Christopher Benton Photo Courtesy of Jason Miller-1603263481124
Christopher Benton.

UAE-based American artist Christopher Benton presents his first show as a curator at maisan15, a gallery, library, garden and restaurant in the outskirts of Dubai. Entitled ‘Do You See Me How I See You?’, it’s an must-see show featuring the next generation of UAE art stars, while also offering up a lot of food for thought.

The UAE’s arts and cultural landscape is steered by big institutions and commercial galleries, so this exhibition marks a breath of fresh air for a rare independently-organised show in Dubai.

“A lot of people are intimidated by the term ‘art’, so this environment eases their discovery of materials, method and cultures,” said Rami Farook, an influential Emirati artist and collector who also owns the restaurant that the show is housed in. “I view restaurants as semi public spaces with an opportunity to facilitate its guests experience of art.”

Immediately, you can tell that this exhibition is different. Instead of wall text at the entrance, the guest is greeted with a bunch of questions. Instead of a show catalogue, there is a book of poetry from the artists in the show.

The theme is home. “In a time of closed borders, COVID quarantining, and a refugee crisis, the idea of home and identity has never been more important,” Benton said. I want visitors to take time to slow down and think: What’s important? What makes a place feel like home? How can you appreciate things more?”

Each of the 11 artists in the show deal with home differently. Benton’s brilliant ‘GCC Best Friends’ textile work features a massive kandoora designed to fit three people, along with a positive message of unity in the Gulf. Indian designer Ashay Bhave presents a giant steel SIM card sculpture that weighs 20kg. Prankster Rakan Ghresi’s ‘Are We There Yet?’ shows a five-minute loop of an animated pink Land Cruiser driving around in circles.

Putting a show of high-calibre artists in a restaurant, instead of a normal white cube gallery, offers up interesting encounters. Benton’s photograph of a bedspace is in the entrance where Deliveroo drivers who may live in a bedspace can see it. Mohamed Khalid’s intimate, pastel-washed ‘Soap Series’ presents five ceramic sculptures shaped like soaps that fittingly leads away from the seating booths towards the bathrooms.

Many of the works feature food. A photo series of patriotic cakes by Arab-American artist Layan Attari is confrontational yet funny. The showstopper is sure to be Swiss artist and DJ Maxime Cramatte’s ‘Shawarma Disco Soundsystem,’ which does just as its name says: it’s a spinning disco ball and speaker that’s shaped like shawarma, inspired by cafeterias in Satwa. The work is accessible and clearly designed for Instagram-sharing, but also thoughtful with a lot of heart.

An undercurrent of nostalgia marks the work of the Emirati artists in the show. Sultan Khamis Al Remeithi shares a seductively beautiful airbrush painting of his family’s villa, created during stay-at-home orders. Street photographer Esmat Rabi’s contributes an image of an old woman and an old hotel, both touching on ideas of family and memory in a city that is changing at the speed of the light.

Once again, Benton proves himself to be one of UAE’s most exciting emerging talents, creating thought-provoking art and interventions while building a community around him. maisan15 also succeeds with another brainy yet accessible exhibition, marking a directional way forward for non-traditional art spaces in Dubai.

“maisan15 is different mainly because it brings art to people, whereas the traditional exhibition model attempts the opposite,” Farook said. “Can you imagine if Dubai Mall was activated, in parallel, as a museum? It would be the biggest, and most visited, in the world.”

Don’t miss it!

The show closes November 15.

Location: maisan15, Barsha, Dubai.