Abdalla Al Omari / The Funeral of Nobody, 2023 (acrylic on linen). Courtesy of the artist and Ayyam Gallery. Written by Nadine Khalil.
Art in Dubai is usually clustered in the white cube spaces of Alserkal Avenue, where the majority of galleries are located, but this is slowly changing as new initiatives branch out. Of note are pop-up exhibitions in warehouses and homes, such as Utopia, a one-day show of 13 site-specific interventions by artists in a beachside apartment’s bathroom, kitchen sink, balcony, and living room, organized by Daipyat gallery, an artist-run space based in Voronzeh. With found items like swimming goggles made into eyes by Misha Godwin, a ‘magic lamp’ plastered with sand and shells by Yan Posadsky and a digital octopus painting by Darya Pasechnik, the exhibition definitely had nautical elements. The temporariness of art was humorously evoked in the Nesquik boxes by Arthur Golyakov and an edible offering by Iuliia Skromnaya — in a heart-shaped pie. Two days later, Lithuanian artist Birute Brandt held another pop-up in Soma, a lighting studio by day. Curated by Viktoriya Arnaud, her pastel-colored paintings of sultry female figures — with swan-like heads — were dramatically interpreted in a live operatic performance by Yana Mann.
ICD Brookfield Place Arts is emblematic of a fresh impulse for non-traditional art showcases in Dubai. Their main exhibition venue, wrapped with floor-to-ceiling windows, is near the atrium of the Brookfield building, in the heart of Dubai’s International Financial District. The current exhibition Postmordial Soup is a collaboration with Tabari Artspace — a 20-year-old Dubai gallery that is one of the most dynamic — and showcases large-scale site-specific sculptures, paintings, videos, holograms and CGI animations by three Gen Z artists. Iraqi artist Miramar Al Nayyar’s mural-like painting, Cluster F (2023) —fleshy, floral forms against a mulberry background fragmented into a grid of smaller parts — dominates the entrance. A large-scale, white soft sculpture faces it, on which a short video by Emirati artist Talal Al Najjar, Petro-Ghareebo: NAUSEA (2023), is projected, merging CGI animations with dystopic desert landscapes. Here, an albino goat-like creature appears trapped inside many screens among industrial ruins.
The exhibition grapples with mortality and the symbiosis between natural and technological worlds. The result of a collaborative residency inside the Brookfield space, many of the works are in conversation. On erected panels Al Nayar’s melancholic meditations on movement and decay resonate with an intricate series of ethereal paintings by 22-year-old Ziad Al Najjar. His textured paintings, with repetitive tie-dye motifs resembling anatomical X-rays, captured viewers for a long time on the opening night. Ranging from abstract works to more figurative, such as an untitled entangled fetus and Earth Diver (2023), a maroon skeletal form with eyes cut out of its underarms, there’s something both unsettling and ethereal about them. Ziad’s painting Lucy (2023), a stunning top-down vision of a fawn whose white spots ripple out in a swirl of turquoise leaves, speaks to Talal’s Postmordial Embrace (2023), a life-sized photo-montage of two upright geckos cuddling. Talal’s images of falcons and phones embedded in canvas feel like archaeological fragments from the future, adding an otherworldly element.
Miramar Al Nayyar / Cluster F, 2023. Image courtesy of Seeing Things at ICD Brookfield Place.
Talal Al Najjar / Petro-Ghareebo: NAUSEA, Video, 2023. Installation view from Postmordial Soup, Tabari Artspace.
Ziad Al Najjar / Lucy , 2023
Unsuspecting State by Brussels-based Syrian artist Abdalla Al Omari comprises a suite of paintings that unfold in small gestures. Men raise their palms in spiritual devotion or clasp their knees as they kneel on prayer carpets. Al Omari keeps the faces of his figures hidden unlike his former work, notably the 2012 Vulnerability Series, in which he cast political leaders such as Bashar al-Assad, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin as poverty-stricken refugees. His latest series eschews ideological blatancy with something more subdued and intimate. Where political vestiges remain, the crop or angle of the painting obscures the entire picture, only hinting at context, like with The Funeral of Nobody (2023), featuring a series of hands carrying a coffin draped with a silk banner. Awash with shades of reddish-pink, color adds another shroud or filter to the painting, where the viewer can just detect fragments of Arabic text on the coffin’s banner.
As a whole, the framing of this new body of work evokes subtle movements. In the triptych Integration is Hard (2023), someone peels a mandarin in stages. Bare, bent legs are visible in the first painting, where a plate rests, above which a mandarin is being opened. In the second, zoomed version, a bright orange border cuts across the bottom of the plate. The third offers another, more centered perspective. The figure here is in black-and-white — only the mandarin retains its colour — perhaps evoking the homogeneity of assimilation. The mostly male bodies in Al Omari’s work mark a certain sensitivity, and at times queerness, with a soft emotional undercurrent — that is until you read the title, Someone’s Head Next to Me Just Exploded (2023). In this painting, a man in a monochrome sports outfit is depicted with one leg crossed over the other, his hand placed between his legs, almost shyly.
Abdalla Al Omari / Al Eid, Al Mufti and The Leader, 2023. Installation view from Unsuspecting State at Ayyam Gallery, 2023. Photography by Pia Torelli.
Abdalla Al Omari, installation view from Unsuspecting State at Ayyam Gallery, 2023.
Abdalla Al Omari / Untitled, 2023. Installation view from Unsuspecting State at Ayyam Gallery, 2023.
Abdalla Al Omari / Afterparty, 2022 (Triptych). Installation view from Unsuspecting State at Ayyam Gallery, 2023. Photography by Pia Torelli.
Abdalla Al Omari / Learning to Swim, 2023, Acrylic on linen, Polyptych. Installation view from Unsuspecting State at Ayyam Gallery, 2023.
There is a literary element in the exhibition Arodo that is emptied of content, where meaning is inscribed in blank spaces and colors within borders on paper. In some instances, these borders are lines for writing, in others, they are evocations of a landscape. Inspired by the fragility of Emily Dickinson’s 19th-century envelope poems which took the form of verses written within the folds of used envelopes, Karolina Krasouli contextualizes and abstracts epistolary writing. Using different kinds of paper as her medium, these become time capsules that contain traces and disappearances of text as form. In an untitled installation, she places two pieces of roughly A4-sized paper side by side. One, with a semi-circle-shaped tear on top, features a handwritten poem she authored in Greek which says: “No landscape is unknown. Only you.” It is placed within what appears to be marks of glue mirroring the outlines of grey-blue newspaper in the second piece. The empty newspaper, creased and attached to the page, has torn edges. A half-lined and half-empty page of an open sketchbook featuring a pastel-colored drawing of symmetrical lines and arcs also figures in the installation. Drawn on what is known as ‘thinking and writing’ books in Greek schools, in which children are meant to respond to an image, it suggests another way of reading.
There are elusive imprints of gestural movement everywhere in the exhibition — even Krasouli’s black-and-white analogue photographs of the sea appear as moving image. Her ‘moon’ works — a series of domes (painted brown, green, red) against soft-toned backgrounds — appear to be rising or falling like sunsets. Subdued effects, which come from the painstaking, layered process of painting with a primer (gesso), along with dust pigment and graphite, point to a ‘before,’ an anticipation of something about to happen — for color to deepen and become form. Fittingly the title of the show designates a Greek term for the moment ships are moored or remain static in open sea, due to turbulence. The effect is a serene, yet forced stillness, the intimation of a text-in-image.
Karolina Krasouli, installation view from Arodo (18 September - 7 November, 2023) at Grey House, Dubai. Image courtesy of the Artist and the Gallery. Photo by Daniella Baptista.
Karolina Krasouli / Untitled (flowers), 2014, black and white analogue photograph. Installation view from Arodo (18 September - 7 November, 2023) at Grey Noise, Dubai.
Karolina Krasouli / Division, 2014, super 8 film digital transfer, 2 min 20 sec, edition ½. Installation view from Arodo (18 September - 7 November, 2023) at Grey Noise, Dubai.
Karolina Krasouli / Faux raccord II, 2014, black and white analogue photograph on baryté paper. Installation view from Arodo (18 September - 7 November, 2023) at Grey Noise, Dubai.