Art Dubai has become a pre-eminent platform for art from the global South. However, the 14th edition of Art Dubai has been postponed until next year due to the coronavirus pandemic, as is the case with other international festivals, biennales and art fairs. In further response, the organisers have launched an online catalogue, featuring over 500 works represented by galleries that were to participate in the fair this year. The catalogue connects the gallerists to a global audience as well as to potential buyers. Viewers can browse, filter and put purchase inquiries directly to the galleries.
A regular participant in Art Dubai, Canvas Gallery, this year presents a solo exhibition by acclaimed artist and academic Adeela Suleman. Curated by Nancy Adajania, who is also a theorist and critic, Suleman’s solo presentation, titled Seduced By A Promise, illuminates the politics of violence and its psychological, emotional, mental and physiological effects. Suleman claims that there is something enticing about violent imagery which makes it easy to be unquestionably consumed. The adrenaline and the stimulus produced from viewing violence have the potency to inebriate the human psyche and induce short moments of rapture.
Most of the artist’s work is rooted in actual incidents. The origin of her current body of work is embedded in the local narratives of violent tragedies throughout history, in particular the gruesome execution of soldiers in South Waziristan.
Our past is riddled with violence. Due to the immediate accessibility of electronic media, incidents in recent history are extensively broadcast, consumed and disposed of. They prompt a reflex action — a momentary response of outrage, repulsion and disapproval — only for it to dissipate over time, before another news item makes the headlines. Suleman challenges this behavioural pattern and questions our level of consciousness.
Suleman consciously includes techniques in her artmaking that emulate some aspects of violence itself. She combines age-old native crafts with imagery from miniature paintings and manuscripts and, in doing so, stresses on the timelessness of violence and how it is historically intertwined with our social and cultural landscape. Hand-beaten repoussé (method of decorating metals in which parts of the design are raised in relief from the back or the inside of the article by means of hammers and punches) and chasing is a violent process that requires continuous strikes with a stocky mallet and a sharp chisel. The hammering of the surface to give it shape reverberates with the mouldability of the psychological frameworks of the human mind in the face of violence. The employment of popular culture and local craft to her visual vocabulary makes the work instantly familiar, intelligible and widely recognisable. It speaks to a broader audience that is visually accustomed to the language.
Adeela Suleman creates a visual language of violence, questioning its impact on malleable recipients
The intricacy and finesse in the repoussé and paintwork is remarkable. While the images are gory and morbid, they are also aesthetically pleasing, enhanced with the use of locally familiar crafts. The artist deliberately puts the viewers in an ambivalent position — they are provoked to turn away from the works in discomfort or revulsion, but the beautiful craftsmanship draws them in for closer admiration.
The artist also explores the relationship between religion and violence in her work. Orchestrated attacks and mob lynches are often sparked by religious differences. Flourishing vegetation, scenic landscapes and seemingly content wildlife depicted in the artworks reflects the human imagination of an unforeseen paradise or afterlife. The will to commit a brutal act of violence in order to secure placement in the promised afterlife seems self-contradictory and irrational. Suleman does not glorify violence or war; she merely demonstrates the irony concealed in this fallacious disposition.
Suleman removes the time, location, identifiable characters, and the context behind those real-life incidents that informed her work to solely highlight the act/nature of violence itself. She cedes those thresholds and reflects on the tethered relationship between human behaviour and the ingestion of violence at both human and universal levels. Beheaded and anonymous, the warrior men are immortalised in a sea of dark void in ‘Seduced By A Promise.’ Suleman equates the figures to military animals by situating the two alongside. Elephants and tigers are also shown in aggression. The artist collates a rapid succession of static images that are charged with animalistic behaviour to comment on the brutish nature that war and violence ignite within us. By comparing violence to amusement, the work becomes a visual allegory of a competitive sport in a field where we become the spectators of the entertainment.
Art Dubai 2020 has been postponed due to the global coronavirus. “Seduced By A Promise” is on view at www.artdubai.ae
Published in Dawn, EOS, April 26th, 2020