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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9. Vikram Divecha: Encounters and Negotiations

By Zeina Abedarbo

Published on February 20, 2021

        On a Monday evening, I met the artist and recent Columbia University graduate Vikram Divecha, as we sat across from each other, outdoors, and at a considerable distance. I could not help but notice that we both happened to carry the same plain brown notebook, my own filled with disorderly scribbles and his with structures and plans. His artistic vision, as I came to learn, was not to build but to intervene in the building itself, to dissect it, and to bring about questions and ideas by directly engaging with the city site as a studio and its builders as collaborators.

Vikram sculpts tangible representations of intangible elements; these are arranged along the thematics of the environment and its association with land and migration, the subtle yet complex relationship between light and time, and the deconstruction of socio-economic structures through industry and economy. His projects are situated within the context of a negotiation with the city-forming evolving artworks that exist and communicate from spaces and people beyond 'the exhibition' itself.

Vikram Divecha (b. 1977 in Beirut) has developed a practice surrounding what he calls 'found processes' — that is, those forces and capacities at work within the state, social, economic, and industrial spheres. In 2019, Vikram completed his MFA at Columbia University, New York. In 2020, he was, moreover enrolled at the prestigious Independent Study Programme (ISP) of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. His work and installations have been included in the Jameel Center collection exhibition Second Hand (2019), Rock-Paper-Scissors the UAE Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2017) and Sharjah Biennial 13 (2017) as well as the Louvre Abu Dhabi. He was also the recipient of the 2014 Middle East Emergent Artist Prize.

Zeina Abedarbo: You recently relocated from New York back to Dubai, and I believe there's a link between where you have been and where you are now. Your experience of ‘where you are’ is always connected to ‘where you had lived before’ in a way. How has the return been treating you so far?

Vikram Divecha: My return to the UAE has been at a very particular moment, in the midst of a pandemic. We are all still settling into a different kind of reality. Against all of this, part of me understandably continues to processes three years of rich academic intake. It was a long break. And as you mention where you were will definitely bleed into where you are currently at. I delved into various disciplines during my phase in academia and they are definitely going to inform how I approach my practice henceforth. The more I think about it it seems like a restart for me in the UAE.

I delved into various disciplines during my phase in academia and they are definitely going to inform how I approach my practice henceforth.

Z.A.: With your practice, there is a unique incentive as an ‘artist’ for you to go out and interact, collaborate and connect with members of the workforce or industry beyond the typical art sphere. This process leads to spontaneous yet evolving relationships with professions where conceptual thinking and making isn't particularly present. Do you depend on these connections, conversations and meetings? At what point does a shift occur between a casual encounter and an engagement in your work?

V.D.: I am interested in the phase of development where the sense of ownership towards a project becomes shared with my collaborators. Amongst many things, this is when I feel, the concerns that drew me in the first place are investigated further. Be it socio-economic, time, value, or environmental in the case of Boulder Plot.  

1. Vikram Divecha, Boulder Plot, 2014. Excavator clearing site after explosion, Quarry, Fujairah. Research image. Courtesy of the artist.

I am interested in the phase of development where the sense of ownership towards a project becomes shared with my collaborators.

This brings a story to mind. For many months in 2014 I was investigating the mountain quarries in Fujairah while developing a public art project. This Northern Emirate is blessed with natural resources that constantly feed UAE’s construction industry with raw material. On a daily basis, these rocky mountains are decimated to extract Gabbro rock. You can notice the scars on these mountains when you drive through the region’s passes. I had befriended a rock blasting engineer while developing this project, accompanying him to various quarries as he introduced me to his violent process. The engineer was aware that I was trying to think about my own relationship with these mountains and its material - that I reside in a building that is made possible by uprooting such mountains.

After 2 months of shadowing him, I arrived at his office one morning. While I was waiting at his desk to leave for a quarry visit I noticed his pin up board - amidst the papers and contracts he had also put up my initial proposal sketch for the public art project I was pursuing. This gesture by the engineer was a crucial moment for me. It was an early lesson that I am not just looking for participation but an aesthetic participation. An investment where the project belongs to many people, and not only the artist.

It was an early lesson that I am not just looking for participation but an aesthetic participation.

2. Vikram Divecha, Boulder Plot, 2014. 24 gabbro rock boulders (4 - 7 tons each), construction fencing. Installation dimensions 35m x 25m, boulder dimensions variable. Shindaga Heritage Village, Dubai. Commissioned by Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC). Courtesy of the artist.

3. Vikram Divecha, Vikram Divecha, Boulder Plot, 2014. Installation view, Shindaga Heritage Village, Dubai. Courtesy of the artist.

ZA: That’s brilliant! In a way the engineer not only took part in your project but also incorporated it into his own work, revealing the communalities that can be exposed through unlikely collaborations. What was the deeper meaning behind this encounter?

V.D.: The engineer was the technical expert and I was an artist seeking for a mode or an approach to engage with this part of the natural environment. Although his work can be perceived in service to his industry, I saw it as a very fine-tuned aesthetic that he had developed for over a decade by the time I had met him. Between both of us, he was the practicing artist. This makes me think of the term Riyaz, which means practice in Indian classical music. It speaks of a rigorous commitment where the music exponents wake up early and train for hours. This might sound like a far stretch but the engineer maintained a similar commitment. In his many years of service to capitalism he had perfected the art of decimating these mountains. He understood these mountains with such technical elegance that at times it became difficult to hear him describe with clinical precision how he goes about dissecting these natural formations. Somewhere in between our conversations, these mountains took on different meanings. And at times, they regained their meaning as mountains, and not just raw material.

Somewhere in between our conversations, these mountains took on different meanings.

4. Vikram Divecha, Boulder Plot, 2014. Boulder with hole, Quarry yard, Fujairah. Research image. Courtesy of the artist.

In his many years of service to capitalism he had perfected the art of decimating these mountains.

Z.A.: There's a kind of subtle disruption to your work especially in the way you deal with a ‘studio space’. You tend to shift the conception and presentation of a piece from a typically enclosed studio or gallery space into public or industrial one – somewhat engaging with the city’s form in a very direct but conceptual way. Personally I believe an artwork’s value lies in shifting and highlighting a new perspective towards what is exhibited and pushing the limits of what can be exhibited. How does that come about for you?

V.D.: When does the artwork take birth is an important question. Or rather an important moment. It is often understood as the encounter between the viewer and the artwork within an exhibition setting. My interest has often been the moment of encounter before the exhibit, when there is a shift of perspective for my collaborators.

A good example is Warehouse Project at Alserkal Avenue, where I was working towards engaging UAE’s trading communities that play an important part in the economy and continue a historic tradition of commodities & cultural exchange. Theirs is a constant process of importing goods largely from Asia and re-exporting the stock to the Middle Eastern region and beyond. This quick turn around turns their warehouses into sites of performance of capital. You have to witness that. Good moving in and out at a rapid pace. Stacking and stacking depending upon market demands. I had spent many months understanding this process. By then I was engaging a warehouse manager who had a stressful job of juggling stock. He was in need of extra storage space as he was expecting a large shipment of toys from China.

5. Vikram Divecha, Warehouse Project, 2016, Wholesale goods, warehouse 82 (3444 sq. B.), Alserkal Avenue, Dubai 14 March – 11 June, 2016, Commissioned by Alserkal Avenue. Courtesy of the artist.

When does the artwork take birth is an important question. Or rather an important moment. It is often understood as the encounter between the viewer and the artwork within an exhibition setting. My interest has often been the moment of encounter before the exhibit.

My offer to him was simple. For a few months he could have a warehouse at Alserkal for zero rent, and in exchange allow me to exhibit the constantly fluctuating stock as art – a constantly reshaping sculptural work shaped by the hands of demand and supply. This seemed like a perfect solution for the warehouse manager, but he informed me that the owners who ran the company were not convinced – it was difficult getting an audience with these busy owners. Eventually I had to orchestrate a boardroom meeting with the owners who ran this export business. I was accompanied by Alserkal’s team to assure that as an artist I had access to a large warehouse, which was being handed over to the trader’s at zero cost. Now, it all seemed legit to them and they were on board.

That day we met in the trader’s offices located within the warehouse. Their boardroom was an air-conditioned space that had a large window overlooking the rest of the warehouse stacked with cartons. After we struck a deal for my project, one of the owners walked towards the window and announced with glee that all of his stock was art. He then stepped out of the boardroom and returned with a boxed toy they were exporting. The name of the toy was “Imagination in motion.” He told me that this is exactly what my project was about – such an elegant way of expressing the circulation and flows in economies. His excitement was clearly a signal of a pivotal shift for the project to take off.

Z.A.: When the owner understood what you were trying to do by using the shipping boxes as ‘exhibited work’, did he have an incentive to further take part in the project or seek some kind of opportunity – as the company had the chance to use a warehouse free of charge?

V.D.: Eventually, the trading company designed their own poster for the exhibition. And invited their partners for the opening. One of the owners noted that there were many empty warehouses, and propositioned that they could take over those all well as they were expecting more stock – that’s capitalism, putting pressure at every opportunity. This was in early 2016 when Alserkal Avenue had just opened their new warehouses. Amongst many things, Warehouse Project also highlighted this moment when the Avenue was turning from industrial to cultural. It’s such a different story today.

Amongst many things, Warehouse Project also highlighted this moment when the Avenue was turning from industrial to cultural. It’s such a different story today.

6. Email invite and poster designed by Atiq Liusie traders. Courtesy of Atiq Liusie.

Z.A.: A shift of understanding in the participant’s role in society occurs the moment they comprehend that they are taking part in your ‘art project’  – away from corporate-driven trade and as members facilitating an exhibition. This reminds me of your participation in the work Beej, 2017, my personal favorite. How did this specific initiative take on a life of its own after you orchestrated the intervention and then left the country – as it was linked to land and belonging in the context of immigration?

V.D.: I have been involved with a few municipal gardeners from Sharjah since 2014, and we had been discussing a potential farming project for many years. As I got to know them I came to realize that most of them had engaged in farming back home in Pakistan. I was always taken aback when they spoke about air, water, wind, soil, the climate and changing seasons. Their knowledge about these elements almost seemed innate to me. And when you speak about the elements in Urdu, the language we communicated in, it turns lyrical. Through their words they were always returning to their homes. In fact, the title of the project Beej which means seeds in Urdu also emerged from our conversations.

The gardeners saw the circulation of seeds as a metaphor to the transnational movement of their own bodies. Which is one of the reasons why the gardeners and I thought it was essential that they fly back home and return with heirloom seeds from their family farms, as if bringing back a part of their homes. They spoke about the seeds having a true nasal, which translates to lineage in English. And they were clearly a lot more invested in nurturing these seeds from their family farms.

7. Vikram Divecha, Beej, 2017, Unregistered seeds, soil, water and supplies Intervention at roundabout in Al Naba’ah area of Sharjah Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah Biennial 13. Courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation.

8. Seeds from Pakistan. Courtesy of the artist.

The gardeners saw the circulation of seeds as a metaphor to the transnational movement of their own bodies.

The project had commenced in 2017 for the 13th Sharjah Biennial, but did not take off immediately as we required a supply of sweet water in the roundabout, and not the treated sewage water that is used to nourish the urban topiary. This was essential as the intent was to sow food seeds and grow produce for consumption. It took another two years to get permissions from the water and electrical municipal bodies and fit a water tank with electric supply. By the time the roundabout was ready I had left the UAE and was studying in New York.

In early 2019, the gardeners took over the roundabout and sowed many different types of seeds. Here’s the list –

{mooli (radish), dhaniya (coriander), tamatar (tomato), baingan (eggplant), shalgam (turnip), makki (corn), mirchi (chili), pyaaz (onion), palak (spinach), aloo (potato), bhindi (okra), mutter (green peas), pudina (mint)}.

The only way I could engage with the project now was via the WhatsApp voice messages and images we exchanged. Over the many months as this urban farming activity continued the gardeners actively engaged the residents from the surrounding neighborhood.

Z.A.: That is really beautiful, how the gardeners had permission to take over this public plot of land in the center of a street in a foreign country and transform into a farm harvesting seeds from their homeland. They were not growing them for the sake of greenery but rather to gather food. There is something very powerful in that. How did the community react to this new ‘public produce farm’?

V.D.: This roundabout was not a busy junction but located in a residential area. As the farm evolved people were constantly dropping by to collect fresh produce, which the gardeners gladly offered. One of the gardeners is quite an extrovert and his friendly approach turned the site into a much frequented place. Over the months they held a certain claim over the site, as they tended to the farm and shared the harvest. It was in this act of distribution that they expanded the roundabout and created a temporary community. Many people even began to refer to the site as subzi roundabout or vegetable roundabout. What the gardeners had managed to create was a mahool, which means atmosphere. It’s as if they had changed the climate to one that is about a place of belonging. But maybe I should not be the one speaking here, as what this project meant is only known to those who experienced and consumed it. 

Z.A.: You talked about these two projects that took place in the UAE, but your background is that you were born in Beirut, grew up in Bombay, resided in Dubai, studied in New York, and now you're back in Dubai – how has your background and the cities you have lived in influenced or guided your practice in seeking discussions and interventions as key facilitators and components of your work?

V.D.: If you grow up in Beirut, and especially Bombay, negotiation becomes intrinsic. Negotiation is a part of the everyday. It’s how you get things done. It’s how you get from A to B. I remember as a child when we didn’t have Google Maps. You just spoke with strangers and figured it out. In a sense when you step out of home you are in a relationship with everyone. And in the evenings, when one returned, everyone had a story to tell about their encounters.  

Negotiation is a part of the everyday. It’s how you get things done. It’s how you get from A to B.

Being a pedestrian has always interested me. Because there is often something interesting awaiting on the next turn. Navigating through spaces is a joy. It’s a form of open-ended research where you let many other factors decide the outcome. Maybe this approach has influenced my artistic practice.

In Dubai, I didn’t have a studio, and I began engaging with overlooked commercial and industrial operations.  I also viewed this city as a sculptural project in the making with the many active construction sites I was surrounded by. I delved into these spaces and began working with the available material and workspaces. And I realized overtime that the people working here were contributing in many artistic ways. For about 5 years, from 2012 to 2017, I treated the entire city as my studio. Everything around me in this urban space was material with artistic potential. This was liberating to know, and I became comfortable being this uninvited guest turning up at warehouses and other commercial sites. Of course, being a South Asian, who can speak the language helps. This brings to mind an anecdote while growing up in India – Aflatoon is a slang term we used to refer to someone behaving eccentrically in public. Years later I realized Aflatoon literally translated to Plato in Arabic. Some suggest, Aflatoon as eccentric stemmed from Greek philosophers asking absurd questions to street goers. I am interested in such a philosophical approach, where you take the questions out of the institutions and bring them to the public.  

For about 5 years, I treated the entire city as my studio.

Z.A.: As mentioned earlier, you recently returned from New York completing an MFA program and exhibited the installation Gallery 354 at Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde as part of your solo show last January.  You explored lighting in a specific room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art – remaining focused on a certain site like your previous works but in a slightly more abstract form. You emphasized an interrogation into the intangible elements of light and time and their effects on modes of seeing. How did this shift in your approach develop, exploring more internal effects of the external?

V.D.: A visitor described entering the Gallery 354 installation was akin to entering a crime scene. I am interested in such moments of transitioning. It’s as if one is entering another mahoul (atmosphere). There is a cinematic quality to such encounters.

That moment of encountering a phenomenon has been crucial in triggering a lot of my inquiries, as well. Be it disarranged bricks on the pavement or distorted reflections in an urban facade. My first visit to Gallery 354 at the Met was one such experience, which I also mention in the audio narration that is integral to the work – a particular encounter with light, that left behind a lasting impression. I returned to Gallery 354 a few years after this encounter and by then had explored questions surrounding time and light through the Train to Rouen project. I won’t delve into Train to Rouen over here, but Gallery 354 continues my concerns with time and light but from a different perspective – by unpacking questions about exhibition design and preservation. The shaping of this work was a slow process as I pursued this question surrounding light for almost two years while I was enrolled for the MFA program in New York.

There is a cinematic quality to such encounters.

9. Vikram Divecha, Gallery 354, 2019. 10 minutes 28 seconds looped voice recording, discarded cardboard box, spent light bulbs from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, darkroom safelight, 4”x5” direct positive paper, developing trays with photography chemistry solutions and safelight holder sourced from Dodge Hall darkroom Columbia University, water, wooden bench from a dining set given by a personal friend, folding table found in Prentis Hall Columbia University, studio monitor, media player, printed cards, wooden shelf, blackout fabric, wall paint, carpet flooring. Installation view, The Wallach Art Gallery, Lenfest center. Courtesy of the artist.

ZA: How was your art practice shaped prior and after the intersection of your academic program? You were more of an independent self-lead artist in Dubai - upon moving to New York, did your environment instigate new explorations into light?

V.D.: The university allows one access to many departments and I found myself in between courses in anthropology, political science, urban studies, philosophy, art history and writing. Alongside I was gaining studio time in painting, photography and video classes. I should also mention that I finally had a dedicated studio, and one which did not have any windows. This meant that at times I did not engage with the sun for extensive periods. Coming from the light saturated landscape of Dubai, this was a disorienting experience. I began staging my studio as a photography darkroom, where I would reflect on another site, that being Gallery 354. As most of my other projects, Gallery 354 had a very specific address, but another site began surfacing in my work. This new site was myself. Somewhere along the lens had turned on me. I guess the MFA program isolates you from the everyday, allowing for a long duration of introspection. And since I did not have the access and mobility I enjoyed in Dubai, nor a part time job, returning to the studio everyday opened up a different approach to art making. I got interested in my voice as a site of the excavation of the self. Working with language, time and transitions, not to articulate but to excavate. I must note that having extensive and exhausting studio visits with the poet and performance artist Pamela Sneed was critical in this shift. To be fair, all my mentors were great - such beautiful minds. This has opened up the avenue for the autobiographical voice in my practice, and hopefully a return to imagery, filmmaking and writing, where I’ve had prior experience.

Somewhere along the lens had turned on me. I guess the MFA program isolates you from the everyday, allowing for a long duration of introspection.

Z.A.: Do you hope to return to these mediums of filmmaking and writing, perhaps tackling more narratives and storytelling? I’m thinking of your work Dance Monument Dance from your residency at the Whitney.

V.D: Yes, Dance Monument Dance is a narrative piece, in the essay tradition. It was supposed to be a video installation but [it] turned into a publication project. I weave through mass media, mythology, social movements, dreams and personal encounters. Formally I am exploring poetic prose that is overplayed over found footage. As I sample from Indian and American culture, I am trying to make a lyrical argument for a sculptural intervention involving a public bronze statue of James Brown in Augusta. This is a work-in-progress piece, that I am still developing.

Z.A.: So, your works take years to evolve constantly changing and shifting in their meanings and mediums. Are you also hoping to return to Veedu, a video work from 2016 that looks into the influence of Gulf architectural design in the Indian province in Kerala? It highlights the influence of migration and identity formation as revealed through home design.

VD: I haven’t managed to give Veedu its dues, and the research phase has generated a lot more primary source material than I had expected. Although my initial intent was to follow the design influence of Gulf architecture style in homes constructed in Kerala with currency remitted from the Gulf itself, a lot more needs to be unpacked from the material I have at hand. I feel I am restarting the project, while I restart my practice and approach in Dubai. Due to Covid, I can’t navigate the city as much as I could, and am also developing a studio-based approach. Hopefully Veedu will benefit from this. In between the questions of migration and aspiration are also encoded concerns regarding masculinity, purity and community. The design plans turn into sites for projecting multiple concerns, moving beyond architecture and visual aesthetics. This is what I am attempting to pursue now, alongside other projects.

Due to Covid, I can’t navigate the city as much as I could, and am also developing a studio-based approach.

10. Vikram Divecha, Veedu, 201. 16:9, HD video, color, single channel, 40:48 min. Malayalam (English subtitles). Still. Courtesy of the artist.

Vikram Divecha (born 1977, Beirut) is a Mumbai-bred artist based between New York and Dubai. His work addresses labour, time and value, interrogating specific environments and challenging socio-economic structures. In 2019, Divecha obtained his MFA at Columbia University, NY and is currently enrolled in the Independent Study Programme (ISP) of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. His work and installations have been included in the Jameel Center collection exhibition ‘Second Hand’ (2019), Rock-Paper-Scissors the UAE Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2017) and at Sharjah Biennial 13 (2017) as well as the Louvre Abu Dhabi further to the Co-Lab exchange programme with French companies. He is a recipient of the 2014 Middle East Emergent Artist Prize.

Visit Vikram Divecha’s website.
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Zeina Abedarbo is based in Dubai and currently works at Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde. She studied at Central Saint Martins and has an Art History degree from the University of Brighton. She is interested in the role of contemporary practice and film making at the intersection of aesthetics and cultural anthropology.

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