📘 E-Issue 05 ––VCE Fall 2022
  1. Editor’s Note
  2. What’s On in VCE
  3. Pop(Corn): UAE National Pavilion
  4. Rapport: Venice
  5. Zeitgeist of our Time: Füsun Onur for the Turkish Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale
  6. GAD’s Top Picks: National Pavilions
  7. Strangers to the Museum Wall: Kehinde Wiley’s Venice Exhibition Speaks of Violence and Portraiture
  8. Questioning Everyday Life: Alluvium by Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian at OGR Torino in Venice

📒 E-Issue 04 ––IST Spring 2022
  1. Editor’s Note
  2. What’s On in IST
  3. Pop(Corn): Refik Anadol
  4. Rapport: Istanbul
  5. Independent Spaces in Istanbul: Sarp Özer on Operating AVTO

E-04++ Spring/Summer 2022
Creating an Artist Books Library in Istanbul: Aslı Özdoyuran on BAS
How Pearl Lam Built Her Gallery Between China and Europe
What’s On in the UAE: Our Top Summer Picks
DXB Art Jameel Joins The World Weather Network in a Groundbreaking Response to Global Climate Crisis
DXB “Geometry is Everywhere”: An Interview and Walking Tour of Order of Magnitude, Jitish Kallat’s Solo Exhibition at Dubai’s Ishara Art Foundation
“We Are Witnessing History”: Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian On Their Retrospective Exhibition at NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery
 Istanbul’s 5533 Presents Nazlı Khoshkhabar’s “Around and Round”
HK Startbahn Presents “Made in Japan 3.0: Defining a New Phy-gital Reality”, an NFT Pop-Up at K11 Art Mall
DXB Dubai's Postmodern Architecture: Constructing the Future with 3dr Models
📘 E-Issue 03 –– TYO Fall 2021
  1. Editor’s Note
  2. What’s On in TYO
  3. Pop(Corn): Nimyu
  4. Ahmad The Japanese: Bady Dalloul on Japan and Belonging
  5. Rapport: Tokyo 
  6. Alexandre Taalba Redefines Virtuality at The 5th Floor
  7. Imagining Distant Ecologies in Hypersonic Tokyo: A Review of “Floating Between the Tropical and Glacial Zones”
  8. Ruba Al-Sweel Curates “Garden of e-arthly Delights” at SUMAC Space
  9. Salwa Mikdadi Reflects on the Opening of NYU Abu Dhabi’s Arab Center for the Study of Art

E-03++ Fall/Winter 2021-22
Art Dubai Digital, An Alternative Art World?
Must-See Exhibitions in Dubai - Art Week Edition 2022
Prepare The Ingredients and Let The Rest Flow: Miramar and Zaid’s “Pure Data” Premieres at Satellite for Quoz Arts Fest 2022
 Akira Takayama on McDonald’s Radio University, Heterotopia, and Wagner Project
AUH Woman as a Noun, and a Practice: “As We Gaze Upon Her” at Warehouse421
AAN The Labor of Art and the Art of Labor: Christopher Benton on His First Exhibition in Al Ain
IST “Once Upon a Time Inconceivable”: A Review and a Conversation
RUH Misk Art Institute’s Annual Flagship Exhibition Explores the Universality of Identity
RUH HH Prince Fahad Al Saud Discusses Saudi Arabia’s Artistic Renaissance
Engage101 Presents “Connected, Collected” at Sotheby’s Dubai

📕 E-Issue 02
NYC Spring 2021
  1. Editor’s Note
  2. What’s On in NYC
  3. Pop(Corn): Zeid Jaouni
  4. You Can Take The Girl Out Of The City 
  5. Rapport: NYC
  6. Kindergarten Records Discuss The Future of Electronic Music
  7. Sole DXB Brings NY Hip-Hop To Abu Dhabi
  8. Wei Han Finds ‘Home’ In New York
  9. Vikram Divecha: Encounters and Negotiations

E-02++ Spring/Summer 2021
DXB “After The Beep”: A Review and Some Reflections
OSA Rintaro Fuse Curates “Silent Category” at Creative Center Osaka
AUH “Total Landscaping”at Warehouse 421
TYO “Mimicry of Hollows” Opens at The 5th Floor
TYO Startbahn, Japan’s Leading Art Blockchain Company, Builds a New Art Infrastructure for the Digital Age
DXB There Is A You In The Cloud You Can’t Delete: A Review of “Age of You” at Jameel Arts Centre
BAH Mihrab: Mysticism, Devotion, and Geo-Identity
LDN Fulfilment Services Ltd. Questions Techno-Capitalism on Billboards in London
DXB Ana Escobar: Objects Revisited
TYO BIEN Opens Two Solo Exhibitions in Island Japan and Parcel
CTU/AUH/YYZ Sabrina Zhao: Between Abu Dhabi, Sichuan, and Toronto
RUH Noor Riyadh Shines Light on Saudi Arabia’s 2030 Art Strategy
DXB A Riot Towards Landscapes
DXB A ‘Menu Poem’ and All That Follows
DXB Alserkal Art Week Top Picks 
DXB Permeability and Regional Nodes: Sohrab Hura on Curating Growing Like a Tree at Ishara Art Foundation
AUH Re-viewing Contrasts: Hyphenated Spaces at Warehouse421
DXB There’s a Hurricane at the Foundry

📙 E-Issue 01 –– AUH/DXB Summer 2020 
  1. Editor’s Note 
  2. What’s On in the UAE
  3. Pop(Corn): Hashel Al Lamki
  4. Tailoring in Abu Dhabi
  5. Rapport: Dubai 
  6. Michael Rakowitz From the Diaspora

E-01++ Fall/Winter 2020-21
GRV MIA Anywhere Hosts First Virtual Exhibition of Female Chechen Artists    
DXB Sa Tahanan Collective Redefines Home for Filipino Artists
SHJ Sharjah Art Foundation Jets Ahead on the Flying Saucer
AUH SEAF Cohort 7 at Warehouse 421 
DXB 101 Strikes Again with Second Sale at Alserkal Avenue
DXB Spotlight on Dubai Design Week 2020
DXB Melehi’s Waves Complicate Waving Goodbye
DXB Kanye Says Listen to the Kids: Youth Takeover at Jameel Arts Centre
DAM Investigating the Catalogues of the National Museum of Damascus
AUH Ogamdo: Crossing a Cultural Highway between Korea and the UAE
TYO James Jarvis Presents Latest Collages at 3110NZ
DXB Do You See Me How I See You?
DXB Thaely Kicks Off Sustainable Sneakers
AUH BAIT 15 Welcomes New Member Zuhoor Al Sayegh
MIA a_part Gives Artists 36 Hours to React

UAE Tawahadna Introduces MENA Artists to a Global Community
LHR/CAI Alaa Hindia’s Jewelry Revives Egyptian Nostalgia
DXB Taaboogah Infuses Comedy Into Khaleeji Menswear
DXB Meet Tamila Kochkarova Behind ‘No Boys Allowed’
DXB Alserkal Arts Foundation Presents Mohamed Melehi
AUH/DXB 101 Pioneers Ethical and Curious Art Collecting
AUH Sarah Almehairi Initiates Conversations
DXB Augustine Paredes Taking Up Space
LHR/MCT Hanan Sultan Rhymes Frankincense with Minimalism
BEY GAD Map: Arts & Culture Relief for Beirut

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🎙️ GAD Talk Series –– Season 1 2020
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8. Ruba Al-Sweel Curates “Garden of e-arthly Delights” at SUMAC Space

By Sophie Arni

Published on October 1st, 2021

       This fall, closer to our UAE homebase, Ruba Al-Sweel is curating an online exhibition entitled “Garden of e-arthly Delights.” Hosted at SUMAC Space, the exhibition features the works of eight artists, based in and around the GCC, whose work deal with memes as subject and medium. Centered in the Gulf context where digital penetration is particularly high, especially amongst its youth-driven demographic, the online exhibition format proposes videos, digital collages, and other forms of critical engagement with technology. On view are both highlights of GCC-centric peer-to-peer interactions, and works which take as inspiration a broader geographical perspective – connecting the Gulf to Asian and American web aesthetics and social dilemmas. The Internet fuels our global imagination, and memes are visual proof that contemporary artists’ influences today go beyond what Bosch imagined in his Garden of Earthly Delights. I had the pleasure to speak with Ruba, over DMs and Google docs, and pick her brains on this exhibition concept and her choice of artworks.

1. Persia Beheshti, Earthbound, 2021. Courtesy of the artist.

Sophie Arni: Could you tell us more about this exhibition title, “Garden of e-arthly Delights”? 

Ruba Al-Sweel: I’m quite fascinated with Hieronymus Bosch’s painting of the same name. The visual breadth and scale, the depth of the subject matter, the endless scenarios it portrays – it reminds me of the multi-layered dimensions of the web and the sheer visual pollution and digital detritus we are presented daily and that just gush at you from each direction. So as the show is literally about just that – the layers of the web – I thought the name was apt, with the ‘e’ in ‘earth’ treated as a prefix which normally indicates that something happens on or uses the internet.

I’m quite fascinated with Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. The visual breadth and scale, the depth of the subject matter, the endless scenarios it portrays – it reminds me of the multi-layered dimensions of the web.

2. Nadim Choufi, I’m Here, 2018 Courtesy of the artist.

S.A.: References to religion felt throughout the works of the exhibition: in everyday, vernacular chat language (Nadim Choufi), or the poignant “There will never be God on the Internet” (Persia Beheshti’s Earthbound), and in subcultures archive (Gulfgraphixx). Do you think the “crevices of the web” can be filled in by some kind of spiritual “garden of e-arthly delights”?

R.S.: The garden of e-arthly delights is the crevice – it’s the subterranean level underneath the clear web and where grievances are aired and needs and aspirations of the material world are not met. It’s at once, a safe refuge for that which hasn’t found a place in our world, and a sleeper cell of neurosis and ideology. Since it’s unchecked, and rarely subject to the terms and conditions, rules and regulation, social contract and decorum of our physical world, it tends to spiral out of control - meaning, while you’ll find harmless pop culture fan groups, you’ll also find extremist and fringe ideas fermenting in some circle, where people of similar ideas find ripples of resonance and validation.

3. Fatemeh Kazemi and Maryam Faridani, shad bash, 2021. Courtesy of the artist.

S.A.: In the exhibition foreword, you mention the “shifting policies of big tech and an institutional rejection and art market failure to [...] absorb them”: are you suggesting art institutions and market players have been too slow to realize the impact of the image-sharing economy?

R.S.: That, and also the subject matter. Those gatekeeping the GCC art world don’t find the ideas addressed here as especially profitable or palatable. I think art-making is facing a real dilemma here because its definition can’t go beyond art for selling or art for diplomacy and soft power. So whatever is mounted on gallery walls or commissioned to occupy public spaces is really shaped by how it would be perceived. There are efforts to centre audience engagement and community building but are drowned out, sadly.

Those gatekeeping the GCC art world don’t find the ideas addressed here as especially profitable or palatable. I think art-making is facing a real dilemma here because its definition can’t go beyond art for selling or art for diplomacy and soft power.

S.A.: All the works on view deal with the idea of archive and research-based practices, and include collages of found footage. Familiarity with social contexts surrounding the found footage is critical to the works’ understanding. Is this why you wanted to include “Artist Rooms” – to give the audience more context to every work and every artist?

R.S.: The Artist Rooms are a staple of the SUMAC platform which I very much agree on the necessity for, especially when addressing meme art. As much as it is about aesthetic consideration, it’s also about ideology, psychological state and political context, so the maker is really at the centre of it and the long tired and hackeyned debate of whether you can ‘seperate the artist from the art’ is especially untrue here - the memelord is both the artist and the art.

S.A.: Who is your target audience for this exhibition?

R.S.: Anyone on the internet really. If the last few years proved anything, it’s that everyone has migrated to the web, and has accrued some great digital real estate. I was quite surprised (and really proud) to learn that the exhibition had over 360 visitors in the first week, most of which spent quality time on the platform, which means they really connected with it.

If the last few years proved anything, it’s that everyone has migrated to the web, and has accrued some great digital real estate.

S.A.: Artists on view are “based in or around the GCC.” I’m interested in “GCC-diaspora” artists: how would you categorize them? E.g. artists based in the US or Europe who were either born or have experience living in the GCC. 

R.S.: It’s hard to approach this methodically but everyone in the show is there because I’ve known them through the Dubai art world connection. We have all passed through the city at some point, looking for resonance and community against a shifting landscape, mainly a personal inner landscape as we advance in our journeys. Some have grown up in Dubai but are of other origins and have outgrown it to find homes elsewhere, while others have been drawn to Dubai from Europe or America or anywhere in the region, for the same reason. Some were just passing through.

Everyone in the show is there because I’ve known them through the Dubai art world connection.

4. Ahaad Al Amoudi, Hengli, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.

S.A.: Hengli is a work by Ahaad Alamoudi and Mengna Da. What are your views about immigration issues and their relationship to the GCC?

R.S.: There are migrant issues, which have found their way into our GCC art world contexts to offset some guilt or act as some sort of ‘poverty porn’. Then there are immigration issues which we are not doing enough about, but I also caution from thinking the current state of art affairs is the platform to be moral posturing in this way.

S.A.: Thinking of Christopher Benton in the framework of this exhibition – how did you go about choosing his work Who Gets Paid for Digital Labor in this GCC-centric exhibition? He deals with US discourse but also refers to memes as global phenomena. 

R.S.: It’s hard for US discourse to remain in the US. Everyone has an opinion about the elections. But that’s not why Christopher’s work is in the show - I thought of how memes quickly become a marketing gimmick. How many times have we seen Emirates airlines co-opt a viral TikTok video format for financial gain?

It’s hard for US discourse to remain in the US.

5. Basmah Felemban, The Jirry Tribe Stop, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.

S.A.: You are showing Basmah Felemban’s game. How does its abstract nature relate to other works in the exhibition targeted on subcultures?

R.S.: Basmah’s work is about world-building, which is very much the idea behind logging onto the web and looking for community. This virtual world replaces the physical. It becomes the limits of your reality, which is the premise of consensus reality.

6. Shamiran Istifan, Hauncted by Kings and Kovboys, 2021. Courtesy of the artist.

S.A.: Finally, I’d love to know more about artists Persia Beheshti and Shamiran Istifan, and your previous show “Law and Order” at Kulturforger Zürich.

R.S.: Apart from being brilliant artists with diverse practices, I connected with both on our interest in testing what we know about the limits of the material world. Law & Order is an exhibition that acted as a think tank in which we researched Jinn mythology, family lore and different systems of belief that govern and structure our lives.

“Garden of e-arthly Delights” is on view at SUMAC Space [online] until November 2nd, 2021. 
Visit the exhibition online

Edit [11/02/2021]: The exhibition has been extended until November 15, 2021.
Ruba Al-Sweel is a Dubai-based writer, critic and researcher of art from, about, and around the Middle East. Her writing has appeared in the Brooklyn Rail, Art Asia Pacific, Vogue, and VICE, among many other publications. She also manages strategic and global communications at Art Jameel, an independent organization that supports artists and creative communities.