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When Images Speak: Highlights from the Dubai Collection

Fateh Moudarres, Levant Borders, 1997. From the private collection of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum

The exhibition When Images Speak: Highlights from the Dubai Collection, curated by Dr. Nada Shabout, will present a selection of modern and contemporary art from across the region, tracing a historical survey of the negotiations through Arab modernism and its progression into contemporary trends, while highlighting the Gulf’s role in the documenting of art history as it was being written.


The first physical opportunity for the public to engage with works within the Dubai Collection, the exhibition will unfold across three thematic chapters, with the artworks acting as archival records of their time and narrating the history of art from the region over the last decades, while many of the groupings overlap and intersect thematically.

Dia al-Azzawi, The Falling Dot, 1972. From the private collection of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum

Entitled Abstract Variations, and featuring pivotal artworks by artists Dia al-Azzawi and Omar El Nagdi, the first chapter of the exhibition will survey the topic of abstraction in modern Arab art. A heated topic of discussion and loaded political category among Arab artists during the mid- and second half of the 20th century, abstraction was a way of claiming identity and a form of resistance for some, while others questioned its ability to connect with the public and argued it prohibited art from playing a more direct role in national education. Abstraction was seen as a way to move towards the future, but also a way of reconnecting with the past.


The second chapter in the exhibition, Societies in Transition, features artists’ investigations into society, history, family, mythologies, and culture. Works by artists such as Baya Mahieddine, Naziha Selim, and Asaad Arabi articulate the artists’ understanding and dialogues of the self through societal relationships as well as local struggles for independence and the formation of nations in a global context. Internationalism became a particularly important notion during this time, with artists seeking connection and engaging with movements from Europe as much as from other areas of the world, such as the Indian subcontinent. Defying a Western-imposed Orientalist narrative, these artists represented their own realities and people, and their works speak to resilience and creativity in the face of struggles.

Naziha Selim, Untitled, 1996. From the private collection of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum

Evoking the Environment will be the third and final chapter of the exhibition. Through works by Fateh Moudarres, Abdul Qader Al Rais, and Nejib Belkhodja, amongst others, it reveals how painting cities became a method of constructing, and documenting, an ideal imaginary: the nation; while at others it registered the ongoing transformations of small towns and villages into larger urban spaces, as each country developed its modern identity.


A critical element of the exhibition will be the focus on the UAE’s role in documenting a dynamic academic and intellectual exchange between many of the artists on show in this exhibition as well as the country’s active role, not just as a creative hub for artists, but also in writing the art history of its region.


Published alongside the show, an eponymous digital catalogue, and featuring research by Dr. Nada Shabout, will help contextualize the works on show.


Guided by an inclusive and collective outlook, the Dubai Collection is an opportunity for patrons to showcase their collections and for artists to have their artworks included in a publicly accessible platform. The Collection charts the history of the city and highlights Dubai’s vibrant and progressive identity, reaffirming its position as an international hub for art and culture.


The first physical exhibition will coincide with the launch of the Digital Museum of the Dubai Collection, which will feature a catalogue of works included in the Dubai Collection and biographical information on each of the artists, alongside a host of editorial content around the history of collecting in the UAE, profiles of prominent patrons involved in the initiative and further information around the works.


When Images Speak: Highlights from the Dubai Collection will be on show at Etihad Museum until 6 May 2022.


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