Emirati artist Afra Al Dhaheri, whose work is part of The Farjam Foundation’s latest exhibit that runs until today, is often inspired by her upbringing here in the UAE. It sometimes also features in her artworks. Take, for instance, the piece ‘Absent Yet Present’, which is showing at the ‘Concepts and The Divine Abstract’ exhibition in DIFC during Art Week. It is part door from her childhood, part abstract concept.
She says: “It was one of the pieces that took the longest in my studio because I had collected the part of the door piece... from my family’s house in Al Ain.”
Al Dhaheri's art showcase is part of a group show that includes works by Abdul Qader Al Rais, Hassan Sharif, Hussain Sharif, Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, Mohammed Kazem, Abdul Rahim Salim, Sheikha Alyazia Bint Nahyan Al Nahyan, Sheikha al Mazrou, Farah Al Qasimi, Lamya Gargash, Meira Huraiz, Afra Al Dhaheri, Hashel Al Lamki, and Musab Al Rais.
In 2016, Al Dhaheri visited her family home in Al Ain where a door was being replaced because while it had been a part of an under construction house, by the time the house was made habitable, the door had become too old. “why I felt like, ‘oh my God, this piece has spent its years installed on the house but was never used. Now it’s categorised as old and never will be used again.’ And then I really knew I wanted to complete the door. I didn’t know how it would fit in the context of my work, but I wanted to complete it to become this upside down door. Because the notion of time does not make sense,” she explains.
“This past year when I was working on my solo show and I had developed this idea of ‘Split Ends’ and developed this idea of cultural constructs and ideologies that border the boundaries within the collective understanding of society. For example, I know the rules of culture – what is a do and what is a don’t – but it’s not written anywhere. These are boundaries that we can’t cross but they are not written anywhere. So I was working within these ideas of how societies project these boundaries that exist and don’t exist, and so this door kind of manifested in this show because it just made sense. There’s a door, there’s a lock, there’s a handle – so there’s the idea of not being able to open or cross on your own. However, the door does not exit, it is only the notion of the door and the frame.”
Al Dhaheri goes on to talk about her other work that is also showcased in ‘Concepts and The Divine Abstract’, which meshes fabric and cement.
“When I was exploring concrete, applying layers of cement onto fabric, I realized it develops a very interesting texture. It sits on the fabric but it doesn’t go through it. It doesn’t take over the fabric, it finds a sort of harmony to co-exist. And in further investigations I realised that fabric actually it’s woven and so in its weave it presents the strength. And then it also acts as an adhesive to bring the fabric together. What I was trying to show was that cement as brustalistic and robust as it is actually just as vulnerable as the fabric. Unless it’s reinforced. And it needs to be reinforced with materials such as fibres and fabric becomes reinforcement for it in this scenario, but what really excited me was they coexisted,” she says.
A show at the end of a year of movement restrictions is worth mulling about. Al Dhaheri reflects that this year was like a gift. “What I achieved from this year is time – time to think, to reflect, to work on my practice. Time that I felt I was granted where I was not constantly running,” she says.
And that’s something she says to her contemporaries as well. To be successful, to be an artist, one needs to keep at it – keep making. She repeats: “Keep making.”