For the last six weeks, North Texas has been host to a collection of works by contemporary artists from the United Arab Emirates. KERA’s Doualy Xaykaothao reports “Past Forward” is a traveling exhibition about cultural diplomacy.
The UAE is a young country in the Middle East, made up of seven Islamic states. Before its oil boom, before the tall skyscrapers and indoor skiing, there was a grassroots art scene says Emirati native Dana Al Marashi.
“The art scene actually dates back to the 1950’s…This was even before the UAE was first established.”
She’s a cultural historian at the UAE Embassy in Washington DC, and has helped to select the fifty artworks now in North Texas.
“Through the works of the various artists, it tells a story of how the people of the Emirates are proud of their rich heritage, their history, their traditions, and our culture.”
In the collection are black and white pin-hole photographs, one is of Dubai’s tallest building— the Burj Khalifa, there’s a digital print of a three-dimensional animated cartoon about four grandmothers, and a painting by Emirati artist Obaid Suroor with its canvas of abandoned old buildings covered with green polka-dots…
“In the past, in the beginning, our local dresses incorporated polka dots into it, and so that was one way of incorporating polka dots into it.”
Artspace111 in Fort Worth is home to most of the collection. Standing in the gallery, Brooke Baumgardner says there’s a sense of optimism to many of the pieces around her. Nearby is a portrait of a young man holding a quail, ready to feed a falcon— the UAE’s national symbol, she instead turns to the floor to explain what’s at her feet.
“It’s a bug…made up these old aluminum jars…camel milk…legs of the bugs are made up of long spoons.” She says the artist, Mohammed Al Qassab says the spoons remind him of his grandmother’s cooking. But it’s also a symbol of the UAE’s large aluminum industry. Each piece reflects the UAE’s rapid modernization, says Curtis Sandberg of the Meridian International Center, which helped to bring the exhibition to the US.
“The title Past Forward…fast forward, it exemplifies the spirit of the exhibition…quite remarkable.” Sandberg says the sculptures, the videos, the installations communicate what he calls creative change. “Every one of them, in one way or another talked about who I am, what I think…the past…ultimately you can tell a story…creating a framework for discussion, and learning.”
There’s only one more day to see this special UAE exhibition, that’s Monday at Artspace111 and the World Affairs Council offices in Dallas.