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Statement by the artist, based on an interview with Vasif Kortun, curator of the UAE Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale 2011.Jun 2011
I always used the camera as a tool to capture moments and then work from them. There came a point when I realized that what the camera produced was enough, and I did not have to paint or draw from the photograph, because the finished piece was right there in front of me. I started doing digital photomontage works during my second year at university, because not all the elements that I wanted in the frame were there, so instead of trying to find a location to shoot in, I decided to create it.
With time, I realized that I was making work as a reaction to certain situations. Not for a certain show, or a certain reason, I just made to make. It was almost a catharsis, once I got the thought out and placed it in a frame, I could almost move on to…what I should do next.
I have come to realize that my work is more about a reaction to what I see or feel, depending on what is happening around me. A simple conversation or a feeling may trigger a new piece. These days, I find myself looking at the landscape and how people relate to it. Are they connected to it? Are we a part of the change that is happening or are we not? At some points, I feel that we are observers of all of these changes that are happening around us —some might have a hand in those changes, but most of the people are simply there to witness it.
I like exploring the idea of a person in a landscape and their relationship to it. Reflection, for example, was made after I was driving around Dubai and seeing buildings being built, that were just shells not yet inhabited or are yet to be. The work was a reaction to my awareness of the change and my wariness of it and what it may bring. A new identity is being developed here, people are evolving with the change; some are holding on to who they are, and others are trying to fit in with this change, the person in this frame is simply a representation of that thought.
Back in school and early university days I was quite intrigued with the work of Salvador Dali, and the way he used to draw from his dreams, almost creating lucid dreams on his canvas. That is when I started to look at Surrealist works and increasingly understand how and why they made what they made. I started searching for other artists who worked in a Surrealist manner, and found quite a few artists online whose work I found interesting because they worked with digital montage, which had the feeling of painting, even though they were photographs. I wanted to learn how to do this, so I taught myself. I learned most of my technical skills online: especially with Photoshop, there were more up-to-date learning options online rather than in books.
I studied at a British school in the UAE, where we were taught more about European and American Art than the art that was being created here in the UAE or in the Arab world. So my experience of art that was being made here was of the typical amateur paintings of women with coffee pots and camels walking across sand dunes. I did not feel related to that type of work, even though I see the women drinking their coffee and the camels in the landscape everyday. My view of what I saw and what was represented in art was very different. So when I first started making art I did not want to touch the subject of "Emarati," because I did not want to be compared to what I saw, and I did not really want to explore that because I did not want to create art that people were then calling "Emarati Art" and have it be seen as something which was just showing the surface. I wanted my work to be deeper than that. So, at the time, I moved on to explore other cultures, but not my own.
This is when I had to confront the idea of "identity" and question who I was in relation to all this change that was happening around me. This kind of thinking pushed me to explore myself, my identity, and the culture I am part of —and to view this in the context of how we relate to the landscape and to our geographical location. I questioned whether who we are changes depending on where we end up going to, and, through exploration, concluded that the answer to that question was no. As an Arab woman, whether I am in Europe or anywhere in the Arab world, I am still an Arab Muslim woman, and what comes with that, what hits the viewer on first sight, is the sense of clothing and the way we dress. This is how the idea of the ladies in colored clothing in the landscape came about.
Second Time Around
The Pavilion of the United Arab Emirates
54th Venice Biennale
4 June - 27 Nov. 2011
Reem Al Ghaith
Lateefa bint Maktoum
Abdullah Al Saadi
Curator: Vasif Kortun
Commissioner: Dr. Lamees Hamdan