GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Changing Stakes: Contemporary Art Dialogues with Dubai
Paper Proposal Text :
Changing Stakes: Contemporary Art Dialogues with Dubai presented artworks by eight noted international artists was an exploration of experimental and critical art practices that have emerged to grapple with the dramatic rise of the city. Curated by Srimoyee Mitra, this exhibition was conceptualized with the objective to move beyond polarizing clichés of Dubai’s iconic architecture that symbolize the city and search for complex language that does not simply reiterate existing criticisms of Dubai based on Euro-American paradigms of an ideal city. Changing Stakes: Contemporary Art Dialogues with Dubai examined the city’s light-speed urbanization, hyper-consumerism, massive immigration and the multiple narratives of social and cultural histories through artistic production. Participating artists Haig Aivazian (Chicago/Dubai), Abbas Akhavan (Toronto), Amir Berbic (UAE), Lamya Gargash (London/Dubai), George Katodrytis (UAE), Armin Linke (Berlin/Milan), Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen (London/Copenhagen) and Hajra Waheed (Montreal) used a range of materials from tourist brochures and billboard advertisements to personal photographs, films and videos, as well as magazines and other found ephemera to investigate how notions of a place are constructed by the absence and presence of images in the popular psyche. This paper will examine the artworks in the exhibition to argue that Dubai’s rapid urbanization, mobilization and economic growth is deeply linked to the neo-liberal capitalistic models of globalization and migration that Western economies rely on and invest in.
Photographer Armin Linke’s The Palm, Jumeirah, 2005, a billboard-sized photograph with a panoramic view of one of the reclaimed islands shot from an aerial perspective. Mimicing Nakheel’s banal marketing campaign which used aerial shots of
the model of the Palm Island to sell multi-million dollar properties, Linke challenged the viewer’s expectations and sensibilities of documentary photography – from a distance it is hard to surmise if the photograph was that of the island itself or that of a 3D architectural model. Blurring the lines between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy Linke’s photographs evoked a sense of urgency that challenged the complicity of passive spectatorship. Sharjah-based Amir Berbic continued the exploration of Dubai’s pervasive tourism culture by shrinking the monumental scale of its billboards into a playful suit of postcards called History Rising, that referenced the dramatic marketing campaign of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa inaugurated in the wake of the financial crises in 2009. Berbic appropriated images from these advertisements along with their captions that sometimes sound like government-led propaganda. He rendered the font of these captions as cut-outs, perhaps a comment of Dubai’s childish appetite for the spotlight during the pre-recession (2008) period of limitless construction. This series also elucidated the carefully planned rise of Dubai as a luxury destination, to lure tourists as well as expats working at the headquarters of the major multinationals and thus conflating the experience of tourism and high-level residents of the city under the ethos of consumption. In his video The Unimaginable Things we Build, Haig Aivazian focused on the equally dramatic inauguration of the Burj Khalifa with 10,000 fireworks. Using YouTube and cellphone footage of the ceremony of the tower lighting up and causing clouds of smoke, Aivazian touches on questions of anxiety, violence, erasure and fear that form the zeitgeist of contemporary culture in the 21st Century since 9/11, while alluding to Dubai’s ambivalent position as an oasis from the political turmoil in the Gulf and Middle Eastern countries pre- and post- the so-called ‘Arab Spring’. From Dubai’s
hectic outdoors, Emirati artist Lamya Gargash’s photographic series Presence recorded the indoors of private homes that were on the verge of demolition and abandonment since 2007. Her restrained and melancholic photographs examined the impact of loss of collective memories and histories that formed the bedrock of local communities in Dubai. In response, Sharjah-based architect and scholar George Katodrytis’ The Chronicle of Dubai’s Dramatic Embrace of Modernity – a project in progress was a fragmented and layered compilation of reproductions of rare documents and images that open up visible and invisible narratives of the city. By investigating and interpreting archival records of John R. Harris, the first architect commissioned by Sheikh Rashid to develop the first master plan of Dubai in 1959, Katrodrytis traced the impact of Harris’ legacy, Dubai’s modernity, on its rise as a global city. Abbas Akhavan, Hajra Waheed and Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen examined mobility and migration in Dubai through different lenses. Akhavan’s video installation explored a traditional form of subsistence, the abra or ferry service that has survived Dubai’s radical transformation as a superlative city. Operated and used primarily by working class migrants this project elucidated the alternate economies that continue to survive, while being stereotyped as an ‘authentic’ experience of Dubai’s culture. Waheed’s mixed-media works explored the narratives of surveillance and loss of identity experienced by many domestic workers who enter Dubai as nannies and remain unable to leave, while in Redezvous, Danish artist Larsen examined the migrant patterns from the southern Indian state of Kerala to Dubai and Sharjah: Two video portraits projected on opposite walls, one of the worker and the other of his family and the distance between them encapsulated the complexities of belonging and displacement that are perpetuated by the cycles of globalization and migration.
Like 90% of Dubai’s transient population made up of expatriates on temporary visas, this exhibition brought together multiple subjectivities of artists who are either part of the UAE’s expatriate workforce, Emirati or have spent significant time visiting the city on artist residencies and exhibitions. While developing nuanced critiques of everyday life in the transnational hyper-urban hub, the exhibition asked crucial questions on the meaning and rhetoric of economic development and ‘progress’ as outlined by agencies such as the World Bank and IMF in the 21st Century. While exploring the stakes in Dubai’s success and failure on the world stage and the discrepancies between Western and non-Western perspectives, this paper will also open up future directions of this research by examining critical work by artists including Hassan Sharif, Seher Shah, Ebitsam Abdul Aziz, CAMP and Lantian Xie