At first glance, Poetry of Speed is an exhibition about various racing events held in the UAE. But on a deeper level, the photographs that range from camel races in the desert to Formula One races at a newly built state of the art arena are a metaphorical reference to the pace at which the UAE has developed.
The races featuring camels, Saluki dogs and dhows represent Bedouin traditions of the past and the age old passion for racing in this region. And the images of prestigious Formula One, motorcycle, powerboat and horse races that have put the UAE on the international map, speak about the modern UAE.
The photographs have been taken by well-known and emerging artists of various nationalities. These include Maitha bint Khalid, Andre Lavadinho, Genoveva Kriechbaum, Kareem Sahib Muheisen, Marwan Zouhair Naanmani, Robert McCaffrey, Francois Baudin and Sebastian Ebbinghaus.
“We wanted to celebrate the UAE’s achievements over the last forty years by focusing on things that reflect the ethos of the Emirati people. These pictures take you beyond the cities to the desert and the ocean, offering a look at old Bedouin traditions as well as new hobbies. They also salute the fact that despite progress and modernisation, Emiratis have kept alive their heritage and traditions. Everything around us is moving so fast, but these images are frozen in time and give us a quiet moment to appreciate the development of a nation and the poetry of speed,” says Ebbinghaus, the curator of the show.
Each artist offers a different perspective of the changes happening in the UAE. Austrian artist Kriechbaum has juxtaposed pictures of a camel race and a Formula One race to narrate a personal story.
“My parents moved to the UAE in 2003, the year I photographed this camel race. And they left the UAE a day after the first Grand Prix was held in Abu Dhabi. In those days, there was a big clock counting down the moments to the big race, but for my parents, it was also a countdown to their time in this country. The camel race in my pictures is significant because it was among the last races run the traditional way, before human riders were replaced by robots. Similarly, the first Formula One race was a landmark event as it put Abu Dhabi on the international map and the city has transformed rapidly after that. So, these pictures encapsulate my family’s experiences in this country, while at the same time representing a transition that everybody who lives here can relate to,” the artist says.
She has deliberately blurred the pictures of the car race and all the activity around it to convey a sense of movement and speed. And the close-up image of the camel has been placed in the foreground as if asserting that it is still in the race, despite changing times. “These pictures salute the spirit of a country that is so young and yet has the passion to compete and the impulse to win and be number one,” Kriechbaum says.
Photographers Muheisen and Naanmani, who are from Iraq and Lebanon respectively, have covered various racing events for local media. But the pictures they have chosen for this show are artistic compositions with emotional narratives.
Muheisen’s photos of the Al Gaffal traditional dhow race and the camel races at the Camel Festival in Shweihan capture the spirit and atmosphere of a bygone era. The wooden boats with their graceful white sails speak about the maritime history of the people, and the Dubai skyline in the background eloquently juxtaposes the past with the present. Naanmani’s photos of Arabian Saluki racing at the Al Dhafra Festival, horse races at the Dubai World Cup and the World Powerboat Championship in Dubai highlight both, the love of Emiratis for racing and their long and close relationship with horses and the Saluki breed of dogs.
European photographers Baudin and Lavadinho’s pictures capture beautiful landscapes around the world as they follow Arab rally driver Yazeed Al Rajhi’s car at various races. Ebbinghaus, who is from Germany and has recently moved to Dubai, is showcasing his photographs of car and motorcycle races and well-known Emirati racing personalities at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
Irish artist McCaffrey has interpreted the theme of transition and speed through photographs of luxury cars juxtaposed with horses and falcons. And Emirati artist Maitha’s pictures complete the story.
Her poetic pictures of a falconer training his falcons in the midst of the desert take viewers back to a time when the pace of life was different. The show also includes photographs of the UAE’s royal family participating in equestrian and other racing events.
“These pictures convey that despite the remarkable transformation brought about by the discovery of oil, the people of this country still retreat to the desert to enjoy various heritage sports; and that these sports are given the same importance as modern day pastimes,” Ebbinghaus says.
Jyoti Kalsi is an arts enthusiast based in Dubai. Poetry of Speed will run at The Empty Quarter Gallery until June 20.