2. What’s On in the UAE

By Sala Shaker

        With the ongoing and incremental easing of social-distancing regulations in the UAE, local galleries and institutions are slowly starting to re-open their doors, welcoming visitors seeking tangible interactions with material culture. Others, whose doors have yet to open are focusing instead on launching online platforms, easing access to their archives, or commissioning digital works. Here is a highlight of some of these exhibitions and online initiatives.


Please note that some galleries now require online booking. We recommend visiting their website for more accurate information.



Jameel Arts Center
Artist’s Room - Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Larissa Sansour and Taysir Batniji

Closes January 3, 2021

For the summer 2020 iteration of its Artist’s Room programming, the Jameel Arts Center presents three capsule shows by Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Larissa Sansour and Taysir Batniji. All three shows deal with issues related to the ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories and the Golan Heights.

A ‘private ear,’ Lawrence Abu Hamdan melds political inquiry with acoustic investigations. Beyond their artistic merits, his audio investigations conducted with London-based research group Forensic Architecture have been used as evidence by Amnesty International. In This whole time there were no land mines (2017), the Turner prize co-winner presents an audio-visual rendering of the “shouting valley” in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights. This valley’s “acoustic leaks” allow families on both sides of the 1967 border to communicate with each other. Using found mobile phone footage and audio recordings dating from 2011, Abu Hamdan recreates the moment when, on the occasion of the 63rd anniversary of the Nakba, 150 Palestinians protesters in Syria breached the border and marched onto Israeli territory. A powerful demonstration of their right to return, four of the protestors were then shot and killed by Israeli soldiers.

1. Larissa Sansour, In Vitro (2019). Install shot at Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai. Photo by Brent Galotera

Drawing heavily on the cinematic languages of sci-fi and spaghetti westerns, Larissa Sansour is concerned with envisioning an alternative to the current lived reality and social conditions of Palestinians. Presented in the Danish Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, Larissa SansourIn Vitro (2019) posits nationalist sentiment in an post-apocalyptic context. Set in Bethlehem, ravaged by an ecological disaster in the near future, In Vitro focuses on two protagonists in a bunker as they attempt to acclimate to this changed environment. “When the world is no longer as we know it,” she says, “does the vocabulary that we have or that we use for our nation-building or national identity really matter anymore? Has it become obsolete as a result of the biggest disaster that could ever happen?”

2. Taysir Batniji, To My Brother (2012). Install shot at Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai. Photo by Brent Galotera

At once self-effacing and poignant, Taysir Batniji’s To My Brother (2012) series of etchings constitutes the third Artist’s Room. Married in 1985, Batniji’s brother died two years later at the hands of an Israeli sniper during the First Intifada. To commemorate his fallen sibling, Taysir Batniji revisits his brother’s wedding album. Inkless and monochrome works on paper, his carvings mimic the texture of an erased drawing left by his brother in one of Taysir’s textbooks to recreate these family portraits, vestiges of happier, earlier times. His drawings revel in a melancholy for a now long-gone past, while laying the material foundations for a brighter, technicolor future in the Occupied Territories. 

‘Michael Rakowitz’

Closes November 22, 2020

Marking his first solo exhibition in the Middle East, Michael Rakowitz, whose colossal Lamassu towers over London’s Trafalgar Square as part of its Fourth Plinth commission, is now taking over both levels of the Jameel Arts Centre. Similarly to his 2019 exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, Michael Rakowitz is a mid-career show, surveying the Iraqi-American artist’s concerns with architecture, history and food. Both playful and nostalgic, Rakowitz explores political and cultural histories, tracing parallels between the Beatles’ career and the rise of pan-Arabism in the 1950s.

3. Michael Rakowitz, The Breakup (2010 - ongoing). Courtesy of Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai. Photo by Daniella Bapista

Lawrie Shabibi

‘Upsurge: Waves, Colour and Illusion’

Closes September 1, 2020

A multi-generational multimedia show, Upsurge brings together the likes of Moroccan modernist master Mohamed Melehi and Emirati avant-garde painter Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, with younger faces to explore materiality and vision within Op Art, a form of conceptual art that primarily relies on optical illusions. The artists featured play with mediums ranging from stone, marble, acrylics and metal, to evoke organic motifs like waves, water, sand and abstracted hieroglyphs. The show is a tantalizing exploration on perception within abstract art, and the broader function of vision.  

Abu Dhabi:

‘The Stonebreakers’

Curated by Murtaza Vali, this exhibition highlights the history and infrastructure of maritime trade in the Arabian Gulf. More specifically, all three artists exhibited in The StonebreakersShumon Ahmed, Ranjit Kandalgaonkar and Hira Nabi—interrogate the “vexed politics of representation related to ship-breaking,” an arduous practice performed by underpaid migrant laborers.  In response to Warehouse421’s location, itself situated in Abu Dhabi’s historical Mina Zayed, a few yards away from discarded dhow boats, the show is concerned with South Asian coastlines. All three artists focus respectively on Bangladesh, India and Pakistan and work around the idea of the “purported objectivity of the documentary image” in mixed-media works. The titular reference to Courbet positions the seemingly particular politics of ship-breaking into a larger discourse on exploitative labor practices and its representation. 

4. The Stonebreakers, Installation shot. Image courtesy of Warehouse421.

‘The Cup and The Saucer’

The Cup and The Saucer marks Hashel Al Lamki’s first solo exhibition. Curated by Munira Al Sayegh, the exhibition explores disruption within a unit. Taking its point of departure from the idea of disruption and separation when a cup is lifted from its saucer, the show investigates disruptions occurring within the individual, but also the individual as separation from a larger unit. In this back and forth, between that which is fluid (the self) and that which is fixed (structure), a tension arises that seeks belonging.

5. The Cup and the Saucer, Installation shot at Warehouse421. Image courtesy of Warehouse 421.

Warehouse421 is still closed to the public but an overview of the exhibition will be available on their website shortly.



Sharjah Art Foundation

‘Art in the Age of Anxiety’

Closes September 26, 2020

Curated by SAF Director of Collections and Senior Curator Omar Kholeif, Art in the Age of Anxiety explores the altered states of collective consciousness that emerged with the advent of the technological era. The exhibition presents more than 60 works spanning sculpture, prints, video, virtual reality, robotics and algorithmic programs developed by more than 30 international artists such as Trevor Paglen, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Cao Fei and Wafaa Bilal.