A work by Karima Al Shomely.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
For those who came in late (including a reminder to myself), Maraya Art Centre, the non-profit creative initiative by Sharjah Investment and Development Authority — Shurooq — that supports emerging and established artists in the region, is hosting two exhibitions: space between: Works by Patricia Millns on the third floor of the Centre and Sahhara: Hidden Adornments by Karima Al Shomely, on the second floor. Both exhibitions opened October 17, 2022, and run till February 13.
space between is curated by Dr. Nina Heydemann, Director of Maraya Art Centre and 1971-Design Space. Often known in the region for her roles as mentor, supporter and consultant in the visual arts, Millns now shows an overview of newly created work in her solo exhibition. It shines a light on her immensely labour-intensive artistic practice. Based on the principle of seriality, most of her artworks are grouped together in clusters that allow ‘spaces between’. In this context, repetition, meditation and linearity feature prominently.
Divided into two main sections — one kept completely black and the other totally white — the show introduces Millns’ practice by way of immersive displays using light and shadow, as well as linearity and circularity as guiding principles of life. “The space between my objects is as important as the objects themselves. Their placement enables the viewer to have periods of time to contemplate the work and to be in that space to experience not only these objects but to allow the created intervals to be acknowledged and experienced.
The Japanese principle of time and space ‘Ma’ is therefore fundamental to my practice. In nothingness, Ma enables. It is the fullness of silence.” Sahhara is curated by Cima Azzam, Maraya Art Centre curator. A “Sahhara” is an elaborately decorated wooden chest box, often referred to as a hope chest or trousseau chest. It is a piece of furniture that women in various cultures traditionally used to collect and store linen, jewellery and other personal items in anticipation of marriage.
Once married, the Sahhara, particularly in Emirati culture, was transported to the newly formed household and placed inside a woman’s private quarters, hidden from the public. Shomely addresses the material culture of the Burqa and other traditional Emirati adornments, through her contemporary practice as a response to specific parts of their history. Like uncovering the lid of a Sahhara, her exhibition invites the viewer to explore hidden adornments. It engages playfully with contrasting elements of tradition and modernity to discover these forms of Emirati culture.
You may explore how the manifold layers in which identity is created, is expressed and transformed over time. Said Shomely: “This exhibition introduces women as important cultural icons, to the public. It shows their importance as individuals, revealing their personal stories and backgrounds by way of their clothing, accessories and cultural rituals. “Attention is paid to these women’s inner worlds.
The artwork reflects my memory presented through a contemporary vision, by way of nostalgic nods to past times, when women wore pieces of adornment to beautify their very own, inner beings.” The exhibitions are complemented by a rich public programme, video documentation and catalogues. The bilingual Arabic/English publications feature images of the artworks, views of the exhibitions, numerous essays, interviews and forewords.Contributors for the Millns catalogue include Sheikha Lateefa Bint Maktoum (Founder and Director of Tashkeel), Beatrice Bulgari, President, Fondazione In Between Art Film, and Dr. Nina Heydemann.
Contributors for Shomley’s catalogue are Prof. Nadia M. Alhasani, Dean of the College of Fine Arts & Design at the University of Sharjah and Cima Azzam. Born in the UK in 1950, Millns has been based in the Middle East based for over 40 years, with studio bases in Dubai and Arizona, USA. She was initially inspired by the complex repetition of imagery within Islamic art and design systems – it developed into a study of symbolism within the cultural, textile and olfactory heritage of the region, specifically women’s studies.
Presently working and advising on art and design projects related to significance of regional culture, she is on the Advisory Board of American University Dubai, and is Ambassador for Dubai Design District. Her works are in public collections, including British Museum, United Nations, British Council, Royal Commonwealth Society, Salsali Museum, DIFC Collection, GMAA Museum, Oman Sainsbury Foundation UK and the National Museums of UAE, Kuwait, Oman and Jordan.
Private collections include those of the Al Qasimi, Al Maktoum, Al Sabah, Al Said, Windsor, Salsali and Bulgari. Shomely was born in Sharjah and completed her Ph.D in Fine Arts at Kingston University, London. She works as an Assistant Professor in the University of Sharjah, Fine Arts College & Design. Her prints, photographs, paintings and installations have been featured in many important exhibitions, in the U.A.E. and internationally.
Dr. Nina Heydemann worked as the Senior Manager – Visual Arts, heading the Department of Visual Arts at the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation (ADMAF) in Abu Dhabi from 2014-2018. She received her Ph.D degree in Art History from the University of Leipzig, Germany, and the University College London (UCL), United Kingdom. Her dissertation “The Art of Quotation.
Forms and Themes of the Art Quote, 1990-2010”, examines inter-pictorial referentiality of contemporary artworks. Previously, she worked as an exhibition manager for the Deutsche Bank Art Collection in Frankfurt/Main, Germany. She has been awarded scholarships from the University of Leipzig, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the German Academic Scholarship Foundation (Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes).