You can see them standing in and around the fountain next to the Four Seasons Hotel in the DIFC Gate Village — a group of seven, sleek dynamic warriors cast in bronze with a shiny black patina. The almost life-size figures have spears or bows and arrows in their hands and appear to be running, walking, pointing to the sky or the earth and ready to face any battle. The beautiful sculptures look like figures from ancient cave drawings that have come alive — and they are indeed inspired by cave art created thousands of years ago.
This group of sculptures known as The Warriors has been created by well-known Italian artist Antonio Signorini, who has a deep interest in studying ancient civilisations and cave art. He has transformed the simple lines carved on rocks by ancient artists using primitive tools into graceful modern three-dimensional figures that link the past, present and future to tell the story of the journey of humanity and of art through the ages.
Signorini was born in 1971 in Tuscany and studied painting and sculpture in Pisa and Florence. He works with various media and is known for developing new alloys and techniques to create unique textures, chromatic tones and surfaces in his artworks. He has been based in London since 2004 and has a ‘structural art’ practice where he works with architectural projects across the world, intervening at a structural level to incorporate art within the buildings. The artist has recently moved to Dubai and is excited to showcase his iconic series in the city.
Signorini spoke to the Weekend Review about his multi-layered works and his artistic journey.
How did you get interested in ancient civilisations and cave art?
My father was passionate about art and during my childhood he told me stories about ancient civilisations and took me to museums, monuments and archaeological sites across Italy and Europe. This triggered my interest in studying ancient civilisations and art history. In 2003, I started an in-depth study of primitive art with a focus on cave art in Libya, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
The discovery of new caves in Europe inspired me to recreate those drawings in sculptural form to connect us with our past. I continued my research by studying findings in the Mesopotamian region which inspired The Warriors. I am fascinated by cave art because this is the origin of art and represents the earliest attempts by human beings to express their emotions and tell their stories. The simple child-like drawings represent the childhood of mankind and our world.
What is the concept behind The Warriors?
This series is inspired, influenced, and dedicated to the Paleolithic prehistoric period. The first warrior was inspired by a rock carving in Algeria and the others are based on drawings in the caves of Saharan Libya, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other places in the region. I tried to imagine the figures in a three-dimensional form and bring them alive through my sculptures.
I used strong, clean lines to give them a modern look and create a sense of movement as well as equilibrium. By elongating the limbs I have emphasised the fluidity and movement of the figures to convey the feeling that nothing in our lives is certain or solid. By cutting off segments in the eye area, the back and at the hips I have abstracted the forms giving them a futuristic feel. Their movement is a metaphor for walking on the unknown path of life, which is the eternal reality of human existence. I call them warriors because we are all warriors who have to keep finding the courage to face whatever life brings us each day and carry on. This series is about my personal journey and the journey of life itself, but it is also about humanity and the human condition. It connects the origin of art and of human beings to contemporary times and the future, representing the continuum of time, life and art.
Is there special meaning in the materials and techniques you have used?
I used a specific white marble from Iran for the pedestals because the colour matches with the rock on which the drawings were carved. The black patina on the bronze was specially created with chemicals to highlight the graceful curves and futuristic feel of the figures. The spears and bows and arrows have been handmade with stone and antique wood from Lebanon using advanced experimental archaeology methods that recreate the processes used at that time. None of the figures have both feet firmly on the ground and one is standing on just one toe, but their equilibrium speaks about the fine balance we must maintain within us and with the world around us.
What do the individual titles of the figures convey?
Each figure is envisioned as a Guardian looking after something important. The Guardians of the Sky, the Earth and collective Memory convey the idea that these elements are the common heritage of all human beings. The Guardians of the Home, of Hospitality, and of Peace remind us to be open minded and welcoming towards everyone and to co-exist peacefully with others; and the Guardian of Faith urges us to believe in ourselves.
Why did you decide to move to the UAE?
I read about the archaeological finds at Saruq Al Hadid in the Dubai desert and was keen to see them. This was a centre of trade and metallurgy in the Iron age and the excavations indicate that it was a major location for smelting of bronze, copper and iron. Thousands of clay and metal artefacts unearthed from the site are displayed in the Saruq Al Hadid Museum in Shindagha and the exquisite craftsmanship and attention to detail is amazing.
My wife Paola and I came to see the museum, but we fell so much in love with Dubai that we decided to move here. I feel inspired and energised by this place where remnants of ancient civilisations coexist with ultra-modern architectural complexes. I now have a studio in Alserkal Avenue where I am working on sculptural paintings and monumental sculptures inspired by cave drawings of horses in Saudi Arabia, gazelles on the coins from Saruq Al Hadid and other rock art in this region.
Jyoti Kalsi is an arts-enthusiast based in Dubai.
The Warriors will be on display outside the Four Seasons Hotel in The Gate Village at DIFC until December 31.