Voices: Karim Sultan

17th March 2018, Artweek

“Mentorship and skill sharing is an essential part of the development of individual artists as well as the growth of a wider scene.”

How important is mentorship in the development of the next generation of Emirati and UAE based artists?

Mentorship and skill sharing is an essential part of the development of individual artists as well as the growth of a wider scene. This is true anywhere, but it is vital here, where cultural producers belong to disparate networks or work independently, never far from the risk of isolation or lack of engagement with the surrounding context. The importance of reading together, sharing texts and research, cannot be overstated. In this edition of UAE Unlimited we are very lucky to have the presence of our guest artist trio, Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, and Hesam Rahmanian – who have been exceptionally generous with their time, their studio/residence, and their intellectual resources – and our curatorial advisor Laura Metzler, whose input, experience, and direction have been essential to the realisation of this exhibition.

What was the process of selecting artists for the exhibition?

Our primary focus is on emerging artists, which is an important part of the mandate of UAE Unlimited, which involved us drawing on our own networks, studying exhibition catalogues of graduate shows, and looking at artists who passed through developmental programmes and fellowships.

However, we were also interested in having a diversity of skill, levels of experience, and practices, which allowed for the potential for internal sharing of skills amongst the group. There was also an interest in looking at artists who had consistent and productive creative practices that may or may not exist within the traditional structure of the institutional or gallery world. Practices that engaged with or were rooted in the surrounding context were also important, and a careful consideration was taken to ensure, to the best of our abilities, fair representation of background, age, gender, and approach amongst our ten selected artists.

Is collaborative art practice particularly prevalent in the UAE? If so, why do you think that is?

No work of art is created in true isolation. Many artists do have highly individual practices, but many artists – and cultural and creative producers in general, such as designers, photographers, writers, architects, and so on – work towards highly collaborative endeavours. It must be acknowledged that many of these exist as conversations outside of public view, artists and others working, reading, and writing together and producing new approaches and works. A highly influential aspect of working with our guest artist trio is to have proximity to their intuitive, symbiotic practice, in which the creation of a work is passed from one hand to the next, a testament to their full engagement with the artistic process. This was of great benefit to our selected artists.

Saba Qizilbash. Image courtesy the artist, UAE Unlimited and Alserkal Programming.

What are the positives & negatives of working with Concrete as a building as a curator of an exhibition being planned for the space?

Every structure has a history, and is embedded with ideas. Concrete is a monumental structure and has a strong presence and identity. From the outset, one of the goals amongst the group was to think of how to work with a space that brings its own presence. Would every work have to be equally monumental? Could some of the artists produce quieter works, which would then find their niche in such a space? Luckily, with the in-built flexibility afforded by Concrete, and the combined efforts of all involved, we are moving towards allowing the artists, and the works they produce, inhabit the space.

There has been a lot of discussion lately on the topic of the Arabic language and the lack of its use amongst Middle Eastern youths. Your exhibition at Concrete focuses on language and other forms of communication. What would you say are the responsibilities (or lack thereof) of Arab artists to preserve their language?

The idea of language employed in this exhibition is closer to that of a lingua franca – a vehicular, or synthetic language, that is used by people who do not share a common tongue. “Lingua Franca” was, in fact, the working title for the exhibition for some time, before the name Ishara (literally meaning “sign”) came into use. The interest here was not to focus on one specific language or another, but in fact look at the space between languages, where their limits are, and how frail they can be in the act of communication, and how individuals and groups building of structures of meaning out of what is available to them, and what they experience. The local context played an important role, particularly the experience of the port cities in which we inhabit and work – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah – and, perhaps, port cities elsewhere. These were some of the ideas that were developed for the exhibition, and in our artist/curator reading & discussion sessions that took place during the show’s development.

Ishara: Signs, Symbols and Shared Languages opens 5 March to 1 April 2018 at Concrete, Alserkal Avenue.

Guest artists Ramin Haerizadeh, Hesam Rahmanian and Rokni Haerizadeh with Shobha Pia Shamdsani, executive director of UAE Unlimited and Karim Sultan, curator of Ishara. Photo courtesy Alserkal Avenue.Ishara, Signs Symbols and Shared Languages. Presented by Alserkal Programming and UAE Unlimited.