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Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim is a pioneering Emirati artist, who began his career over forty years ago. His first solo exhibition at Cuadro Gallery, Dubai, is entitled Primordial and has been meticulously curated to span twenty-five years of his practice.
Ibrahim’s work focuses on primitive forms and techniques while employing earthen materials from his native Khorfakkan, located on the East Coast of the Emirate of Sharjah. Rather than inventing new compositions, the artist translates instinctively familiar forms into a visual language.
Bashar Al Shroogi, director of Cuadro Gallery and curator of the exhibition, introduces the artworks and creative process of Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, in a walk through the show:
The drawings by Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim are called Forms. His forms are very basic shapes that have existed since the beginning of time: the square, circle and triangle. The artist places repetitive permutations of these shapes on paper to create symmetric patterns. Ibrahim says that he does not actually create these forms. They just come out of him, almost like he is taking dictation.
Visually, the works look familiar. We can draw parallels of these patterns to ancient civilizations, whether an Aztec or Incan society. They bear similarities to Indian wood cut prints and cuneiform writings of the Summerians.
The forms are dynamic in nature. They connect to one another through an organic process - growing and building upon each other as you move from one to the next. Ibrahim’s work focuses on an obsessive repetition of the same forms. This is apparent in his flatworks as well as his sculptures.
Forms are not pre-planned or sketched. A sketch would imply deliberation. The artist believes that the patterns are fully composed inside of his mind, and that the pieces create themselves.
In Primordial Forms II Ibrahim reiterates the point that these forms are not conceived or calculated but are primeval; existing in and of themselves.
When researching this exhibition, we spoke with psychologists who described the process of art therapy - a patient is blind folded and a piece of raw, unfired, clay is placed into their hand. Although the patient cannot naturally see what they are creating, subconsciously, most patients make this conical shape.
The element of repetition is visible in the sculptural works just as it is in the flatworks. Yet the artist does not plan this. As he starts making a form, he does what he feels is right. And at some point, the work tells him its time to stop.
Primordial Forms I literally bears the imprint of the artist’s hand. Looking at the work, we can visualize the artist placing a positive piece of clay into this hand and pressing it, leaving a negative impression of his hand.
Ibrahim highlights the negative spaces in between the drawn forms. The negative space in between these shapes is mirroring the positive shape that is made by the clay.
Primordial is the piece that the entire exhibition is named after. And again, there is something very familiar in these shapes. They are a basic vessel. From the very first time man began manipulating this material, these are the very first shapes that were made.
The composition looks like something in a museum or like the imagery of skulls unearthed from the catacombs buried under the city of Paris.
Ibrahim reinforces the fact that as human beings we naturally gravitate back towards these forms.
The title, Palms, refers to the palm tree that is indigenous to the Gulf and is very important to its lifestyle. The palm is to the Gulf what the buffalo was to the Native Americans.
Everything came from the palm tree, which is referred to as the mother palm. Therefore, the formation of this sculpture mirrors the shape of a vessel, which is an innately feminine form.
The materials that Ibrahim uses in this piece are mostly husks of the palm tree. He thereby, simultaneously, brings a piece of nature into the studio and takes a work of art out of the studio.
Male and Female was created in 2001. It was originally exhibited at the 8th Sharjah Biennale and won the first prize for sculpture. The clay that composes this piece comes from a hole that is outside the artist’s studio. Ibrahim has used clay from the same location to create several works over the years. In this idea of returning to the same place to source these materials, we see a reinforcement of Ibrahim’s repetitive and mantric work ethic.
Khorfakkan is the culmination of a year of work for the artist. The sculpture looks like a three dimensional representation of the artist’s works on paper. There is a replication of the same geometric patterns.
Khorfakkan is made out of papier-mâché. The papier-mâché is never colored. The color comes from the natural pigment of the paper itself. The forms look like bones or tools that early cavemen may have used. The question Ibrahim poses to us is, "Are these forms familiar because we have seen them before or because they have always existed?"
The artist’s native, Khorfakkan (a city in Sharjah), is very important to his work. In the exhibition Emirati Expressions, curated by Reem Fadda, and shown at the Saadiyat Cultural District in Abu Dhabi in January this year, Ibrahim produced a photographic work where he chose to place a hole in the mountain that sits outside his home, simply in order to delay the sunset.
He has walked through the same mountain for many years. As a way to actualize the hole he wanted to put in it, Ibrahim has spent years collecting a total of four to five tons of rock that has been assembled into this installation entitled, Khorfakkan Mountain Rock Wrapped in Copper String.
Copper exists naturally in mountains of Khorfakkan. Ibrahim adorns these rocks with the copper that comes out of them. When we look at the shapes that are created, there is this obsessive repetition of tying and wrapping the rocks with the copper wire. So the triangular shapes, squares, circles and the loop with the line running through it, exist in the copper wire.
We are now looking at Khorfakkan I, II and III. The texture and the materials that Ibrahim uses to make these sculptures, come from his garden. Ibrahim says that in some cases the color of the sculpture changes simply because of using leaves from a different tree, at a different time of the year.
There is an incredible reliance on nature to create these pieces. In Khorfakkan II, the artist does not dictate form. The material has a weight to it and the weight has dictated the way the overall piece appears. It seems to curve and move in a manner in which it has to. The artist allows the material to become what it wants. That goes for all three sculptures. They change in size and scale.
This is an Untitled piece by Ibrahim from 1988. This piece foreshadows the entire body of work in the exhibition. You can see the same shapes and forms that Ibrahim was dealing with and using at an earlier stage in his career. The blue line that pulls through the center, provides us with an axonometric view of one of his sculptures.
It is a very rare painting that references back to the work of Kandinsky, and other masters of Western painting.
When I look at this painting, it does not seem like there were foundation drawings done behind here, it doesn’t seem like there were studies, it came out of him naturally, once again.
Architect, collector, curator. Director of Cuadro Fine Art Gallery, Dubai.