In the latest of a series of sound-based exhibitions at Darat Al Fununs The Lab, Qala 0.8900 explored the notion of cultural identity through the works of multiple artists from the Middle East. The exhibition is curated by Walid Al Wawi, a multidisciplinary artist and founder of Samt, an online exhibition space and mentorship program created for artists in the region.

Qala 0.8900 is an iteration that falls under Sawt, which is one of Samt’s objectives to instigate dialogue between the artists and their audience through a collective of micro-events around the world. Participating artists in Qala 0.8900 included Mazen Alashkar, Shama Alamri, Moza Almatrooshi, Tara Aldugaither, Mays Albeik and AlWawi. Each of the 6 artists presented works created under the creative umbrella of Samt over the past three years.  

Mazen Alashkar – Amulet-Lamentation, 2018:

Mazen Alashkar, Amulet-Lamentation, 2018

Alashkars work is visually simple. A glass cube holding some water sits on a pedestal as a minute speaker recites whispered prayers across the exhibition hall. Through the use of water and audio, Alashkars conceptual installation pays tribute to his grandmother who, when sick in his childhood, recited the exact audible prayers to him. The water used in the installation comes from the artist’s hometown in Syria and is destined to be thrown into the Mediterranean Sea to protect and pray for the bodies of the refugees crossing the waters.

Walid Al Wawi – Inaudible Dialogue, 2017:

Walid Al Wawi – Inaudible Dialogue, 2017.

Inaudible Dialogue is a multi-hour performance piece executed by AlWawi on the exhibition’s opening night. The performance found the artist patiently and motionlessly sitting on a chair with a device recording his every move. The recording is projected on a wall across the hall with multiple mismatched sketches contouring the lines of his body at different intervals of the performance. The different contours emphasise the artist’s struggle to keep the boundaries of his own shape, biology and self.

Moza AlMatrooshi – To Whom The Sun May Be of Concern, 2018:

Moza AlMatrooshi – To Whom The Sun May Be of Concern, 2018.

AlMatrooshis video installation is inspired by the archaeological evidence she uncovered through her research in Sharjah, which pointed towards the existence of a matrilineal queendom. The work signifies the need to uncover the truth about the importance of the female body historically, by displaying video footage that captures archaeological sites and ruins in the desert that were once believed to be ruled by female figures.

Shamma AlAmri – Majazi, 2019:

AlAmri presents a simple but heavily conceptual work in the form of a digitally manipulated photograph of a sewers drainage cover. Shamma plays with text on the cover by adding a simple dot on top of a letter in the word “مجاري” changing the meaning from “sewage” to “metaphorical”.

Tara Aldugaither- Al-Lisan, 2019:

Tara Aldugaither- Al-Lisan, 2019.

The work is inspired by the artist’s visit to Saudi Arabia to see her passing grandfather, where she feels the urgent responsibility of teaching her grandfather’s beloved pet parrot an Arabic poem. The artist’s project quickly takes a personal turn when she finds herself struggling with the heaviness of the Arabic language. Through her poetic text and conversation with the parrot, the artist reveals to the audience her memories and conflicting feelings about her home.

Mays Albeik – Four Syllables: ‘Ber/Rouh, Bed/Dam’, 2018:

Mays Albeik – Four Syllables: ‘Ber/Rouh, Bed/Dam’, 2018.

The inner room of The Lab displayed Mays Albeik’s Four Syllables: Ber/Rouh, Bed/Dam. The work combined a looping video projection of montaged footage taken from different Syrian protests and four small sculptures. The four sculptures are glass moulds showing the shape of the insides of the artist’s mouth. Each mould holds the shape her mouth makes when pronouncing each of the four syllables of the popular Levantine nationalistic chant “Ber-rouh, bed-dam” meaning “With soul, with blood”.

The exhibition was followed by a talk given by AlWawi, where he reiterated the need for regional artists to conduct more research to back their artwork, have more commitment to their practice and the importance of having a studio for production. Having noticed the need for this, through Samt, a mentorship program for artists was launched. AlWawi explained to artmejo what he is mainly looking for in artists to mentor at Samt:

It is mainly one criteria, which is having a relationship with the Arab world. I am looking for a genuine interest in art and research. We also aim to diversify our horizon by collaborating with guest curators interested in Arab art who also get mentored in the program.
Image from Walid AlWawi’s talk.

The artist shared with us the positivity of Samt existing primarily in digital format, stating that it is more feasible and a lot quicker to run online art exhibitions, it also makes it easier to host regional and international artists. Although Al Wawi believes that there is nothing more democratic than the Internet, since it is a platform for free speech, he explained that it still restricts art to 2D representations. Accordingly, Sawt  was created to allow viewers to interact with works of art without restrictions.

Moving forward, Al Wawi expressed that he hopes that Samt will become a stepping-stone for other spaces, ‘a space that helps other spaces to exist’.

Altogether works of art in Qala 0.8900 contributed towards Al Wawi’s vision of establishing an archival history of today, which was approached through individual manifestations of artists that formed a collective expression to perceptions involving the human condition and cultural identity through language and time.

I am interested in pan-humanism. We are all humans. We all deserve peace and quiet. We all want to live in humane conditions, and that is what should unite us.-Walid Al Wawi

Read more from Aseel Bokai.
Image courtesy of Darat Al Funun’s The Lab.