Large-scale sculptures and installations feature in Abu Dhabi Art’s Beyond programme this year. Image Credit: Twitter/@ManaratSaadiyat

Abu Dhabi Art is once again inviting art enthusiasts of all ages to Manarat Al Saadiyat for the ninth edition of the fair. Organised by the Department of Culture and Tourism, Abu Dhabi, it will feature a rich programme aimed at drawing out the creative side of visitors through a wide range of interactive workshops, talks and performances.

“This edition is very unique because of the opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi and also because it’s the first edition of [our] new artistic director Dyala Nusseibeh who…create[s] a new impulse to the fair,” said Fabrice Bousteau, the long-time curator of its Street Art programme.

You may have seen one of the three buses roaming the streets of Abu Dhabi featuring designs commissioned for this year’s fair by French artists Philippe Baudelocque and Pierre Seinturier, and Indian artist Amitabh Kumar. The buses will be driven all around the capital throughout November, bringing a new dimension to the concept of public art.

“[My idea] for this year is to bring art into the lives of the public. My concept, ‘Street art in motion’, [aims] to turn the otherwise daily routine of passers-by into a moment of art,” explained Bousteau.

He added: “These [moving] works of art… affirm the will of the emirate to be a veritable crossroads of cultures and seek to gift poetry into the otherwise humdrum pace of a day.”

Building on this aim are the large-scale sculptures and installations in Abu Dhabi Art’s Beyond programme. This year, the organisers extended its parameters in its inaugural Beyond: Artist Commissions initiative to include pieces by established contemporary artists Manal Al Dowayan (KSA), Magdi Mostafa (Eygpt) and Nasser Al Salem (KSA) that will be displayed across Abu Dhabi and in Al Ain.

For her commission, I Am From You and You are From Me, Al Dowayan used ground-penetrating radars to study and map the root systems of palm trees located in the in Al Ain Oasis, a Unesco protected heritage site.

“Palm roots are at the centre of the date palm community structure. They are the invisible network that allows for palms to talk to each other, to create families and friendships, to nurture the young and care for the old, and most importantly to create a community that celebrates the individuality of each palm but places emphasis on the individual’s importance in contributing to the sustainability of the whole community,” said Al Dowayan.

The Saudi Arabian artist noted that she came across several surprising findings during the mapping process.

“There was no record of any attempts at examining and scanning the palm roots. So, it was a huge risk to start scanning [them] and then work with the results to build an artwork. I was surprised that because the palms were so old, their roots were completely entangled and had formed large masses of roots systems that looked like cotton candy or hair. The scans kept looking [like] glib patterns rather than specific forms. These patterns inspired me use fabric as the basis of the work,” she explained.

The concept of connectivity is also being explored through the fifth edition of the popular Durub Al Tawaya programme curated by Tarek Abou El Fetouh.

“This year we’re [exploring] Abu Dhabi’s soundscape through highlighting the different sounds, languages… that occur in a cosmopolitan city such as this through the way people interact with each other and their surroundings,” said El Fetouh.

“[It’s about how] our experiences shape the way we see the world, how it affects language, both verbal and nonverbal,” he added.

The public have already been given a taste of this through performances by Lebanese artist Tarek Atoui’s I/E concert last week, which explored the soundscape of the harbour of Abu Dhabi city, as well as Egyptian artist Hassan Khan’s concert The Big One that juxtaposed heavy synth-based New Wave Shaabi sections with delicately wrought tonal compositions.

Fair attendees are also able to explore humanity’s identity and connectivity through performances such as A Grand March by Japanese artist Zan Yamashita who challenges our understanding of the world by re-naming objects and changing the way they are perceived.

Another visitor favourite is Evros Walk Water by German artist Daniel Wetzel and the Swiss German collective Rimini Protokoll, that was created in collaboration with refugee boys living in Athens that invites audiences to be a part of the performance’s interactive narrative.

It is inspired by American artist John Cage’s 1960 performance Water Walk during the television show I’ve Got A Secret in which Cage created a musical piece using everyday objects as ‘instruments’ that all were all linked by their connection to water.

“I’m very pleased with this year’s line-up, especially Evros Walk Water. It’s amazing to see how audiences are blown away by it, and how it affects them emotionally because it’s a very charged performance,” said El Fetouh.

He added: “With each version of Durub I’m understanding Abu Dhabi audiences more. I’ve learnt that they enjoy interactive pieces; I’m always changing and adapting the programme because I want it to be an active part of people’s lives, first during their attendance and participation and later during their everyday lives.”

Those seeking a more cerebral experience can do so through the fair’s rich Talks programme that explores the region’s evolutionary journey into an art hub in its own right.

“There’s a prevailing idea, especially in the west, that the region’s a blank canvas but that’s not true at all. I want to dispel that notion that there isn’t much happening… I’ve organised it so that each talk acts as a bridge to building a narrative that provides a united view of the contemporary art world in the UAE and region,” said Munira Al Sayegh, who is curating the Talks for the first time.

Among the talks she is most excited to introduce to audiences is Art History Beyond Borders, a part of the subtheme Understanding the Importance of Artist and Curatorial Narratives in Contemporary Art History. It will take part tomorrow at 4pm in Manarat Al Saadiyat’s auditorium.

“I’m excited about featuring Salwa [Mikdadi, Associate Professor Practice of Art History, Arts and Humanities, NYU Abu Dhabi] and Nada [Shabout Associate Professor of Art History and the Director of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Studies Institute, University of North Texas]. Nada’s work is focused on Iraq while Salma’s is on the Levant. They’re the first academics that really [explore]…what’s going on in the region, so they’re the essence of modern art history in the region,” said Al Sayegh.

She added: “Art history is the basis of every art practice… [it’s my hope that] talks become the basis of contemporary art history in the region. We also explore the concept of ‘global’ and whether as a concept it has been diluted versus what’s happening on a grass roots level.”

Exploring art in all of its contexts is a concept that was also explored by budding artists chosen for Beyond: Emerging Artists, an additional expansion to Abu Dhabi Art’s rich Beyond programme. Along with having their works showcased during the art fair’s run, the artworks will remain on display until January 2018.

“It’s very cool [to have been chosen] … exactly one month before the fair’s opening I had a dream that freaked me out, [which] led me to changing my artwork [completely]. I’m very intuitive so the smallest concern or question can lead to something drastic,” Jumairy, one of three selected artists, said. His work, Haemophobia, is a collection of musical experiments inspired by childhood memories, the struggles of young adults, and the fear of one’s own biology, both physically and mentally.

Fellow participant Shaikha Rashid Al Mazrou is showcasing a sculpture piece that consists of 10 different sculptural materials set within the strict confines of the Fibonacci sequence.

When asked by Weekend Review about being selected for Beyond: Emerging Artists, Al Mazrou, a sculpture lecturer at the College of Fine Arts and Design, University of Sharjah, said: “It’s always an honour to be selected as a commissioned artist. Commission art programmes provide artists [with opportunities] to investigate their work in ways that would not be possible otherwise. It supports artists to sustain themselves and maximise the exposure they can give to work that matters most deeply to them.”

Abu Dhabi Art will conclude on November 11. Visit www.abudhabiart.ae to learn about the programme.