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

Exhibition Review July 16, 2024
PAR See Me With Them Hands: Reviewing Giovanni Bassan’s “Private Rooms” at Sainte Anne Gallery

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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Saif Mhaisen and His Community at Bayt AlMamzar

By Sophie Mayuko Arni

Published on April 1st, 2023 Also available in print as part of Global Art Daily Print Publications: Artist Interviews series

        On a sunny Saturday afternoon, I had the pleasure of meeting Saif Mhaisen in his Bayt AlMamzar studio. Bayt AlMamzar is a house-turned-studios and exhibition space for Dubai's growing creative community, located in the quiet neighborhood of AlMamzar and renovated by the original owner’s grandsons, Gaith and Khalid Abdulla. I met Saif after he spent the past year drawing portraits of his community in his studio. The portraits would be shown a week later in the dedicated gallery space two doors away.

1. Saif Mhaisen’s studio at Bayt AlMamzar. Photo by the author.

Facing the window, with natural light slowly dimming to dusk, Saif and I spent four hours talking about our respective journeys, and sharing thoughts about time, attention, and the UAE's art scene. The conversation was as fascinating as the thirteen portraits encircling us – the last and fourteenth was still on its way – with familiar figures quietly posing and giving a certain weight to the words we exchanged.

Saif manages to articulate his struggle with a remarkable eloquence that most certainly comes from a disciplined curiosity. As you will read in this interview, there is no space for a fast-paced race for accomplishments in Saif’s work. It all stems from one-on-one conversations, undivided attention, and the conscious choice to give relationships time. His charcoal peels off layers of protection, and we are left with the human experience, anchored in both fragility and strength.

The following conversation took place on January 28th, 2023.

2. Saif Mhaisen’s studio at Bayt AlMamzar. Photo by the author.

Part 1:I learned the value of community by spending a few years without it”

Sophie Mayuko Arni: We are at Bayt AlMamzar, an independent art space in Dubai offering artists a true sense of community. This is where you will hold your solo opening Saturday, February 11th. The show is titled “Introduction” and features fourteen works on paper, impeccably drawn charcoal portraits. This is your re-introduction to Dubai’s art scene, a return to your community. Let's start from the beginning. Could you tell us about yourself?

Saif Mhaisen: I was born and raised in Dubai. I studied Architecture at the American University of Sharjah, joined SEAF [the Salama bint Hamdan Emerging Artists Fellowship], got an MFA in Painting at RISD [Rhode Island School of Design], then quit everything.

S.M.A.: A lot to unpack here. Let’s talk about architecture first. I can see an obsessive precision in your work, which makes sense given your training. Your use of charcoal too – how long have you been using this medium?

S.M.: I’ve had a relationship with charcoal for about ten years. It started with architecture — thinking on paper. That was when I noticed the material’s profound capacity for haptic feedback. I enjoyed the direct, physical bond with my work’s purpose. That one-to-one relationship moved me from the bureaucracy of architecture to the more intimate solo art practice, around 2012.

Besides the obvious move away from the office that most of my community’s artists end up making, I like to think I got things out of a relationship with architecture that I otherwise wouldn’t have learned jumping right into visual arts. Certain words that have, for better or worse, come to be my bread and butter. Boring, serious words like discipline, and responsibility. At some point I went from feeling bad about not hearing them enough to making sure I’m the one saying them.

3. Installation view of Saif Mhaisen, Introduction, March 2023, curated by Munira Al Sayegh at Bayt AlMamzar, Dubai. Photo courtesy of the artist.

S.M.A.: This exhibition has been a long time in the making, and you mention the word “purpose”. Why did you decide to quit, and then come back to your art practice?

S.M.: I quit the practice after grad school because my work had no purpose. I, like many others around me, said ‘yes’ to things. To impulses, obsessions, exhibition proposals, and chances to show new work. I said yes without thinking about why. I did things for exposure, and for opportunity, whatever the hell that means. I didn’t really know why I was working. I didn’t have a purpose. What an old professor of mine used to call “something larger than the project at hand.” I made mistakes at RISD. I tried stuff. I believe I needed to fail. I think I failed well. Well enough to have to have quit two professions by 25.

Then came depression, arthritis and a spine surgery. It was rough, and after recovery I floated around like a boat with no anchor. I supervised construction in Ramallah, did some art handling and assisting in New York, and traveled around nowhere for peace and quiet. I had no intention of coming back to a studio practice.

4. Saif Mhaisen, Point of View: Coming To, 2023. Charcoal on paper, 137 x 92 cm. Image cropped, courtesy of the artist.

S.M.A.: So, five years later, this exhibition represents a rebirth.

S.M.: I hope so. This all started when I started talking to old friends again. Giving someone my attention was a way out of myself. Out of that deep, dark, mosh pit of hell I found myself in after years of escapism. I moved back to Dubai about a year ago and somehow that felt like moving back to art. It’s like I learned the value of community by spending a few years without it.

It does feel like the beginning of something. I guess that’s one good reason to call it an introduction. I made my community my job. It’s funny — I’ve been drawing friends (not very well) for longer than I can remember. I thought I was avoiding art doing that. It took me this long to realize that can be the work. Now I’ve set up an entire practice around private conversation.

I made my community my job.

Part 2: “Conversation simultaneously necessitates and facilitates attention.”

S.M.A.: A conversation is all you need.

S.M.: Attention, more like. That thing I can’t get without you sitting right there. Therapists talk about the healing value of receiving an hour of uninterrupted attention. A clinician can tell you about a client suffering debilitating anxiety, the remedy being the hardest task of all: eye contact. Too much attention can paralyze you, and not getting enough can destroy you. Attention’s nuts, and we’re all on it.

It’s absolutely important that we pay attention to each other — more important than ever in the age of infinite scrolling — but attention’s a little tricky compared to, say, looking. It’s not as innocent. You give a friend one kind of attention and she shares intimate doubts about serious, personal decisions. You give her another kind and she does headstands in the living room while you figure out exposure. It’s transformative, it’s challenging, and it’s confrontational.

5. Installation view of Saif Mhaisen, Introduction, March 2023, curated by Munira Al Sayegh at Bayt AlMamzar, Dubai. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Too much attention can paralyze you, and not getting enough can destroy you. [Attention] is transformative, challenging, and confrontational.

I think what happens is you notice someone, and if you notice something you like you observe them. Then, if you’re interested in an observation, you pay attention. But attention isn’t a thing you can hand someone. It needs facility. Just like you can’t grow a muscle by thinking it.

That’s why we talk. Conversation simultaneously necessitates and facilitates attention. It gives it a car to get into, a road to take, a destination to reach and a reason to get there.

Drawing grows out of this attention and embodies our conversation. Our relationship, that is. Not ‘the moment’. I have no interest in the moment. That’s a photo’s job. I try to get a whole conversation in there. On Tuesday, you were comfortable enough to put your feet up. A week later you had a funny way of sipping your coffee. A few days after that the light was just right. Three months after that I realized you’re wearing your favorite sandals. I want all of that. I try to draw from a relationship, not from a moment.

6. Left: Saif Mhaisen, Saif Mhaisen, Afra in Mamzar Studio, 2023. Charcoal on paper, 180 x 121 cm. Right: Saif Mhaisen, Sultan in Mamzar Studio, 2023. Charcoal on paper, 170 x 122 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Part 3: “This is not a portrait of a nation. This is an exercise in bias. In personal choice.”

S.M.A.: Looking around the portraits, we see artists, writers, curators, and educators of your community. How do you choose your subjects? Why these people?

S.M.: I’ll never get tired of this one. Mostly because I like the look on people’s faces when I answer it. I don’t “invite key figures of the UAE art scene into my project.” This is not a portrait of a nation. This is an exercise in bias. In personal choice. I’m an artist, and that makes the artists, writers, curators, and educators we’re talking about my community. My work is of community, not about it, so I invite them to studio — one at a time — for quiet conversation. Some answer my calls, and a few stay long enough for the conversation to mean something of its own. I invite them back. Some come back so often a picture comes together. This year, that gave me fourteen drawings. You’re deciding who goes on the wall just as much as I am.

7. Saif Mhaisen, Munira in Mamzar Studio, 2023. Charcoal on paper, 180 x 122 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

S.M.A.: You say this isn’t a snapshot of the UAE art scene, and you steer clear of trendy discourse on political identity.

S.M.: Look at this one [pointing to Munira Al Sayegh’s portrait, curator of this exhibition]. It would be absurd, in this context at least, to think of Munira as she is seen in the art world: “leading female Emirati art curator and key figure of the UAE art scene.” That kind of language is no way for two sensible people to carry out a conversation based on mutual care. Our work is a conversation between friends.

I like to think I respond to what’s there in the studio, and what’s missing outside it. I can’t help but notice determinism in the talks, practices, cultural and academic institutions, and public programming I’m surrounded by. Much of our larger, collective art conversation finds its fuel in predetermined conditions. Gender, sexuality, ethnicity, socio-economic class, and geopolitical grouping are realities worth discussing, but that has nothing to do with my friends driving to see me in Mamzar.

I invite my friends to believe in something with me. To believe in the value of individual attention, and to believe we can watch meaning grow out of relationships over time. If you’re here, you’re here because you believe in this process, and choose to pursue that belief. As far as I’m concerned, belief and choice are as far away from predetermined as it gets.

S.M.A.: Your work stands out as incredible portraiture in a scene not so well-known for its portrait artists. How do you feel about portraiture in the UAE?

S.M.: I think we have great artists, and no shortage of great shows of rich bodies of work. I see exciting figuration in Maitha Abdulla’s work, surprising representational work in Aaliyah Al Awadhi’s paintings, and intricate depictions of friends in Farah Al Qassimi’s photography. I don’t believe I’m bringing anything new to the table, and it’s not for me to say that we, as a community, need more portraits.

I do, however, wonder why so many interesting people go without being depicted. Why so many fascinating conversations go unmaterialized. Unembodied. For better or worse my interest in art started, as it did for many, in a western canon. I know Alice Neel painted Andy Warhol. I know Lucian Freud painted David Hockney, and so on. I can only imagine the profundity in those conversations. Whether I know them or not, I feel good about the world knowing they happened.

I wonder why so many interesting people go without being depicted. Why so many fascinating conversations go unmaterialized. Unembodied.

It’s like portraits have their own connective, social function. But unlike openings, fairs and biennials, a portrait can be a private art experience. Quiet, and slow. As far as I’m concerned, our conversation is a space in which you get to decide who you are, and to that end I give it all the time I have, if not all the time it needs.

Part 4: “I believe I’m in a small house in a quiet neighborhood for good reason.”

S.M.A.: Technical question, how long does it take you to finish a single portrait?

S.M.: I like what that question implies because people wouldn’t ask me that so often if they didn’t see an abundance of time in the work they’re looking at. Giving things time is essential here, so I’ll answer it.

These are my friends. I’ve known some of them for many years. And it’s precisely that — giving a relationship time and attention — that gets people to behave the way they do. I don’t direct much. I don’t ask people to get horizontal, to put their feet up on the table, or to handle a piece of furniture. I do my best to set up an environment in which they feel free to do what they would. When you’re in here for the hundredth time, you get up and pace the room. You reach for a book. You let your guard down, give your persona a rest, and spend time with me. 

The conversations can take months, and occasionally a picture comes together in my head, in my sketchbook, in my camera, whatever. I draw from observation, memory, photos, and from a relationship with a material perfectly capable of telling me “what it wants to be.” When I have a Sophie composition ready, it takes me a few weeks to say I have a Sophie drawing.

S.M.A.: That’s a long process, especially when compared to a generation of artists who get caught up in putting out more and more work at an accelerating rate.

S.M.: March, November, March, November, March, November, commission, collaboration, institution, fair, biennial, gallery, residency, panel, interview, opening, photo-shoot. That beat sounds familiar to nearly everyone I know, and not one of them goes a single year without hurting for it. They don’t forget to tell me how much it hurts, either.

Of course we benefit from our complex systems and their well-established tracks. I have friends who would love the chance to be a part of the action implied, and I feel ridiculous bemoaning things I’m not even invited to. This is not a blanket condemnation. I do however see a problem in reducing the entirety of our experience of art to those tracks. Following that, I like to think this practice — this house, for that matter — offers up something we can call an antithesis. Long story short: I believe I’m in a small house in a quiet neighborhood for good reason.

March, November, March, November, March, November, commission, collaboration, institution, Fair, biennial, gallery, residency, panel, interview, opening, photo-shoot. That beat sounds familiar to nearly everyone I know, and not one of them goes a single year without hurting for it.

I come from architecture. From “elephant time”, to quote Saarinen.  Like I said before, I have no interest in the moment. I think urgency is a five-dollar word for trendy. Nice as it is to know you now, Sophie, I believe I’m equally invested in the Sophie of a hundred years from now, looking back on us, wondering who we were. And instead of finding corporate headshots or infinite columns of social media archives, you just might find relationships, physically embodied over time.

I don’t do months. I do years. I don’t do projects. I have relationships. I mean that in the phenomenological sense. The relationship in which meaning exists. A relationship with a material, a tool, a space, or a friend. I tend to a relationship. To me, that means giving it time, giving it attention, and protecting its integrity.

8. Installation view of Saif Mhaisen, Introduction, March 2023, curated by Munira Al Sayegh at Bayt AlMamzar, Dubai. Photo courtesy of the artist.

I don’t do months. I do years. I don’t do projects. I have relationships.

S.M.A.: What does this house mean to you, and what is the goal of this exhibition?

S.M.: I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without this house. I moved back to Dubai— to art — and felt surrounded by a familiar luxury. The opulence. That shiny, happy, artsy perfection. And I wondered what we can do with a stick of charcoal, a piece of paper and some friends in an old house. I saw colleagues juggling more than they can handle (well) and proposed dedicating an entire year to one process. I saw people hell-bent on blaming cultural institutions for their ailments (while depending on them for survival), and took on the task of a year’s work, with all its materials, tools, budgets, schedules, deliveries, installations, and invitations without a single mention of a major institution — something I couldn’t have done without Gaith Abdulla and Munira Al Sayegh in a million years.

I guess I can summarize it like this: I love this place. I love these people we’re talking about. They are my friends. My community. My collective employer. They give me my purpose. Without them, I am nothing. To that end, I wanted to see if there’s another way to go about all this. Something that doesn’t segment a person or process into rationalist points. Some other way of seeing the world. A practice guided by an ethical structure, not beholden to aesthetic values.

Is it possible to practice art as a profession in the Emirates, when surrounded by a market geared toward the occasional pop-in-the-studio-when-my-tarot cards-let-me practice? Is it realistic of us to engage in a slow, quiet, and private process in a fast-paced world of sensationalist spectacle, art-celebrity and bullet-point achievements? 

I’d be delusional to think a single show can answer these questions. I believe real answers take lifetimes — but I’m happy to say we’re off to a good start.

9. Saif Mhaisen, Saeed in Mirdif Bedroom, 2023. Charcoal on paper, 180 x 122 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Saif Mhaisen, Introduction, curated by Munira Al Sayegh at Bayt Al Mamzar, Dubai, ended on March 31st, 2023. 

Saif Mhaisen’s practice is a life commitment, and it begins in his studio. Within a garden- facing room sheltered behind tall yard walls Saif pursues his work: tending to his community by inviting friends into his private space for extended conversation.

For Saif a relationship is a conversation that finds its meaning over time. Hours shared in the studio take on a different pace from the world outside: these conversations, at once mundane and profound, facilitate and necessitate careful attention. Saif’s precise and naturalistic work grows out of this attention, leaving us with portraits that are striking without being sensational.

Saif’s practice lends itself to being dichotomized, designating his material work as the outcome, and the conversations he engages in as his process. More appropriately, though, Saif’s drawings are, and should be interpreted as, embodiments of his conversations.

His compositions communicate an ethic that is private in nature: taking its full form as the slow, intimate, and consistent building of relationships.

Sophie Mayuko Arni is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Global Art Daily E-Issues.

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