The Human Touch

16 October 2018Laura Egerton
The Human Touch
The Human Touch

What connects the works on display in the new exhibitions presented by the Alserkal Avenue contemporary art galleries? In her curated trail on 24 September, Laura Egerton explored a strong sense of human presence, how either the artists’ own personal experiences or their contemporary worldview has had a direct effect on the work they produce.

Putting the artist back in centre stage, ‘The Role of the Artist’ trail admits the importance of knowing their gender, place of birth, where they live, what was happening around them when they produced their works – the things they experienced, the places they visited, the people they met.


1x1 Gallery, Sunil Gawde: id-od and other dimensions

The title comes from an engineering term – signifying the inner dimension and outer dimension, referring to the dual meanings present in the Indian artists kinetic works on display, which he calls ‘visual haikus’. Elephants, butterflies, swords and water are frequent symbols in Sunil Gawde’s sculptures. The work Alliteration recreates the night sky, with 28 moons of different sizes in constant flux, the mechanical cogs visible from the reverse. The artist talks about being in the wrong place at the right time, attempting to challenge our reality. What happens when we see and don’t just look?

Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, Mohammed Kazem: A Prime Activity

Mohammed Kazem seeks to shed some light on those who live and work in the UAE, but are mostly invisible. For his third solo exhibition with the gallery, the artist presents only paintings  - but in very different forms. The earliest watercolours, Studio, come from the time when he shared a studio with Hassan Sharif in the 1990s, even then he was drawn to abstraction, focused on experimenting with paint and colours rather than the scene or objects in front of him. Neighbours presents partial portraits of somewhat familiar characters seen across Dubai, especially in Al Quoz. The large canvases Even the shade does not belong to them cast a veil of smoke across the scene, evocatively highlighting what we choose not to see.

Ayyam Gallery, Elias Izoli: Seven Years

Elias Izoli is one of a handful of artists that Ayyam Gallery represents who has remained in Syria throughout the conflict. Still living in Damascus, this self-taught painter dwells on the effect the war has had on children. Marking seven years since it began, perhaps referring to the seven years of bad luck you get from breaking a mirror, he breaks up the background of his canvases into chequered patterns, his larger-than life portraits of children and their toys display a sense of yearning, lack of joy and disconnect from what should be simple, fun pursuits.

(Elias Izoli, Untitled, Dyptich 250 x 360 cm, Mixed media on canvas, 2017)


Lawrie Shabibi, Shaikha Al Mazrou: Expansion/Extension

For her first solo show in the UAE, Shaikha Al Mazrou continues her experimentations with the sculptural form, always forcefully making human touch present through the way she manipulates her materials. Despite being made of steel they feel full of life, soft and malleable, bent and pulled into new forms. A professor at the College of Fine Arts, Sharjah, Al Mazrou makes the most of the facilities, working on a big scale and for the first time using bright, vibrant colours.

Grey Noise, Lantian Xie: Full Special

A voice for his generation of kids who have grown up in the UAE with mixed ancestry, Lantian Xie plays with the superlatives that are so familiar to a Dubai lexicon for his second solo exhibition at Grey Noise. The title refers to what we all say to petrol attendants when filling up our tanks, while other works comment on the ironic vitamin D deficiency in a sunshine state, exquisite paintings of a Die Hard billboard, a lost dog poster, a screen shot of celebrity child North West on an iPhone and an advertisement for Dubai apartments in an airport in India all reflect on our 21st-century visual stimuli and pursuit of happiness.

Green Art Gallery: Remnants

When Yasmin Atassi, Director of Green Art Gallery, met curator Sara Alonso Gomez in Havanathe idea of a group exhibition juxtaposing artists from Cuba and the Middle East was born. Remnants refers to what is left behind, the remaining part of a whole. Reynier Leyva Novo’s Happy Days, a series of photographs turns archiving on its head by removing powerful figures from historical photographs. Fatma Bucak’s Scouring the Press questions censorship and the labour conditions of the Kurdish minority in Turkey. Wilfredo Prieto’s Anti-pigeon lines, anti-personal lines fills the gallery with surprisingly beautiful metallic forms. Jenny Feal in The weight that counts covers a wall clock from a second-hand market with clay whilst Nazgol Ansarinia mutilates a mattress and stiches it back together. Ghaith Mofeed’s Citizen of my world puts Syria at the centre of a stitched world map but reveals how few countries he is allowed to visit.

d Academy by YADP, Material Pursuits: Objects, Prototypes and Material Explorations

A showcase of works by faculty at the College of Architecture, Art & Design (CAAD) at the American University of Sharjah (AUS) dedicated to the act of making, revealing the hands-on production that goes into making new objects and works of art. Material prototypes present a spirit of exploration and invention, ways of reusing materials to make something new.

Gulf Photo Plus: Community exhibition: No Place Like Home

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘home’? There can be no more personal a feeling – the photographs here for the most part share a sorrow and displacement which is all too familiar for those living in the UAE. The cramped living conditions of many, the distance from loved ones… Sometimes it’s objects that connect you with home, for others it can be a smell, a memory, a texture. There is humour too, laughter, togetherness. 

Carbon 12: I can bite the hand that feeds me, and gently caress it too

Paintings by 10 artists, some of them like André Butzer and Philip Mueller who are regulars with the gallery, others are new – all share an interest in breaking down the definitions of portraiture, surely the most obvious way we find human presence in artworks. The gallery is telling a particular history of art, elements of cubism, expressionism and surrealism are there – Butzer often shares a look and feel of Jean-Michel Basquiat and the pivotal piece in the show is in the gallery’s golden spot, round a corner: a mixed-media intervention on a Matisse catalogue raisonné.

(Nazim Ünal Yilmaz, Atlas (dyptich), 2x50x40cm, Oil on canvas, naillack and panty-hose, 2018)


The Third Line: Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: The Breeze at Dawn Has Secrets To Tell You & Nima Nabavi: 1,2,3

‘Don't go back to sleep!’ the Rumi quote tells us at the entrance of the gallery – where we certainly feel as though we are entering a personal, domestic space. Not for the first time, Monir Farmanfarmaian has created a new world through her spectacular mirrored artworks – although here she has smashed them, revealing the human touch of course – but also framed them within venetian blinds and talisman pendants (memories of her childhood nanny) so you feel you are in her home.

As for Nima Nabavi, who presented his first solo show at the Third Line, his attention to detail and capacity for human perfection and mastery of penmanship through his works is staggering. These three series progress from one to another, adding colour and density each time.


Putting the artist back in centre stage, ‘The Role of the Artist’ trail admits the importance of knowing the things they experienced, the places they visited, the people they met.