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National Pavilion UAE has appointed Emirati artist Abdullah Al Saadi to represent the country at the 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia in 2024, opening in April 2024. Abdullah’s solo exhibition will be curated by Tarek Abou El Fetouh.
Considered a key figure in the development of contemporary art in the UAE, Al Saadi’s prolific practice ranges from painting, drawing, sculpture, performance, and photography, to collecting and cataloguing found objects, and the creation of new alphabets. His work is informed by the UAE’s landscape and his own family history, often exploring relationships between individuals and their natural and social environment. His thought-provoking body of work delves into personal constructions of meaning emerging from his immersion in nature, inspiring us to reflect on our relationship to the world. Starting in the 1980s, Al Saadi has consistently created the most distinctive and comprehensive body of work connected to the landscapes of the Arabian Peninsula.
Abdullah Al Saadi and Tarek Abou El Fetouh, 2023
© Courtesy of National Pavilion UAE- La Biennale di Venezia. Photo by Daryll Borja.
In a statement, His Excellency Sheikh Salem bin Khalid Al Qassimi, Minister of Culture and Youth, said: “The International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is an important international platform for knowledge and cultural exchange. Since 2009, the National Pavilion UAE has firmly established itself as a leading platform for showcasing Emirati heritage and the rich tapestry of the local arts and culture.” His Excellency continued: “We will continue to support creative Emiratis as ambassadors for building cultural and creative communication with artists from various parts of the world, in line with the UAE vision and its mission. By empowering the next generation of creatives, we are building common grounds for the different cultures to meet and celebrate their diversity and creativity in the art and cultural fields.”
“I draw my inspiration from my own story, my family history, and my environment,” said Abdullah Al Saadi. “I am honoured to represent my country and show my work at the UAE National Pavilion at the Biennale Arte 2024. Since I was a student, four decades ago, art has been an integral part of my daily life. My art is the result of interactions with places, people, ideas, and aesthetics that I encounter every day where I live and in my journeys. I find myself driven to document these experiences visually or in written diaries and contemplations, seeking to transfigure the ordinary with the passage of time.”
Some of Al Saadi’s most notable works include Stone Slippers (2013), a collection of slippers made out of stone accompanied by drawings, a visual metaphor of the life of a wanderer who is constantly travelling in search for something he ardently longs for, and which remains elusive. In The Purl and Silk Journey, presented in 2017 at the Sharjah Biennale 13, scrolls and drawings produced in nature, mediated through the artist’s physical presence and the passage of time. In My Mother’s Letters 1998-2013 (shown as part of his solo exhibition at Sharjah Art Foundation in 2014), the artist codifies a collection of objects left behind by his mother during visits to his studio —subtle markers of her presence in lieu of a written message in his absence, triggering in the artist the drive to create alternative alphabetical systems. His fascination with preserved historical manuscripts is expressed in Al Saadi’s Diaries (2016), a project presented in Venice in 2017 at the 57th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, titled “Viva Arte Viva”, curated by Christine Marcel.
The 2024 exhibition will be curated by Tarek Abou El Fetouh, with whom Al Saadi has recently collaborated on a public intervention in Expo 2020 Dubai with his exhibit titled Terhal, which stemmed from the artist’s experience with the UAE’s natural environment. Over the last 25 years, Abou El Fetouh has been dedicated to creating institutional platforms that provide opportunities for contemporary artists in the region through commissions, co-productions, touring projects, residencies, and events. His curatorial practice is influenced by classic Arab intellectual and scientific literature. Tarek Abou El Fetouh was chosen as curator for the National Pavilion UAE’s 2024 participation at the 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia by the artist, in line with the pavilion’s ambition to encourage an artist-led approach.
“Abdullah’s practice has been, over the last forty years, a continuous engagement with changing environments as well as personal and cultural histories, creating points where they meet and interweave,” commented the curator Tarek Abou El Fetouh. “In his rich and diverse artistic practice, whether drawings, maps, diaries, or objects, Abdullah’s visual language remains recognizable through his passionate longing for immersion in nature; he constructs a unique relationship with landscapes, which goes beyond the familiar. I am delighted to be working with him once again, curating his solo exhibition for the National Pavilion UAE in Venice.”
Abou El Fetouh has been working extensively across the UAE since 2009 when he was appointed as one of the curators of Sharjah Biennial 9, and later curated a major exhibition titled The Time is Out of Joint for Sharjah Art Foundation, co-produced with Asia Art Center in Gwangju, Korea (2016). He also curated Durub Al Tawaya, an annual performance programme at Abu Dhabi Art (2013-2018) and the Public Art Programme for Expo 2020 Dubai, the first-ever curated permanent open-air art exhibition in the UAE (2021). Abou El Fetouh is currently Senior Curator and Director of the Performance Department at the Sharjah Art Foundation. He has also curated numerous exhibitions regionally and internationally, including Rituals of Signs and Metamorphoses (2018) and Captive of Love (2017) at Red Brick Art Museum, Beijing; Lest the Two Seas Meet (2015) at Museum of Modern Art Warsaw; and the exhibition of Home Works 6, Ashkal Alwan, Beirut (2013).
Angela Migally, Executive Director at the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, said: “The Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation’s relationship with the National Pavilion UAE has spanned across several exhibitions showcasing the best of the UAE’s art and architecture practices. We are committed to supporting the UAE’s creative and cultural ecosystem and the Pavilion has been a crucial platform to share thought-provoking stories from the UAE at one of the most important global stages in the world, La Biennale di Venezia.”
Laila Binbrek, Director of National Pavilion UAE, said: “Abdullah’s central position within art history of the UAE is also reflected in his participation in two previous National Pavilion UAE group exhibitions, in 2011 and 2015. It is incredibly gratifying to include his work once again in this year’s Pavilion, this time for a solo exhibition, curated by Tarek Abou El Fetouh, who has spearheaded groundbreaking projects across the Emirates. We look forward to sharing yet another untold story of the UAE in 2024 through the lens of Abdullah’s work.”
The National Pavilion UAE is an award-winning pavilion that curates the untold stories about the UAE’s arts and architecture through its participation in the International Art and Architecture Exhibitions organized by La Biennale di Venezia and provides a high-profile platform for curatorial concepts that address critical international conversations from a distinctive local perspective.
For every participation in the International Art and Architecture Exhibitions of La Biennale di Venezia, one of the world’s most significant and rigorous cultural platforms, the National Pavilion UAE appoints and works with curators, artists, and contributors to conceive, research and develop an exhibition and accompanying publication that advance and preserve understanding of the UAE’s cultural landscape.
Since 2009, National Pavilion UAE’s exhibitions have explored the nation’s cultural evolution from 20th-century experimental artists to the diverse contemporary scene. In 2021, National Pavilion UAE’s exhibition titled Wetland curated by architects Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto, was awarded the Golden Lion for best National Participation at La the Biennale Architettura 2021, coinciding with the National Pavilion’s 10th participation in the International Exhibitions of La Biennale di Venezia.
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In parallel with its exhibitions in Venice, the National Pavilion UAE engages with communities in the UAE to support the growth of the local cultural and creative industries, through public programming and professional opportunities. Alongside an extensive pool of artists, curators, researchers and partners who have contributed to its exhibitions over the years, the UAE’s Venice Internship program has provided training and hands-on experience to more than 200 interns, many of whom are now successfully working in cultural fields. The National Pavilion UAE is an independent non-profit organization, commissioned by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and supported by the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth.
The Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation (SHF) is a private not-for-profit foundation committed to the cultivation of a more creative, connected and thriving UAE community. Based in Abu Dhabi, SHF oversees a diverse portfolio of not-for-profit programs and initiatives spanning the arts, culture, heritage, human development and early childhood development in the UAE and internationally. Underpinning SHF's activities is a common ambition to invest in the knowledge and capabilities of the UAE people in order to support them to unlock their full potential.
The Ministry of Culture and Youth works to enrich the cultural ecosystem in the UAE through initiatives and policies that stimulate the development of the cultural and creative industries and its contribution to the country's GDP, developing new legislation and policies that promote integrated media growth in the country and creating avenues for the youth to invest their capabilities in the aforementioned fields.
The Ministry of Culture and Youth is responsible for empowering and engaging the youth in the UAE by enhancing their leadership skills, involving them in decision-making process and programs, and giving them opportunities to contribute to the creative development of the country.
From press information.
© Cover photo on top: Abdullah Al Saadi, showing objects from My Mother’s Letters, 2004. Photo by Haupt & Binder, Universes in Universe