E-Issue 07 –– AUH
Winter 2023-24

January 29th, 2024

  1. Editor’s Note
  2. What’s On in Abu Dhabi/Dubai
  3. Cover Interview: Shaikha Al Ketbi on Darawan
  4. Rapport: Public Art in the Gulf and a Case Study of Manar Abu Dhabi
  5. Hashel Al Lamki’s Survey Exhibition Maqam Reflects on a Decade of Practice in Abu Dhabi
  6. “You Can’t Stand on a Movement”: Michelangelo Pistoletto Interviews Benton Interviewing Pistoletto

Winter/Spring 2024

Curators Interview May 14, 2024
AUH Embracing Change through an Open System: Maya Allison and Duygu Demir on “In Real Time” at NYUAD Art Gallery

About ––

    What We Do
    Editorial Board

Interviews ––

    Selected Archive

Open Call ––

    E-08 Seoul

Newsletter ––

Chronological Archive ––

    Selected Archive

Artist Interview November 18th, 2016
AUH Raed Yassin in Abu Dhabi

Editorial March 1st, 2018
AUH Abu Dhabi Is The New Calabasas

Exhibition Listing May 22nd, 2018
DXB Christopher Benton: If We Don't Reclaim Our History, The Sand Will

Artist Interview June 15th, 2018
TYO An Interview with BIEN, a Rising Japanese Artist

Artist Interview July 17th, 2018
TYO Rintaro Fuse on Selfies and Cave Painting

Artist Interview August 28th, 2018
BER Slavs and Tatars: “Pulling a Thread to Undo The Sweater”

Artist Interview September 1st, 2018
NYC Shirin Neshat In Conversation with Sophie Arni and Ev Zverev

Artist Interview September 1st, 2018
PAR Hottest Spices: Michèle Lamy

E-Issue 01 –– AUH/DXB
Summer 2020

August 1st, 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

Fall/Winter 2020-21

Artist Interview August 23rd, 2020
LHR/MCT Hanan Sultan Rhymes Frankincense with Minimalism

Artist Interview August 24th, 2020
DXB Augustine Paredes Taking Up Space

Artist Interview August 26th, 2020
AUH Sarah Almehairi Initiates Conversations

Market Interview August 28th, 2020
AUH/DXB 101 Pioneers Ethical and Curious Art Collecting

Exhibition September 1st, 2020
DXB Alserkal Arts Foundation Presents Mohamed Melehi

Market Interview September 4th, 2020
DXB Meet Tamila Kochkarova Behind ‘No Boys Allowed’

Artist Interview September 7th, 2020
DXB Taaboogah Infuses Comedy Into Khaleeji Menswear

Artist Interview September 10th, 2020
LHR/CAI Alaa Hindia’s Jewelry Revives Egyptian Nostalgia

Curator Interview September 14th, 2020
UAE Tawahadna Introduces MENA Artists to a Global Community

Exhibition Review September 24th, 2020
MIA a_part Gives Artists 36 Hours to React

Artist Interview September 27th, 2020
AUH BAIT 15 Welcomes New Member Zuhoor Al Sayegh

Market Interview October 14th, 2021
DXB Thaely Kicks Off Sustainable Sneakers

Exhibition Review October 19th, 2020
DXB Do You See Me How I See You?

Exhibition October 22nd, 2020
TYO James Jarvis Presents Latest Collages at 3110NZ

Exhibition Review October 22nd, 2020
AUH Ogamdo: Crossing a Cultural Highway between Korea and the UAE

Book Review October 28th, 2020
DAM Investigating the Catalogues of the National Museum of Damascus

Exhibition Review November 13th, 2020
Kanye Says Listen to the Kids: Youth Takeover at Jameel Arts Centre

Exhibition Review November 16th, 2021
DXB Melehi’s Waves Complicate Waving Goodbye

Exhibition Review November 19th, 2020
DXB Spotlight on Dubai Design Week 2020

Exhibition Review November 21st, 2020
DXB 101 Strikes Again with Second Sale at Alserkal Avenue

Exhibition Review
November 23rd, 2020

AUH SEAF Cohort 7 at Warehouse 421

Exhibition Review December 9th, 2020
SHJ Sharjah Art Foundation Jets Ahead on the Flying Saucer

Curator Interview January 25th, 2021
DXB Sa Tahanan Collective Redefines Home for Filipino Artists

Exhibition Review February 21st, 2021
GRV MIA Anywhere Hosts First Virtual Exhibition of Female Chechen Artists  

🎙️GAD Talk Series –– Season 1 2020

November 1st, 2020
1. What is Global Art Daily? 2015 to Now

November 16th, 2020
2. Where is Global Art Daily? An Open Coversation on Migration as Art Practitioners

November 29th, 2020
3. When the Youth Takes Over: Reflecting on the 2020 Jameel Arts Centre Youth Takeover

December 20th, 2020
4. Young Curators in Tokyo: The Making of The 5th Floor

January 27th, 2021
5. How To Create Digital Networks in The Art World?

E-Issue 02 –– NYC
Spring 2021

February 21st, 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

Spring/Summer 2021

Exhibition Review March 3rd, 2021
DXB There’s a Hurricane at the Foundry

Exhibition Review March 7th, 2021
AUH Re-viewing Contrasts: Hyphenated Spaces at Warehouse421

Curator Interview March 21st, 2021
DXB Permeability and Regional Nodes: Sohrab Hura on Curating Growing Like a Tree at Ishara Art Foundation

Exhibition March 28th, 2021
DXB Alserkal Art Week Top Picks

Exhibition Review April 1st, 2021
DXB A ‘Menu Poem’ and All That Follows

Exhibition Review April 5th, 2021
DXB A Riot Towards Landscapes

Exhibition April 16th, 2021
RUH Noor Riyadh Shines Light on Saudi Arabia’s 2030 Art Strategy

Artist Interview April 26th, 2021
CTU/AUH/YYZ Sabrina Zhao: Between Abu Dhabi, Sichuan, and Toronto

Exhibition Review April 27th, 2021
TYO BIEN Opens Two Solo Exhibitions in Island Japan and Parcel

Artist Interview April 28th, 2021
DXB Ana Escobar: Objects Revisited

Exhibition May 9th, 2021
LDN Fulfilment Services Ltd. Questions Techno-Capitalism on Billboards in London

Artist Interview May 11th, 2021
BAH Mihrab: Mysticism, Devotion, and Geo-Identity

Curator Interview May 20th, 2021
DXB There Is A You In The Cloud You Can’t Delete: A Review of “Age of You” at Jameel Arts Centre

Market Interview May 26th, 2021
TYO Startbahn, Japan’s Leading Art Blockchain Company, Builds a New Art Infrastructure for the Digital Age

Exhibition June 11th, 2021
TYO “Mimicry of Hollows” Opens at The 5th Floor

Exhibiton Review June 20th, 2021
AUH “Total Landscaping”at Warehouse 421

Artist Interview June 30th, 2021
OSA Rintaro Fuse Curates “Silent Category” at Creative Center Osaka

Exhibition Review August 9th, 2021
DXB “After The Beep”: A Review and Some Reflections

E-Issue 03 ––TYO
Fall 2021

October 1st, 2022

  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

Fall/Winter 2021-22

Market Interview October 6th, 2021
RUH HH Prince Fahad Al Saud Discusses Saudi Arabia’s Artistic Renaissance

Exhibition October 7th, 2021
RUH Misk Art Institute’s Annual Flagship Exhibition Explores the Universality of Identity

Curator Interview October 15th, 2021
IST “Once Upon a Time Inconceivable”: A Review and a Conversation

Exhibition Review October 16th, 2021
AUH Woman as a Noun, and a Practice: “As We Gaze Upon Her” at Warehouse421

Exhibition Review February 11th, 2022

Artist Interview February 26th, 2022
TYO Akira Takayama on McDonald’s Radio University, Heterotopia, and Wagner Project

Artist Interview March 10th, 2022
DXB Prepare The Ingredients and Let The Rest Flow: Miramar and Zaid’s “Pure Data” Premieres at Satellite for Quoz Arts Fest 2022

Exhibition March 11th, 2022
DXB Must-See Exhibitions in Dubai - Art Week Edition 2022

Exhibition Review March 14th, 2022
DXB Art Dubai Digital, An Alternative Art World?

E-Issue 04 –– IST
Spring 2022

March 15th, 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

Spring/Summer 2022

Curator Interview March 21st, 2022

Market Interview March 28th, 2022
DXB Dubai's Postmodern Architecture: Constructing the Future with 3dr Models

Exhibition April 23rd, 2022
HK Startbahn Presents “Made in Japan 3.0: Defining a New Phy-gital Reality”, an NFT Pop-Up at K11 Art Mall

Exhibition May 6th, 2022
Istanbul’s 5533 Presents Nazlı Khoshkhabar’s “Around and Round”

Artist Interview May 13th, 2022
“We Are Witnessing History”: Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian On Their Retrospective Exhibition at NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery

Artist Interview June 13th, 2022
DXB “Geometry is Everywhere”: An Interview and Walking Tour of Order of Magnitude, Jitish Kallat’s Solo Exhibition at Dubai’s Ishara Art Foundation

Exhibition June 21st, 2022
DXB Art Jameel Joins The World Weather Network in a Groundbreaking Response to Global Climate Crisis

Exhibition June 27th, 2022
What’s On in the UAE: Our Top Summer Picks

Curator Interview July 9th, 2022
IST Creating an Artist Books Library in Istanbul: Aslı Özdoyuran on BAS

E-Issue 05 –– VCE
Fall 2022

September 5th, 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

Fall/Winter 2022-23

Market Interview June 28th, 2022
How Pearl Lam Built Her Gallery Between China and Europe

Exhibition November 11th, 2022
“Atami Blues” Brings Together UAE-Based and Japanese Artists in HOTEL ACAO ANNEX

Exhibition December 2nd, 2022
TYO Wetland Lab Proposes Sustainable Cement Alternative in Tokyo

Artist Interview December 9th, 2022
DXB Navjot Altaf Unpacks Eco-Feminism and Post-Pandemic Reality at Ishara Art Foundation

Artist Interview January 8th, 2023
TYO Shu Yonezawa and the Art of Animation

Artist Interview January 19th, 2023
NYC Reflecting on Her Southwestern Chinese Bai Roots, Peishan Huang Captures Human Traces on Objects and Spaces

Exhibition Review February 9th, 2023
DXB Augustine Paredes Builds His Paradise Home at Gulf Photo Plus

Artist Interview February 22nd, 2023
DXB Persia Beheshti Shares Thoughts on Virtual Worlds and the State of Video Art in Dubai Ahead of Her Screening at Bayt Al Mamzar

E-Issue 06 –– DXB/SHJ
Spring 2023

April 12th, 2023

  1. Editor’s Note
  2. What’s On in the UAE
  3. Pop(Corn): Jumairy
  4. Rapport: Art Dubai 2023
  5. Highlights from Sharjah Biennial 15
  6. Is Time Just an Illusion? A Review of "Notations on Time" at Ishara Art Foundation
  7. Saif Mhaisen and His Community at Bayt AlMamzar

DXB Christopher Joshua Benton to Debut Mubeen, City as Archive at The Third Line Shop in Collaboration with Global Art Daily

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3. Cover Interview: Shaikha Al Ketbi on Darawan  

Interview by Sophie Mayuko Arni

Published on January 29, 2024

        The success of Manar Abu Dhabi is undeniable. Simply measure the number of visitors lining up to visit the five different hubs of Abu Dhabi’s inaugural light art exhibition: thousands per night, ready to be enchanted by new experiences of public art, technological prowess, and scale. Not to mention the intrigue of visiting hidden enclaves of the UAE’s capital.

For our cover interview, I had the chance to exchange thoughts with Shaikha Al Ketbi. Together with Rawdha Al Ketbi and Ayesha Hadhir, the three Al Ain natives established an art collective in 2019, and have since exhibited widely in the UAE and internationally. Their Darawan installation, commissioned for Manar Abu Dhabi, is made of three large-scale sculptures placed poetically throughout the city’s Eastern Mangroves – a magical location, fit for a magic-inducing work. It’s safe to say the photorealistic render of Darawan’s carousel has attained some kind of iconic status, featured since November in all Manar Abu Dhabi branding and advertisements from Marina Mall to Saadiyat Island.

Darawan features a staircase, a carousel, and a sculpture of three women: three striking symbols, made on a monumental scale with LED lights that resemble street light decorations of Abu Dhabi. Made to respond to the environment, Darawan succeeds in being highly site-specific, while also adding a sense of wonder and whimsical nostalgia to the Eastern Mangroves. True to the artists’ intentions, the three sculptures give space for the inner child to dream and wonder – an idea, a sketch, a render coming alive. 

Darawan can’t help but leave some magic behind. As you will read in the following interview, the three sculptures also feed into larger existential questions about womanhood, cycles of life, and the afterlife.

1. Ayesha Hadhir, Rawdha Al Ketbi, Shaikha Al Ketbi, Darawan, Manar Abu Dhabi 2023. Courtesy the artists and DCT Abu Dhabi. Photo by Colin Robertson.

Darawan: Behind-the-Scenes

Sophie Mayuko Arni: Darawan, your work for the inaugural edition of Manar Abu Dhabi has been a huge success. I see the installation shots projected on screens and printed all over Abu Dhabi, and Dubai too. Huge congratulations!

Let’s start with your working process for this massive outdoor installation in the Eastern Mangroves. When and how did you first start working on conceptualizing Darawan?

Shaikha Al Ketbi: We were approached by Manar Abu Dhabi earlier in 2023, in the first half of the year. Really, we’ve always been instinctively drawn to these three specific forms.

First, we have the carousel. I’ve always wanted to replicate a carousel in Al Ain, found in Hili Fun City, a place I grew up in, and a place Rawdha and Ayesha frequented throughout their lives. That carousel looks like a foreign object to the UAE, but the paintings on the decorations were all hand-painted scenes from daily life in the Emirates. One is a dalla, with little cups next to it, another scene is a dhow in the water, and another scene is a fort in Al Ain. It creates this quirky combination of scenes that are very UAE-centric, and then a carousel, an object that is associated with places throughout the world.

It creates this quirky combination of scenes that are very UAE-centric, and then a carousel, an object that is associated with places throughout the world.

2. Ayesha Hadhir, Rawdha Al Ketbi, Shaikha Al Ketbi, Carousel, Darawan, Manar Abu Dhabi 2023. Image courtesy the artists.

The carousel was an idea we always had, and we were thinking of how to combine different elements existing within our bodies of work to create an image that defines the three of us.

We had other smaller projects that revolved around the carousel. We have a jewelry piece that represents this carousel actually, created by Ayesha, and I’ve been drawing it since at least 2017 and also created a video work around the actual carousel in Al Ain for an exhibition in Diriyah in 2019. It’s a big dream of ours to realize that specific sculpture at this scale.

For the other sculpture of the three women – we created a version of this for a previous artwork, also commissioned by DCT, in Jebel Hafeet. We wanted to reintroduce those sculptures in a new way for Manar, and make them more monumental, larger, made out of brass sheets – we just wanted to revisit that concept and continue that conversation.

3. Ayesha Hadhir, Rawdha Al Ketbi, Shaikha Al Ketbi, Intergenerational Women, Darawan, Manar Abu Dhabi 2023. Image courtesy the artists.

The stairs have appeared in a previous project, called Ayyn in Jebel Hafeet – the stairs have been appearing multiple times in my own practice – especially as vehicles for performance. We wanted to create something that was truly monumental, that truly felt like it was completely out of place, in the middle of the water. We wanted to inspire people to think about cycles of life and the afterlife.

When we think about this as women, life before birth already encompasses our life here on earth. Each female fetus already has all the eggs she would have in her lifetime, so life already exists in her body while she is in the mother’s womb. You know your daughters and sons on a biological level before you are even born. We were thinking about that, and then the trials and tribulations of actual life, post-birth, pre-death, and post-death. What is the afterlife?

The staircase has two entrances: there is an entry point at the bottom of the stairs and a big gate at the top. We are thinking about the cycle of entry and exit: the entry and exit to life, as we are walking upwards or downwards, and how the water reflection, when viewed with all these lenses, plays into that.

5. Ayesha Hadhir, Rawdha Al Ketbi, Shaikha Al Ketbi, Staircase, Darawan, Manar Abu Dhabi 2023. Image courtesy the artists.

We are thinking about the entry and exit to life, as we are walking upwards or downwards, and how the water reflection, when viewed with all these lenses, plays into that.

Through my trip to see the artwork, I’ve seen that the water reflections make up a whole other dance on their own. The reflections are performative and all-encompassing, they are just so beautiful and add so much to the work. That’s one important aspect.

S.M.A.: Tell us about the Eastern Mangroves location. Were you assigned this location, or did you pick it yourselves? For readers who aren’t too familiar with mangroves in Abu Dhabi, could you describe it in a few words? 

S.K.: There were multiple locations when we were approached for the project, but we knew we wanted to go for the Eastern Mangroves, and we knew we wanted to unravel this natural journey with our three sculptures. Basically, we wanted someone to start the journey and make their own connections, so all three sculptures have their own breathing space. Each sculpture is not directly visible from one to the next, you have to be on the boat to experience all three, as part of a journey. 

Each sculpture is not directly visible from one to the next, you have to be on the boat to experience all three, as part of a journey.

The mangroves line the Eastern side of Abu Dhabi Island with the entire coast. Mangroves make up these lush green forests, of salt-water mangrove plants. The mangrove itself has been an important part of Abu Dhabi’s ecosystem and has been celebrated before – especially in the 49th UAE National Day celebration which I worked on. Mangroves are responsible for a huge amount of carbon capture. They also have been manually planted as part of a large undertaking project by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan – he started planting mangroves in Abu Dhabi and made sure that the project continued throughout multiple decades, and we know that mangroves continue to be planted until now.

For us, in the UAE, the mangroves act as a rainforest. In parallel to capturing carbon, and releasing oxygen, they also are very important to regulate the weather.

Abu Dhabi is a collection of hundreds of islands, so it was a historical decision to intentionally plant mangroves around them. We’ve seen how much they’ve been highlighted and talked about in COP 28 for example.

If we were to describe the installation to someone who hasn’t been before, you would be on a boat or on a kayak. You enter into a large pathway made of water, and you see luscious green mangroves on each side, left and right. You feel this pathway will continue forever. Then you see the sculptures – two of them are out in the open area, and one of them is hidden, in of the canals of the mangrove forest. That’s the carousel, and it requires a longer track, and it requires the tide to be at a specific level.

6. Ayesha Hadhir, Rawdha Al Ketbi, Shaikha Al Ketbi, Staircase, Darawan, Manar Abu Dhabi 2023. Image courtesy the artists.

S.M.A.: Installation-wise, this is a huge undertaking – I can only imagine the number of engineers, CAD designers, architects, and fabricators involved in making these pieces a reality. Is it your first time working on such a large scale? Can you give us some glimpses into the process of making Darawan? I’m sure there were moments when you thought it would be impossible to achieve but persevered through it.

S.K.: First of all, it started with a sketch that I drew – with Rawdha in the room of course, and Ayesha is a step ahead by generating images from our old works using Midjourney. We knew that we wanted to do three different sculptures: a set of stairs, another sculpture celebrating women, and the carousel.

The process started with conceptualization and sketching. Then it went to a group of renderers, who ended up creating almost exactly what we see now in real life. All the images that the renderers have created ended up going to the visual campaign of Manar the project, and they got really close to the real-life sculptures. There is that part of the process: from the sketches to the renders to real life.

Moving on to suppliers, we worked with different fabricators for the metal works and the LED lights. The LED lights supplier is someone who has a very big role in Abu Dhabi every year, as he’s the main supplier for the light displays for Ramadan, Eid, and the different light decorations that we see in Abu Dhabi – on the Corniche, over the bridges. Throughout the year, all the lights we see on the roads are created by the same company, called Nubani Electrical. We worked directly with Naeem Nubani, who has been working with the company for many, many years. He conceptualizes the designs we see around town, and oversees their installation in Abu Dhabi, in the Western Region, and Al Ain. He does a lot of that work for the Abu Dhabi municipality.

We’ve been working with him on different projects in the past. When we got the call for Manar, he was the perfect person to work with. For us, the aesthetic of the project already fits with the visual language of Abu Dhabi. We all feel that those LED lights that we see throughout the year are such a prominent part of the visual language of the city. Those lights and their different designs are part of our landscape growing up over the past couple of decades.

7. Ayesha Hadhir, Rawdha Al Ketbi, Shaikha Al Ketbi, Intergenerational Women, Darawan, Manar Abu Dhabi 2023. Image courtesy the artists.

The aesthetic of the project already fits with the visual language of Abu Dhabi. We all feel that those LED lights that we see throughout the year are such a prominent part of the visual language of the city.

So he was the perfect person to work with in terms of the fabrication and as a supplier. We had to work around some solutions, relating to sourcing some of the materials, and making sure they follow the sketch and render we had.

The other part is the installation, with sculptures safely placed in the water. We were thinking of having the ladies' sculptures placed on buoys, so they would be shaking/rolling around in the water, so they have more motion in the water. There were technical difficulties with that, so for the sculptures – they are each standing on platforms that allow for heavy weights to be correctly balanced on top of them and allow space for solar power panels to exist within their vicinity. We use solar energy to light the sculptures up at night.

S.M.A.: I’m wondering about your collaborative process, as artists who have their own individual practice and also work together. The carousel, the staircase, and the intergenerational grandmother, mother, and daughter; are all reflective of Ayesha’s, and Rawdha’s and your practice weaved together. Any advice for other collectives or artists who want to make work as a group?

S.K.: Working as a group is not an easy undertaking. It helps that we had a similar upbringing, and lives similar lives as we grew up in Abu Dhabi, and also went to the same university, in the same Zayed University Visual Arts program. To some extent, we were primed to work together. Of course, Abu Dhabi 2019 Beyond Emerging Artist curated by Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, and Hesam Rahmanian, they were the ones who convinced us to officially collaborate.

We learned so much from them. Mainly, being open to each other. Lowering down the walls. A lot of artists tend to be extremely protective as they build out their practice, they become protective of their motifs, and they become protective of things that they claim as their own. But we’ve seen the magic that happens when you become less protective and more open, and you reach out to the other person.

My strength, for example, is drawing on paper, and imagining things to be read. Once those drawings go into the hands of Rawdha and Ayesha, they create beautiful objects with them: jewelry, clothing, sculptures, huge sculptures, installations. They think in 3D.

Collaborating is always super rewarding, each of us really respects each others’ practice, and each of us is genuinely a huge fan of each other’s practice. Once we open up our practice to each other, and we can borrow things from each other, we treat those things with a lot of respect, and a lot of care. Even if we shuffle those motifs, those works still feel like the output of a group, and we are super proud to present them both as a group and as individuals.

A lot of our work just emerges out of our conversations – life conversations, not just about art. We realize there are patterns that we want to talk about, motifs that emerge, within our work.

My main advice for collectives: be open, be generous, be a big fan of your collaborators, and have fun with your work.

8. Ayesha Hadhir, Rawdha Al Ketbi, Shaikha Al Ketbi at Abu Dhabi Art, Beyond: Emerging, 2019. Image courtesy of the artists.

My main advice for collectives: be open, be generous, be a big fan of your collaborators, and have fun with your work.

Darawan: Concept

S.M.A.: On Darawan’s three sculptures: one is Carousel, the other Staircase, and finally Intergenerational Women, which shows three women, who may all be 33 years old. All three sculptures weave your three practices. What does the number three mean to you?

S.K.: I thought about this question a lot actually. I don’t know if it’s early in our art education – throughout photography, and painting – that we learned that the rule of thirds, creates the most balanced composition. I want to extrapolate that idea into working as a trio. Working as a collective.

If the diagram is a triangle, there are two bases of the triangle, which are almost on the ground. And one base is higher up, creating some sort of a hierarchy. We realize a lot of times when working as a group, we don’t need all three hands on deck. We need at least two hands on deck, and the third person can take care of all other responsibilities relating to life, work, and family. So I just wanted to bring this specific thing back to balance.

Sometimes working as a trio will require two of us at a time to take the load, and the third person has more freedom to do other things.

Conceptually, there is an innate, gut feeling, significance of the number three for us. The three artworks are like three focal points. They are how we interpreted the rules of thirds within the mangrove location.

9. Ayesha Hadhir, Rawdha Al Ketbi, Shaikha Al Ketbi, Intergenerational Women, Darawan, Manar Abu Dhabi 2023. Image courtesy the artists.

S.M.A.: The metaphors you chose to symbolize family, loss, dream, whimsical imagination, and childhood, are all quite personal, yet feel universal too. Can you expand on the meaning of Darawan (spinning cycles, or rotation)?

S.K.: Darawan comes from the concept of Da-era (circle in Arabic). Darawan means the act of spinning in a circle. We looked at that from the perspective of the spinning carousel – from different cycles, the carousel represents a lot of our dreams. The act of sleeping and dreaming. Subconscious and conscious. Cycles of sleep and wake. Cycles that we have in the night. The dreams that we have; all of us are active dreamers. We see a lot of visions in our dreams that we end up creating as artworks. That was specifically the case for the carousel. We wanted it to feel like waking up from a dream, waking up from a hazy memory. This cycle of wake and sleep –and deep sleep. This is what we talked about in terms of conceptualizing that artwork.

Looking at the stairs, it’s much more about the circle between life and death, pre-birth, and the afterlife. All three of these concepts are represented within circles. That’s why we came up with the word Darawan, rotating, continuously, on a micro and macro level.

We looked at that from the perspective of the spinning carousel – from different cycles, the carousel represents a lot of our dreams.

10. Ayesha Hadhir, Rawdha Al Ketbi, Shaikha Al Ketbi, Darawan, Manar Abu Dhabi 2023. Courtesy the artists and DCT Abu Dhabi. Photo by Lance Gerber.

Public Art Movement: Is Bigger, Better?

S.M.A.: We can’t deny it: we are living in a public art renaissance. Abu Dhabi is experiencing a massive new shift towards public art with the success of Manar Abu Dhabi and the upcoming biennale as part of Public Art Abu Dhabi, opening next year. What are your thoughts on public art, especially in your home Emirate of Abu Dhabi?

S.K.: It’s the natural next step. It’s been a long time coming. We’ve all been excited. I think the public is ready for art of this scale actually, and has been ready for a long time.

There are monuments in Abu Dhabi, which could be considered on the peripheries of public art. Some of them are still standing now, and some of them have been demolished over the past few decades. Namely, the volcano fountain — you know it was such an interesting monument, I don’t know if we can consider it public art. And now with the huge sculptures of the mubkhar and cannon in downtown Abu Dhabi. Those are super important.

There has been an appetite for public art for a while, I think. There have been attempts to bring art to the public, whether it’s through developers who have been commissioning artworks on a smaller scale in their specific communities, or through municipalities. There have been public artworks placed in Abu Dhabi throughout the decades, we have large artworks but on smaller-scale projects. I think Manar Abu Dhabi was the first attempt at bringing an entire public art exhibition throughout the city.

Especially on Lulu Island, there were a number of interactive artworks that I really enjoyed looking at how the public was interacting with the works. Many times, these were the first time that the audience was interacting with public art. It’s been heartwarming to see how many people are filling up the boats to go to Lulu Island, and how they are interacting with the works. People of all ages, elderly, and children. I’ve been lucky to witness it, and I’m glad I went back home to do that.

I think the public is ready for art of this scale actually, and has been ready for a long time.

S.M.A.: Is bigger always better? How would you feel going back to exhibiting in a white cube, in a traditional art gallery setting?

S.K.: All three of us will be more than comfortable exhibiting in the white cube. We really enjoy large-scale works, we have been working in large scale for a while now. There are many works in parallel to these large-scale projects that are smaller scale, including sketches, furniture pieces, fabric and textile-based works with Ayesha, found object-based works with Rawdha. There is always space and room to go back to the gallery, to the art fair, to the museum.

S.M.A.: After the experience of exhibiting at Manar, do you think the current model of art education – MFAs, studio visits/critiques, residencies, focus on theory – prepares you to do work at this scale? What is missing in the current education ecosystem? I think this is important to answer as contemporary art (in the region and globally) will become synonymous with massive and technologically advanced installations, and artists will increasingly be asked to have the technological know-how to awe audiences with scale.

S.K.: Teaching specific skills relating to fabricating large-scale artworks might not be suited to an art education program such as an MFA, but I do see a world for it. I can imagine a series of workshops with preselected artists within these larger projects such as Manar Abu Dhabi. Once artists are reached out to, they might be offered a specific public art-related course or a fabrication-related course as they start to conceptualize their works. That would allow artists to feel more equipped with thinking on a larger scale, in experimenting in 3D context.

I don’t know yet if there is a readiness or willingness within educational institutions to teach public art yet, because I would assume MFA programs are largely influenced by what the class of faculty can offer. For example, some performance artists get rejected by MFA because there isn’t a faculty member specializing in performance art within that school. The same is applicable to large-scale public art, or fabricating in that scale. I don’t think schools are yet equipped for that, I think special courses or workshops would be better suited for this.

Dawaran (2023) was commissioned by Manar Abu Dhabi 2023 – DCT Abu Dhabi.

Ayesha Hadhir selects chairs, tables, and sofas – some antiques, others with personal memories – that she integrates into her installations to give the audience insight into an Emirati domestic setting. The definition of community for Ayesha is not only limited to modern times: she has an inherited sense of how community was like in the past, especially in relation to the rituals of womanhood. Images of women carrying objects over their heads, filling up containers with water from the falaj, never leave her mind.

Rawdha Al Ketbi seeks out abandoned spaces, which she considers to be archeological sites. She investigates the architectures of the abandoned objects found at these sites, making these objects travel forward in time as Rawdha paints them with acid and other chemicals – this painting ceremony itself serving as the time machine. It is as if through her clairvoyance Rawdha is preparing a runway for the future extra-terrestrial life to descend upon, distorting both time and space in her newest works for this site.

Shaikha Al Ketbi maps out her hometown Al-Ain through objects and places from her memories. She maps her environment, and herself, through rigorous research, driving to known as well as unknown sites, exploring familiar and unfamiliar territories and the objects inhabiting them as if monuments to the private and public, ancient, and modern, built and unfinished. She believes that all monuments- whether they are in our minds or in the physical realm- are equally important. “Our collective artworks, when looked at from the future, in the desert of Al Ain, are equally as important as the tombs, dating back to 3000 BC, that are quite literally a stone-throw away from them in proximity.”

Text courtesy of Manar Abu Dhabi.