One of the first things a visitor to Art Dubai would have encountered was the work of Rana Begum. Whether it was the coloured Perspex panels protruding at regular intervals along the entrance corridor or the large, floating installation that was placed in the waterways of Madinat Jumeirah.
This artwork consisted of eight rows of triangular-shaped, brightly coloured pieces of glass that cast constantly changing shadows upon its white base as the sun moved through the sky above.
Begum was the winner of the annual Abraaj Group Art Prize, meaning that in October last year, her proposal to build this giant glass sculpture was accepted and she was given US$100,000 (Dh367,250) to make it. It was unveiled on the first day and quickly became one of the most photographed pieces at the fair. Inside, there were more of her works on display, as well as those by the other three shortlisted artists – Doa Aly, Sarah Abu Abdullah and Raha Raissnia – curated by Omar Berrada.
Despite the four artists having very different styles, Berrada did a fantastic job of collating them all under one thematic title, and the end result was, in my opinion, one of the strongest ever exhibitions for this art prize, now in its ninth edition.
Calling the exhibition Seepage/Ritual, Berrada saw parallels in the way each artist used repetition in their work as a kind of ritual to catch the elusive meaning of reality.
“Reality seeps,” he said at the opening. “And each of these artists tries to catch it. Wheth- er they work with a series, a theme or a motif, they look at it from every angle. There is a tension in each of their works and something that is seeping, and then there is effort and ritual of gathering it again.”
Through the repetition of geometric shapes in Begum’s work, the artist reached a dimension of spirituality, linked to Islamic patterns and geometry.
In Aly’s four-channel video called House of Rumour, which featured people walking around in a very tight space and talking over each other, the idea was that through repetition she was attempting to question the truth in rumours.
Abu Abdullah also presented a video work, which was about the confinement of domesticity. By concentrating on mundane, every day tasks, she was making sense of home life.
Raissnia’s work – a collection of paintings, drawings and another video work – was about the structure of music and how, through repetition, it lifts us up and lets us fall.
The accompanying book to the exhibition was also impressive with innovative design and new content, including poetry and a musical score, and it was a kind of exhibition in book form. Its designer, Omar Mismar, also deserves credit.