughts’ in digital photography, put forward the idea that “you want to speak out, by can’t, due to reasons like fear, embarrassment or other individual and not necessarily social drawbacks”. Hers was a darkly sombre effort, quite in keeping with her thoughts.

IEAA’s mission is to promote and increase the visibility of both Emirati and international emerging artists on the global art scene. Naim said: “What differentiates IEAA from other art contests is primarily its mission to identify the innovative aspect of the artwork submitted, its originality and the overall coherence of the exhibition project”.

She has worked as a Consultant for international art agency Brunswick Arts on special projects which included Le Louvre Talks series and The British Museum in Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi. She holds a Masters Degree in Arts and New Technologies of Information & Communication (NTIC), graduating with First Class Honours from the University of Nice, Sophia Antipolis (France).

The Sabrina Amrani Art Gallery is one of the leading art galleries in Spain. Founded in 2011, it represents a select group of contemporary and emerging artists. A relatively new entrant to Spain’s art scene, it has already created a great deal of buzz for encouraging new voices that are emerging in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Of Algerian origin, Amrani was born and brought up in Paris but “chose to live in Spain for its sun, its people and culture in general”. Spain is mid-way between European and North African culture by history, a good meeting point, she points out. “When I decided to open the gallery, I always thought of it in Madrid”, she says.

“I like the city, its atmosphere and its particular light. Despite Spain being a natural doorway to Arab culture and art (just think of Al Andalus), nobody had done a project like this before, with a focus on MENASA artists here”.

Her love for art as a child and the eruption of the Arab Spring while she contemplated opening an art space, pushed her into launching her gaIlery. She works with international visual and conceptual artists and confesses to having keen interest in socio-political, cultural and identity themes.

She notes that artists from the MENASA region are beginning to have their voices heard and this is the time they should be introduced more effectively to the Spanish, and therefore Western, art world.

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