The Abu Dhabi Art fair will bring its non-commercial strand Beyond: Emerging Artists to exhibit during the Venice Biennale. The three artists commissioned for this year’s platform — Maitha Abdalla, Hashel Al Lamki and Christopher Joshua Benton — will show at the Palazzo Franchetti.
This is the first time that Abu Dhabi Art has brought a commissioning strand to the biennale. Last year, it took the Beyond programme on tour internationally, bringing it to Cromwell Place in London.
Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath curated this year’s Beyond strand. Similar to their acclaimed project for 21,39 Jeddah Arts in 2017, they emphasised mentorship and engagement, working closely with the three UAE artists to develop major commissions for each of them.
In the installation and film The World Was My Garden, Benton mapped the circulation of dates as a commodity. The work commented on the East African slave trade, its history in the Gulf, and contemporary migration, and was anchored by the striking sculpture of an enchained palm tree, suspended in the air — a bold subject for the Abu Dhabi fair to have addressed in such a forthright manner.
“I am so excited to bring The World Was My Garden to Venice,” says Benton. “European markets and consumer demand played an important role in the story of the date and its global circulation at the turn of the 20th century. My intention with this project is to reroute these circuits by revealing the exploitation inherent to these labour and agricultural economies.”
Abdalla continued her exploration of social norms, artifice and theatricality, which she often sets in relief against a wild naturalism that is itself inflected by folk tales and folk beliefs. Her work Too Close to the Sun comprises video performance, sculpture and works on canvas and photography, and looks specifically at the role of women in the Gulf.
“While much of my art chronicles personal narratives, there are topics that humans might connect to [that are] universally embedded within my practice. I’m excited to see how my art connects to those that encounter it in Venice and how it takes on new meaning in this dynamic new context,” she said.
While Abdalla struck a note of sickly, overly sweet pink throughout her display, Al Lamki, one of her collaborators in the former Bait 15 collective, bathed his presentation, titled Neptune, in a watery green-blue. The installation of his soft, abstract paintings refers to the continued plunder of the earth’s resources, and imagines a nomadic character who moves lightly through ecologies of increasing scarcity.
Beyond: Emerging Artists, in addition to pairing the younger artists in the UAE with established curators, provides a production budget for the work. It is supported this year by the fair’s newly launched philanthropy initiative, Friends of Abu Dhabi Art, which is headed by Nadine Maalouf and Nadia Sehweil.
“Abu Dhabi Art has always been committed to nurturing artists, enabling them to develop their practice and providing opportunities that can support them professionally and expand audiences for their work,” said Dyala Nusseibeh, director of Abu Dhabi Art. “We are delighted to bring global attention to the works of Christopher Joshua Benton, Maitha Abdalla and Hashel Al Lamki in Venice this year.”
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