The National Pavilion of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) unveiled its exhibition at the Biennale Arte 2022, Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim: Between Sunrise and Sunset, inaugurated by Her Excellency Noura Al Kaabi, the UAE’s Minister of Culture and Youth.
Curated by Maya Allison, Executive Director of The New York University Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, the exhibition presents a major new work by Emirati artist Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim – a room-filling sculptural form made up of 128 abstract and organic elements.
Her Excellency Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth, said, “The Ministry of Culture and Youth has always considered the UAE’s participation in Venice as a point of pride for the nation and a vital element of our cultural narrative. Between Sunrise and Sunset weighs in on the cross-cultural exchange. Furthermore, it celebrates our identity in a creative fashion. This exemplifies our approach as regional cultural leaders, while also accelerating grassroots institutions’ roles as a bridge from the UAE to the world.”
The new work resonates with La Biennale’s theme The Milk of Dreams, which focuses on the connection between bodies, the earth, and metamorphosis. Ibrahim’s sculpture clusters human-sized, tree-like forms to fill the exhibit space. The commissioned artwork is derived from the artist’s deep connection to the physical environment of his hometown of Khor Fakkan – a city at the edge of the rocky Al Hajar mountains where they meet the waters on the east coast of the Emirate of Sharjah in the UAE. The title, Between Sunrise and Sunset, refers to his experience of the light there, where the mountains cast the town in afternoon shadow, obscuring the sunset on the west coast of the UAE. The color of the sculpture shifts from bright playful colors and forms to subdued black and white elements, and suggests undulating movement of bodies, mutation, and metamorphosis. The artist created the work from raw papier-mâché and natural materials including dirt, leaves, tea, coffee, and tobacco.
Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, artist, said,
I have always felt that Khor Fakkan, its mountains, the urban and rural environment, have a soul. I feel that my soul is attached to this unique city, and it inspires me to translate my immediate surroundings into art. When I go out into nature, the way I see things changes me and I need to express that somewhere. I also like to understand people’s interpretations of my work, so I like to leave my work open-ended. My appointment to represent the UAE in Venice is a great honor and comes with great responsibility. Over the years and now more than ever, Maya has played a special role in delving deeper into my practice. This is certainly a fruitful way to mark our fifth exhibition together for the National Pavilion UAE at the Biennale Arte 2022.
The show presents Ibrahim’s contemporary practice, drawn from his intimate relationship with the UAE’s landscape. The exhibition’s accompanying book is a retrospective of Ibrahim’s life and work to date, and situates the artist in a global art-historical frame. The National Pavilion UAE launched this book during the inauguration, marking the first comprehensive monograph on the artist. Titled, Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim: Between Sunrise and Sunset / Works1986-2022, it is co-edited by Maya Allison, and Cristiana de Marchi, artist, curator, and poet. With extensive essays from scholars, curators, and fellow artists, this book surveys Ibrahim’s biomorphic abstraction paintings of the 1980s, his Land Art experiments and immersive installations of the 1990s, and the evolution of his sculptures to date, and includes a comprehensive biographical timeline. It is published by Kaph Books.
Maya Allison, curator of the exhibition and Executive Director of The New York University Abu Dhabi Art Gallery,said, “Ibrahim has spent the better part of four decades developing an intensely experimental and prolific art practice—ever more on the rise—as part of a community of artists who share his unflinching commitment to, and joy from, their work. Through my work with Ibrahim and the artists in his community, I have come to study the art history of the UAE, a process that has transformed how I think about my own curatorial practice. It is a privilege to have earned the trust and opportunity to be part of Ibrahim’s work process, and of course to have the incredible experience of developing and presenting Between Sunrise and Sunset in Venice with the National Pavilion UAE.”
Laila Binbrek, Coordinating Director, National Pavilion UAE – La Biennale di Venezia, said, “National Pavilion UAE’s driving purpose is to tell the nation’s untold stories. This year, we are excited to reveal this new commission, which builds on Ibrahim’s multidecade practice, and records several decades of the UAE’s under-documented art history through Ibrahim’s first-ever monograph. Between Sunrise and Sunset underpins our efforts to provide a consistent international cultural platform to engage and present the UAE’s talent, perspectives, and heritage with the world.”
Angela Migally, Executive Director, Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, commissioner of the National Pavilion UAE, said, “The National Pavilion UAE – La Biennale di Venezia reflects the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation’s long-standing commitment to investing in people and the UAE’s art ecosystem. Since its inaugural participation in 2009, the National Pavilion UAE’s exhibitions and publications have added new research materials and thought-provoking programming aimed to foster knowledge about the nation’s cultural scene with the world. The Venice Biennale is one of the world’s strongest meeting points for cultural dialogue and exchange, and an important occasion to spotlight extraordinary artists like Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim.”
The inaugural ceremony was attended by Her Excellency Noura Al Kaabi, UAE Minister of Culture and Youth; Her Highness Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, President and Director of the Sharjah Art Foundation; His Excellency Omar Obaid Al Shamsi, UAE Ambassador to Italy; His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, Chairman of UAE Unlimited and Patron of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and of the British Museum in London; His Excellency Saeed Kherbash, Chief Executive Officer of Arts & Literature Sector at Dubai Culture Authority; and Mariët Westermann, Chancellor, New York University Abu Dhabi.
Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim: Between Sunrise and Sunset marks Ibrahim and Allison’s fifth collaboration together, and the retrospective book publication is the third book that Allison has worked on that studies Ibrahim’s work. Additionally, this is a second-time collaboration between National Pavilion UAE and New York University Abu Dhabi that reflects their ongoing commitment to supporting artists, curators, and scholars, and sustaining deep studies of the UAE’s art history to expand the study and knowledge of art across the globe.
Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim: Between Sunrise and Sunset is now open to the public at the Biennale Arte 2022 until Sunday 27 November 2022. A virtual tour of the exhibition is also available on the National Pavilion UAE website. The book is also available for purchase at the Biennale bookstores in the Arsenale and Giardini and online at Kaph Books.
This exhibition marks the National Pavilion UAE’s seventh participation at the Biennale Arte. The National Pavilion UAE is commissioned by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and supported by the Ministry of Culture and Youth, with a permanent pavilion at the Venice Biennale’s Arsenale – Sale d’Armi.