Wednesday, March 30, 2011

UAE art shows coincide with Arab Spring

The Economist:
The fair’s patron is Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. In advance of his arrival, a member of his entourage visited every booth to make sure that nothing might cause offence. The censor proved to be more tolerant this year than last, objecting to just one work rather than three.

Yet the lone offender said much about UAE sensitivities. Installed on the stand of the Parisian Galerie Hussenot, “The Lost Springs” by Mounir Fatmi consisted of a row of national flags. Whereas the Tunisian and Egyptian flags were held up by brooms, the other Middle Eastern flags, including those of the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Bahrain, were hung on the wall. The sculpture was wonderfully puzzling. Should old regimes be brushed away? Will the new democracies be cleaner? Despite the ambiguity, Galerie Hussenot was instructed to remove the brooms every time a dignitary walked past.

Up the dusty highway, the Sharjah Biennial also exhibited a range of different political work. The star of the show and a winner of the Sharjah Biennial prize was Imran Qureshi, an artist based in Lahore. “Blessings Upon the Land of My Love”, a floor painting, evoked the violence of Pakistan’s troubled parliamentary republic. In a large brick-lined courtyard, Mr Qureshi created a crime scene—at once both horrifying and beautiful—in which red paint was used to look like pooling blood or life-affirming foliage. “The role of art is not miraculously to right all the wrongs of the world,” said Suzanne Cotter, one of the biennial’s curators. “It is about recognising the world’s complexity.”

A handful of artists who weren’t exhibiting in the biennial complicated its official opening by distributing flyers bearing the names of the people killed in Bahrain. Public protest is illegal in the UAE but the activists (none of whom was an Emirati) claimed it was an artwork. The local police arrested them before they could make much of an impact. They were questioned for half a day before being released.

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