In this new solo exhibition, artist Asma Belhamar presents a major body of work inspired by the UAE’s architectural history. The exhibition is footnoted by the artist’s reflections on culture and national identity in flux.
Belhamar contemplates the country’s history through its manmade landscapes by referencing three scenes from a music video released in the early 70s, titled "Esh Halkom Ya Arab," by prolific Emirati singer Abdullah Belkhair. Each captured scene reflects a different cultural facet from that time. Some scenes in Belkhair’s music video are set in the vibrant Al Hamriya residential neighborhood by Dubai’s Al Mamzar Beach, and are lensed through a national interpretation of modernity. Here, concrete structures feature both Western architecture and neo-Islamic patterns. Other scenes are an emotional mirror of the singer's heartfelt performance. Set within a studio, the abstract melancholic void is reminiscent of rocky mountains, accented by the presence of two striking red arches bathed in a soft glow of orange and green spotlights. In another location, a recognizable tradition of Khaliji music clips is featured, with a close-up view of a bougainvillea flower tree and a graceful palm tree. These vibrant natural elements, often found in Khaliji family albums and majlis wallpaper murals, embrace viewers with a sense of warmth and nostalgia. The musical accompaniment by Egyptian coral singers pays tribute to the golden era of music composition and education in the Arab world, in a way that offers a layer of Pan-Arabist sentiment, bolstered by the title itself, which asks with gentle irreverence, ‘How are you, Arabs?’
As we move through the exhibition space, we encounter the embodiment of the artist's observations and experiments through a stunning wall relief. An intricate tableau of mountainous rock formations is meticulously etched with neo-Islamic motifs that serve as a powerful visual metaphor for the UAE’s urban fabric, nestled in its natural geography. Belhamar’s work captures the essence of time and motion in a tangible form, nodding to the cultural tapestry of the UAE, as it makes its mark on urban and natural environments.
The exhibition narrates the topographic evolution of the UAE, as influenced by Western classical modernity, contemporary traditionalism in Islam, and the historic trade relationships that shaped much of that landscape. The artist's deft interpretation reveals the diversity and fragmentation of the design sensibilities that have made the nation’s aesthetic identity what it is today.
Belhamar is a participant in the 2023 cycle of the 421 Artistic Development Program. The program is organized in partnership with The Institute for Emerging Art.
Dates: 22 October - 31 December
Image Credit: 421
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Warehouse421, Abu Dhabi, Mina Zayed, Street Samrayr, Warehouse421
How to get there?
From Abu Dhabi City: Follow the (E10) or Corniche Street towards Port Zayed (Secondary Entrance). Join 20th Street and at the 2nd roundabout turn left.
From Dubai (Travelling on E11): Take Saadiyat Island / Yas Island exit onto Sheikh Khalifa Highway (E12), Continue onto Sheikh Khalifa Highway following the signs for Port Zayed (Secondary Gate). Join 20th Street, and at the 2nd roundabout, turn left.
Key landmarks nearby Warehouse421 are Abu Dhabi Vegetable Market and Mina Center.