There’s a Hurricane at the Foundry
By Sarah Daher
Published on March 3rd, 2021
For a short week beginning at the end of February and continuing through March 3rd, in the pristine and unassuming 5th gallery of Emaar’s newly minted Foundry, a hurricane can be found. It isn’t often that one encounters such a collision of forces in this perfectly varnished corner of Dubai. Engage101’s most recent sale themed to the term Placeless Place brings together a selection of brilliant new works by Sara Ahli and a public program brimming with the energy of three of the UAE’s most exciting emerging creative collectives.
This isn’t the first of Engage101’s successes. An initiative headed by the enterprising duo Gaith Abdulla and Munira Al Sayegh, their third sale follows in the wake of two precedent-setting shows in 2020 where works by unrepresented locally based artists were exhibited and overwhelmingly sold. Their calendar of curated quarterly art sales marks an important shift in the attitude towards collecting art in the UAE, not only making commercial art more accessible to new and young collectors but also nurturing early and mid-career artists.
This isn’t the first of Engage101’s successes.
In her first exhibition since the closing of the SEAF show at Warehouse421 in December, Ahli presents a progression of her practice that promises an exciting future full of experimentation. Speaking with the artist it is impossible to miss the vibrancy with which she describes her work: dreaming of materials, future repetitions of sculptures, and potential paths of artistic development.
Her balloon sculptures which first caught my eye when I saw them in Abu Dhabi a few months earlier reappear in Dubai in a new iterative form. The stacks of brightly coloured plaster bodies stand resolutely opposite equivalent stacks in neutral nude tones. If there had ever been a doubt that Ahli had the body in mind when producing her pileups of soft-but-hardened figures, Placeless Place puts these doubts to rest.
If there had ever been a doubt that Ahli had the body in mind when producing her pileups of soft-but-hardened figures, Placeless Place puts these doubts to rest.
These works become even more layered and complex when put under duress. In her Clenched Figures series the glossy resin balloons are disfigured by a clamp. These dysmorphic objects of youthful nostalgia speak to the notion of the body as a site for conflicting impulses. One begins to imagine the ways in which Sara Ahli’s art interrupts the untarnished veneer of Downtown Dubai.
One begins to imagine the ways in which Sara Ahli’s art interrupts the untarnished veneer of Downtown Dubai.
New experiments in medium, borne of her brief two-week long residency with Engage101, calcify into installations of skin and bones. But when Ahli spills the body into the gallery, Ahli does it with grace; a waterfall of pigmented silicone rubber (Skin) lies elegantly against the white gallery wall and a slightly scoliotic row of plaster vertebrae (Collection of Bones: A Spine) sits atop an ankle-high plinth like an unperturbed archaeological relic.
The sculptural form, traditionally inanimate, is animated many times over in Placeless Place. A video installation (Just For Your Eyes/Forced Gestures of Intent on Memory Foam) shows a morsel of memory foam uncoiling itself and recoiling itself in a perpetual loop. A photographic print (Under Pressure) documents a moment in Ahli’s creative process of destruction where a hammer has struck a plaster balloon body. The moment is still but the implied action feels fossilized at its moment of peak energy, an Emax per se.
The moment is still but the implied action feels fossilized at its moment of peak energy, an Emax per se.
But the show’s most exciting animation comes in the form of its threefold public program. Sa Tahanan Co. kicks off the series with an evening poetry performance of responsive texts. Platforming the voices of Pinoy artists, the freshly formed collective, occupies the space for an hour entering into a non-literal and, by consequence, intimate discourse with Ahli’s exhibition.
The two other programs work hand in glove to continue in the spirit of Engage101’s reconfiguring of arts appreciation in the UAE. An online critique session led by an abundance of Sara(h)’s opens up a conversation between the curators of Banat Collective, Sara bin Safwan and Sarah Alagroobi, and the artist herself, Sara Ahli. Bin Safwan and Alagroobi invite audience members to embrace a critical lens in their viewership encouraging a reflection on the wider experience of womanhood within the region.
The show’s most exciting animation comes in the form of its threefold public program.
The final program led by Postscript magazine, a locally-based online publication founded by talented co-editors Zoe Patterson and Vamika Sinha, invites participants to join a workshop on three forms of art writing: flash fiction/poetry, journalism, and automatic writing. Colliding the worlds of text and art the workshop pushes the boundaries of formal practice.
One almost forgets that all of this is brought together under the umbrella of a seven-day long show. This veritable windfall of contemporary work leaves the Foundry imminently, so, as any local would tell you of a weather event in the UAE, get out there and make the most of it right this moment.
Engage 101’s Placeless Place curated sale closes this March 3rd, 2021 at Foundry by Emaar (Downtown Dubai).
To purchase Sara Ahli’s individual works, visit Engage101’s website.
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Sarah Daher is a curator and researcher who graduated with a BA in Theater and Economics from New York University Abu Dhabi and is currently completing her Masters in Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art in London. She is based between the UAE and London. She cares about the role of art in building and preserving communities and shared identities.