Curated by the 2016 Guest Curator Nav Haq, ‘Syntax and Society’ featured a new video installation by the winners of the 2016 prize, Palestinian artist-duo Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme; the commissioned artwork was exhibited for the first time alongside significant works by the Abraaj Group Art Prize 2016 shortlisted artists: Dina Danish, Mahmoud Khaled, and Basir Mahmood. 

Syntax and Society considered how and why artists communicate through symbolic structures in society through their work. Particularly, the exhibition responded to the structure and meaning of language and the role it plays in philosophy, culture and socio-political systems. The diverse practices of the shortlisted artists were presented as a whole.

The new video installation by the winning artists, Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, Only The Beloved Keeps Our Secrets, examined how modern day technologies, particularly the Internet, can enable a continued existence for those who have been deceased.

Alongside Abbas and Abou-Rahme’s new commission, the works presented by the shortlisted artists invited viewers to examine different cultures. Dina Danish questioned how language is structured, from tongue-twisters to ordinary words in cinema. Mahmoud Khaled reflected on the relationship between the arts and political history, by considering the representations class and stereotypes in public spaces. Basir Mahmood deliberated on beginning and endings, from the writing and mailing of letters that are never received, to situations where disused artifacts from one culture are newly adapted in another.

Syntax and Society exhibition catalogue consisted of two artist books: Volume 1, featuring the shortlisted artists practice, together with Volume 2 (English and Arabic) dedicated to Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme’s work and research.

Curated by Nav Haq and designed in Antwerp by Studio Pieter Boels, the exhibition catalogue is available through Sternberg Press.


Nav Haq, Curator

Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, Winning Aritst

Dina Danish, Shortlisted Artist

Mahmoud Khaled, Shortlisted Artist

Basir Mahmood, Shortlisted Artist