Artist Sarah Alagroobi Subtracts the Imaginary to present real-life issues - GulfToday

Artist Sarah Alagroobi Subtracts the Imaginary to present real-life issues

Sarah Alagroobi’s composition titled And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

 Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

Subtracting the Imaginary, an exhibition at Fabien Fryns Fine Art, Alserkal, Dubai, has just closed doors (Oct. 18 — Nov. 5), but since it is never too late to speak about a good thing, Gulf Today writes about the show curated by Myriam AlDhaheri. Subtracting the Imaginary exhibited the psychedelic artworks of Sarah Alagroobi (b. 1989).

The series of thirty-two works created 2019-2022 by the Emirati artist, explored her artmaking process and her relationship with materiality and memory. For Alagroobi, the imaginary, a fictitious world of contemplation, pivots into real-life questions of displacement, splintered realities, and ownership of expression. Her works from this series of paintings are sculptural in nature, tempting the viewer to lean in further to examine the detailed layers of acrylic paint and resin.

Alagroobi begins each painting by selecting a range of pigments that convey her emotions and imagination, and then starts the laborious process of applying up to a hundred layers of paint onto canvas or wood. Each layer of colour represents an abstracted memory and, as she waits for the paint to dry, they swirl around her mind in undulating shades of light.

Once reconciled with one coat of memory, she begins the next layer, selecting another colour — another level of self — and continues to build layer after layer of thoughts and memories, which can be said to be expressive pigments of the past and present. Alagroobi thus explores the relationship between nature and memory.

 A work from Subtracting the Imaginary exhibition.

“The canvases would require a lot of discipline, a lot of patience, a lot of time to take and build up layer by layer and so time became the vehicle in which I saw the outcome of the practice,” she has been quoted as saying. The sculpting of the paint can take months and is only finished when she reconciles with the canvas.

Alagroobi names her work once the “polarity of subject and object are dancing in tandem with each other.” She knows she has completed preparing her canvas intuitively — then she starts the process of subtraction. Drawing inspiration from her natural and metaphysical surroundings and exploring concepts such as pentimento and Moloch, her work is complex and at times, dark in nature. She inscribes repetitive motifs and speckled dots to evoke a sense of belonging.

White and black pigment is symbolic in her work as they allow for a moment of rest inside the chaos of billowing surfaces. White Out What Isn’t Yours (2021) was derived from a sense of separation and a floating outside reality — a feeling she had during her visit to Damascus where she reunited with her memories and few remaining matriarchs of her family. She visualised herself as a bird, floating above the terrain, belonging to the earth but not grounded in the reality of pain she had escaped from.

Repent, Repent, Repaint (2019) is an extension of the Italian word “pentimento”, which is taken from the Latin word “repent”. It refers to the changing composition of artworks to erase that which is no longer desired. Its meaning is related to affirming the acts of sin on a canvas — hence the correcting. There is a disassociation and re-association apparent in diptychs such as Anxiously Attached and Talking Politics with the Big Boys (2021), which glues discarded paint onto the surface.

The works become an articulation of textural language only understood by the painting’s history, layer by layer. In Ararat (2022), there is a flattening of typology through the departure of abstraction into representation. It is less of an abstraction and more of an immersion into nature. Works such as Alpenglow (2019), and Kintsugi No More (2020), allow more breathing room for the last layer to take its stance and become the final word.

In works such as What a Gag (2022) and Moloch (2022), black takes precedence and absorbs most of the light, casting shadows of destruction over seemingly innocuous subjects. “My work is often driven by lived experiences that are relational to a given context; I have investigated topics of whitewashing, cultural erasure, identity, displacement and Otherness,” she has said.

She is a multidisciplinary artist, designer and educator with an MA in Painting from the Royal College of Art, London, investigating notions of culture and identity in both Arab and Western contexts through post-colonial discourse. She is the founder of The Letters Project, an online platform that speaks to the anthropological and socio-cultural climate of the Arab region.

Her work has gathered the attention of leading art locations such as Venice Biennale, Dutch Design Week, ME Collectors Room, Berlin, Warehouse421, Abu Dhabi, and Art Jameel, Art Dubai and Abu Dhabi Art. AlDhaheri is marking her 7th year at Louvre Abu Dhabi and is currently pursuing a Master in History of Art and Museum Studies at Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi.

She has also been actively participating in archaeological excavations within the UAE and abroad since 2014. Fabien Fryns is an art dealer and collector with an eye for talent.

Originally from Belgium, he has been actively involved in the art world since 1986, from collecting art works as a teenager, to owning galleries in Beijing, Los Angeles, and Marbella, and advising collectors and institutions through his aforementioned company, Fabien Fryns Fine Art. You can expect his future programming to primarily focus on Western and Asian contemporary art.



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