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The UAE at the Venice Biennale
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The UAE at the Venice Biennale

Picture of Marinel Valentini
Updated: 10 December 2015
At the 55th Venice Biennale (1 June – 24 November), the National Pavilion for the United Arab Emirates centres on the theme: Walking on Water. Under the curatorial direction of Reem Fadda, artist Mohammed Kazem presents a solo exhibit filled with coordinates, times and dates and random numbers as a critique of geographical reality.

Following two previous exhibitions at the Venice Biennale, in 2009 and 2011, the United Arab Emirates returns once again to the Venetian Arsenale with a site-specific installation by artist Mohammed Kazem. Curating the solo exhibition – entitled Walking on Water – is Reem Fadda, an associate curator for Middle Eastern Art at the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi museum. Having successfully showcased the best of contemporary Emirati art in the past two editions of the biennale, the UAE aims to continue to foster an international appreciation for the artistic talents of the small Arab country.

Dubai-born Mohammed Kazem is a conceptual artist whose reputation has grown over the years, both in his native country and abroad. The 55th Venice Biennale marks his second time exhibiting in Italy, having already taken part in the 2009 Venice Biennale as part of a group exhibition organised by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage. This year, Kazem’s solo exhibition in the United Arab Emirates National Pavilion will be a site-specific installation from his ongoing series Directions, a project the contemporary artist has been working on since 2000.

In Kazem’s conceptual art project Directions, Kazem uses Geographical Positioning System (GPS) coordinates as a marker of his location. He then replicates and represents the coordinates in various multimedia installations and photographic series. A significant emphasis is placed on natural elements including on water and the sea.

More specifically, Directions comprises of a series of numbers – coordinates, times and dates to be precise – written with a range of natural or man-made materials and subsequently photographed by Kazem himself. The coordinates identify the exact geographical and temporal position in which the artist found himself when he produced the numbers. In past works, Kazem has written numbers with sand, stone and flowers, or simply through LED lighting. In 2006, he produced 3D numbers made of plastic that he then hung on walls and sewed those same numbers into fabric. A few years prior, he wrote coordinates of his geographical position on small plastic squares, flung the squares into the sea and photographed the whole sequence.

Conceptual artist Hassan Sharif, with whom Kazem works at the Dubai Art Atelier, says of Kazem’s project: ‘Directions reveals a distinct plan to eradicate the traditional concept of number […] and redefine it. This is done through making the numbers visible and legible from many sides and intellectual stances. He thus disintegrates the superficial idea people have about numbers and forcefully introduces a satirical glimpse into numerical geography.’ In this sense, Directions is a true oeuvre of pure concept, in which Kazem seeks to critique geographical reality through art in a simple and almost playful way.

Kazem’s participation at the 55th Venice Biennale follows his recent graduation in December 2012 from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where he received a Masters in Fine Arts. His works have been collected in several museums and private collections worldwide, as well as showcased in a number of exhibitions and biennials in the UAE and abroad. His participation at the Sharjah Biennial, first as an exhibiting artist (1993-2005), then as curator (2007), has helped Kazem reinforce his reputation as a contemporary artist not only in his native country, but also in the international arts arena.

United Arab Emirates Team

Artist: Mohammed Kazem

Curator: Reem Fadda

Commissioner: Lamees Hamdan

Supporters: The UAE Ministry of Culture, Youth & Community Development and The Sheikha Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation

Venue: UAE Pavilion at Arsenale

About The Culture Trip’s Venice Biennale Project

The 55th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale takes place from 1 June – 24 November. The Culture Trip’s Venice Biennale Series is an article series leading up to the start of the exhibition. With 88 countries participating in this year’s Biennale — 10 of them for the first time — and 150 artists from 37 countries, our coverage highlights a selection of the National Pavilions that will be participating in the 2013 edition of the Venice Biennale. Continue reading our daily Venice Biennale updates here or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest!

By Marinel Valentini