WKR Installation View of Second Hand at Jameel Arts Centre15655-1569672165281
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Dubai: What looks like a bundle of dried sticks lying on the floor is actually a sculpture made of bronze. A fungal growth spreading across a corner of the gallery turns out to be an arrangement of inanimate forms made from leather. And a closer look at some marble tiles leaning against the wall reveals that they are just graphite drawings on paper. Visitors will find many more such surprises in Second Hand, the latest exhibition at the Jameel Arts Centre.

The show features works by 18 artists sourced from the Art Jameel Collection. The artworks are quirky and fun in the way the artists have played with materials and processes, but they address serious contemporary social, political and economic issues. The pile of sticks by Abbas Akhavan expresses his concern for the environment, while his choice of bronze alludes to its use in making weapons and monuments.

Zahrah Al-Ghamdi has used a complex process of cutting, stitching, stuffing, moulding and boiling sheep leather to create organic mushroom-like forms that are inspired by the decorations in the traditional Asiri architecture in Al-Baha, the village in Saudi Arabia where she grew up. Her installation, Mycelium Running, featuring 3,000 handmade pieces arranged on the walls and floor of the gallery and flowing outside into the courtyard speaks about memory, history and the connection between the man-made and natural world.

Lebanese-Armenian artist Haig Aivazian’s drawings of marble tiles refer to the practice in Turkey of replacing damaged marble cladding in Byzantine architecture with cheap hand-painted reproductions. But they also recall the destruction of an Armenian cemetery in Istanbul and the dispersal and integration of the marble from the tombstones into the city’s architecture.

Japanese artist Keita Miyazaki has combined metallic components from discarded car engines with folded paper origami pieces in bright colours to create a robot-like installation, Barren Land, that comments on our industrialised and materialistic society.

French-Algerian artist Abdel Abdessemed’s work, Klan, is an assemblage of cone-shaped figures made from the noses of aeroplanes subtly humanised by painting eyes on them. The faces resemble the masks worn by members of the Ku Klux Klan, and by placing them low on the floor where people look down on them, the artist has symbolically taken away their power making a strong socio-political statement.

The work that inspired the title of the show is Second Hand Information by Zimbabwean artist Moffat Takadiwa. It is made from discarded computer keys woven together like a tapestry. The random arrangement of the English letters and the many upside down keys are the artist’s way of subverting the English language to highlight the struggle against the dominance and divisiveness of a language imposed by colonial rulers, and the need to preserve the Bantu language along with an indigenous cultural identity.

Other artists in the show

Other artists featured in the show include Diana Al-Hadid, Doa Aly, Fayçal Baghriche, Walead Beshty, Jason Dodge, Bita Ghezelayagh, Mohammed Kazem, Azade Köker, Cinthia Marcelle, Mario García Torres, Slavs and Tatars and Vikram Divecha. The show is accompanied by a public programme of performances, workshops, talks and film screenings.

The facets of materiality

Lana Shamma, Jameel’s senior manager, public programmes says, “This show is about ‘materiality’ and the process by which artists produce work and investigate the nature of things. The diverse artworks challenge our perception and understanding of material and what it represents. Many of the works incorporate material that has been repurposed, transformed or reworked, reflecting how different contexts and environments can create a change in meaning and purpose. The artists have employed traditional and non-traditional approaches to ‘making’ ranging from man-made to machine made, and many have used banal everyday materials to construct new forms and ideas. The show’s title refers to the fact that some of the materials used by the artists have gone through processes that make them look like another material and some artists have used other people or ‘second hands’ to help them make the work.”

Second Hand will run at the Jameel Arts Centre, Jaddaf Waterfront, Dubai until November 23

Jyoti Kalsi is a Dubai-based arts enthusiast.