Tarek Al-Ghoussein died in New York on June 11. He was 60 Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Prominent Kuwaiti artist and academic Tarek Al-Ghoussein died in New York on Saturday. He was 60 years old, and had spent a large part of his life in the UAE.

The news of his passing was announced by The Third Line art gallery in Dubai.

“It is with a heavy heart that we announce the sudden passing of Tarek Al-Ghoussein yesterday in New York City. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. We will deeply miss our friend and artist, may his soul rest in eternal peace,” the gallery said in a statement.

Mourned by many

Al-Ghoussein was a prolific visual artist, and spent his most recent years as a professor at the New York University Abu Dhabi (NYU Abu Dhabi). His death was mourned by prominent educators and officials, including UAE Minister of Culture and Youth, Noura Al Kaabi.

“Our sincerest condolences to his family, loved ones, and the entire NYU Abu Dhabi community,” Al Kaabi posted on her Instagram Stories.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Tarek. He was a wonderful artist, a pillar of the rapidly growing arts community in the UAE, founding faculty member of our programs in the visual arts, and staunch supporter of the NYUAD Art Gallery. We extend our profound condolences to Tarek’s family and loved ones,” said NYU Abu Dhabi vice chancellor, Mariët Westermann.

Early life

Al Ghoussein was born in 1962 in Kuwait to parents displaced from Palestine. He spent his youth in the United States, Morocco and Japan, and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Photography from New York University in 1985. In 1989, Al-Ghoussein completed his Masters degree in Photography at the University of New Mexico.

Career in UAE

He initially took on work as a documentary photographer and photojournalist, then settled in the UAE. Having lived in the country for the past 25 years, he had become an integral part of the country’s formative arts landscape.

First as a professor at the American University of Sharjah, and then as programme director for the Master of Fine Arts degree at the NYU Abu Dhabi, Al-Ghousein guided many young artists on their educational journey.

Accomplished artist

An artist of repute, he represented the UAE at the Venice Biennale in 2009, and Kuwait in 2013. His works are displayed at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Smithsonian, The Victoria and Albert Museum, The British Museum, the Royal Museum of Photography in Copenhagen; Mathaf Museum, Barjeel Art Foundation, the Sharjah Art Foundation, Mori Art Museum, The Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, and the New York University Abu Dhabi.

According to The Third Line, Al Ghoussein’s work explored the boundaries between landscape photography, self-portraiture and performance art.

“Evocative photographs [depicted] abandoned spaces and objects examined both personal and general associations with the Middle East. He captured images of places and objects that would soon cease to exist, preserving the narrative of the spaces and their former inhabitants, and also by inserting himself into the landscape images as the ever present protagonist,” the gallery’s statement said.

Abu Dhabi islands

Al Ghoussein’s most recent body of work was ‘Odysseus’, an epic photographic journey to document all of the 214 islands off the coast of Abu Dhabi. A part of this series, which began in 2015, was recently shown at the Louvre Museum, Abu Dhabi.

Many Arab and international artists and cultural personalities have been grieving Al-Ghoussein’s loss.

Lateefa bint Maktoum, founder and director of Tashkeel, said in an Instagram post that Al Ghoussein is mourned as “a father figure” and brother by his students and colleagues.