Wissam Shawkat, Gathering 3, Acrylic on Linen Image Credit:

The Diving Bell & The Butterfly, a group show presented by Showcase Gallery and Mestaria brings together works by 11 established and emerging artists. Their artworks range from pencil drawings and acrylic paintings to screen prints, collages and calligraphic works. The artists have diverse practices but the common thread running through the show is that they all have systematic techniques and have found creative ways to express themselves while working within traditional or self-imposed systems.

The show’s title is borrowed from the title of a well-known novel by French journalist Jean-Dominque Bauby. Explaining this choice, the show’s curator Anna Seaman says, “Bauby was paralysed by a stroke and could only move his left eyelid, yet he wrote the book with the help of a translator. The locked-in syndrome he suffered from is metaphorically referred to as the diving bell, but the fact that he still managed a creative output showed his mind to be free as a butterfly. The artists in this show have also expressed themselves creatively despite working within certain systems. This theme is relevant during Ramadan, when everyday life becomes more systematic and structured around fasting hours and the sun’s natural cycle. The inherent spirituality in most of the works is also especially poignant.”

Mariam Abbas works within the self-imposed restriction of material, size and technique to create her amazingly detailed miniature drawings. In her first gallery show, the Emirati artist is exhibiting a series of pencil drawings of mosques from around the world and pointillist ink drawings of various urban spaces ranging from a house in Satwa to Mumbai’s Dhobi Ghat.

Well-known Emirati artist Ebtisam Abdulaziz studied mathematics and constantly devises her own mathematical systems to express her personal experiences and thoughts in a coded visual language. Her abstract paintings in the show are based on sentences from her diary, which she converted into a numeric code and plotted on a grid to generate geometric patterns.

Ahmed Faresi’s work is inspired by his training in information technology and interest in the systematic coding language of computers. The Emirati artist has restricted himself to using only the infinity symbol to create the flowing forms in his artworks.

“Infinity is a mystical concept, which is like a key to an encrypted universe that can only be grasped through faith. Infinity is the source of every pattern in the universe, hence I use it to create all my drawings, and to express notions about the infinity of time, of the cycle of life, the universe and the soul,” he says.

Afshan Daneshvar is known for her carefully-crafted collages made from origami paper boats. The systematic, repetitive, meditative act of making the hundreds of boats she uses in every composition is an important part of her work. The collage she has created for this show features paper boats that have been unfolded.

“My Boats series began as a response to the refugee crisis, but ultimately we are all passengers floating in the sea of life, not knowing where it will take us, and learning to deal with the ups and downs of the journey. By unfolding the boats, I want to show the marks left behind by life’s experiences on each person. Each white boat represents an individual but they all merge with the white background showing that we are all part of something bigger,” she says.

Australian artist Jessica Watson-Thorp’s textured monoprints from her Masjid series are based on Islamic architecture and her research of Islamic numerical mysticism. Using symbols such as the cube and groupings of stars she has woven into her compositions meaningful numbers such as the number of daily prayers and of circumambulations of the Kaaba done by pilgrims during the Haj.

British artist Katie Venner-Woodbridge also takes inspiration from the rhythms of the lines and geometric patterns of the UAE’s architecture, fracturing and layering them to create her paintings. She is showing a series of works on paper from a project called 100 Days, where she systematically created one painting every day for hundred days.

Jordanian British artist Julia Ibbini is interested in exploring socio-cultural systems and ideas of identity and belonging. She blends traditional Asian and Arabian architectural designs to create complex digital drawings, which are then converted into files for the laser cutter. Each of her artworks is composed of many layers of laser cut paper, painted and assembled by hand. Her stunning works in the show include a series of beautiful doorways and her contemporary interpretations of traditional geometric and Arabesque patterns.

Filipino artist Nathaniel Alapide has confined himself to using recycled paper and magazines as his canvas to create a work that reflects the dichotomies of life and its fragility. The show also includes works by calligraphers Wissam Shawkat from Iraq, Toronto based Iranian artist Sasan Nasernia and Emirati artist Amal Al Gurg, who have found new and different ways to express themselves within the confines of the script and rules of this ancient art form.

The Diving Bell & The Butterfly will run at Showcase Gallery, Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz, until June 30.