Conceptual art pioneer Abdullah Al Saadi to represent the United Arab Emirates at Biennale Arte 2024

calendar-iconWednesday, 4 October, 2023

04 October 2023, Abu Dhabi, UAE: National Pavilion UAE has appointed Emirati artist Abdullah Al Saadi to represent the country at the 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia in 2024, opening in April 2024. Abdullah’s solo exhibition will be curated by Tarek Abou El Fetouh.

Considered a key figure in the development of contemporary art in the UAE, Al Saadi’s prolific practice ranges from painting, drawing, sculpture, performance, and photography, to collecting and cataloguing found objects, and the creation of new alphabets. His work is informed by the UAE’s landscape and his own family history, often exploring relationships between individuals and their natural and social environment. His thought-provoking body of work delves into personal constructions of meaning emerging from his immersion in nature, inspiring us to reflect on our relationship to the world. Starting in the 1980s, Al Saadi has consistently created the most distinctive and comprehensive body of work connected to the landscapes of the Arabian Peninsula.

In a statement, His Excellency Sheikh Salem bin Khalid Al Qassimi, Minister of Culture and Youth said:  “The International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is an important international platform for knowledge and cultural exchange. Since 2009, the National Pavilion UAE has firmly established itself as a leading platform for showcasing Emirati heritage and the rich tapestry of the local arts and culture.”

His Excellency continued: “We will continue to support creative Emiratis as ambassadors for building cultural and creative communication with artists from various parts of the world, in line with the UAE vision and its mission. By empowering the next generation of creatives, we are building common grounds for the different cultures to meet and celebrate their diversity and creativity in the art and cultural fields.”

“I draw my inspiration from my own story, my family history, and my environment,” said Abdullah Al Saadi. “I am honoured to represent my country and show my work at the UAE National Pavilion at the Biennale Arte 2024. Since I was a student, four decades ago, art has been an integral part of my daily life. My art is the result of interactions with places, people, ideas, and aesthetics that I encounter every day where I live and in my journeys. I find myself driven to document these experiences visually or in written diaries and contemplations, seeking to transfigure the ordinary with the passage of time.”

Some of Al Saadi’s most notable works include Stone Slippers (2013), a collection of slippers made out of stone accompanied by drawings, a visual metaphor of the life of a wanderer who is constantly travelling in search for something he ardently longs for, and which remains elusive. In The Purl and Silk Journey, presented in 2017 at the Sharjah Biennale 13, scrolls and drawings produced during in nature, mediated through the artist’s physical presence and the passage of time. In My Mother’s Letters 1998-2013 (shown as part of his solo exhibition at Sharjah Art Foundation in 2014), the artist codifies a collection of objects left behind by his mother during visits to his studio—subtle markers of her presence in lieu of a written message in his absence, triggering in the artist the drive to create alternative alphabetical systems. His fascination with preserved historical manuscripts is expressed in Al Saadi’s Diaries (2016), a project presented in Venice in 2017 at the 57th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, titled “Viva Arte Viva”, curated by Christine Marcel.

The 2024 exhibition will be curated by Tarek Abou El Fetouh, with whom Al Saadi has recently collaborated on a public intervention in Expo 2020 Dubai with his exhibit titled Terhal, which stemmed from the artist’s experience with the UAE’s natural environment. Over the last 25 years, Abou El Fetouh has been dedicated to creating institutional platforms that provide opportunities for contemporary artists in the region through commissions, co-productions, touring projects, residencies, and events. His curatorial practice is influenced by classic Arab intellectual and scientific literature. Tarek Abou El Fetouh was chosen as curator for the National Pavilion UAE’s 2024 participation at the 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia by the artist, in line with the pavilion’s ambition to encourage an artist-led approach.

“Abdullah’s practice has been, over the last forty years, a continuous engagement with changing environments as well as personal and cultural histories, creating points where they meet and interweave,” commented the curator Tarek Abou El Fetouh. “In his rich and diverse artistic practice, whether drawings, maps, diaries, or objects, Abdullah’s visual language remains recognizable through his passionate longing for immersion in nature; he constructs a unique relationship with landscapes, which goes beyond the familiar. I am delighted to be working with him once again, curating his solo exhibition for the National Pavilion UAE in Venice.”

Abou El Fetouh has been working extensively across the UAE since 2009 when he was appointed as one of the curators of Sharjah Biennial 9, and later curated a major exhibition titled The Time is Out of Joint for Sharjah Art Foundation, co-produced with Asia Art Center in Gwangju, Korea (2016). He also curated Durub Al Tawaya, an annual performance programme at Abu Dhabi Art (2013-2018) and the Public Art Programme for Expo 2020 Dubai, the first-ever curated permanent open-air art exhibition in the UAE (2021). Abou El Fetouh is currently Senior Curator and Director of the Performance Department at the Sharjah Art Foundation. He has also curated numerous exhibitions regionally and internationally, including Rituals of Signs and Metamorphoses (2018) and Captive of Love (2017) at Red Brick Art Museum, Beijing; Lest the Two Seas Meet (2015) at Museum of Modern Art Warsaw; and the exhibition of Home Works 6, Ashkal Alwan, Beirut (2013).

Angela Migally, Executive Director at the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, said: “The Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation’s relationship with the National Pavilion UAE has spanned across several exhibitions showcasing the best of the UAE’s art and architecture practices. We are committed to supporting the UAE’s creative and cultural ecosystem and the Pavilion has been a crucial platform to share thought-provoking stories from the UAE at one of the most important global stages in the world, La Biennale di Venezia.”

Laila Binbrek, Director of National Pavilion UAE, said: “Abdullah’s central position within art history of the UAE is also reflected in his participation in two previous National Pavilion UAE group exhibitions, in 2011 and 2015. It is incredibly gratifying to include his work once again in this year’s Pavilion, this time for a solo exhibition, curated by Tarek Abou El Fetouh, who has spearheaded groundbreaking projects across the Emirates. We look forward to sharing yet another untold story of the UAE in 2024 through the lens of Abdullah’s work.”

The exhibition will be on view in April 2024 at the National Pavilion UAE’s permanent space at the Arsenale – Sale d’Armi in Venice.

The 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia will take place from 20 April to 24 November 2024, conceived by Brazilian curator Adriano Pedrosa, director of the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP). Pedrosa is the first appointed Latin American curator for the International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia and his exhibition will focus on artists who are themselves foreigners, immigrants, expatriates, diaspora, émigrés, and refugees, as well as those who identify as outsiders in other senses.

Currently “Aridly Abundant”, exhibited at the UAE National Pavilion at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, is on view until 26 November 2023. Curated by Faysal Tabbarah, it investigates what architectural possibilities can become possible when we reimagine arid landscapes as spaces of abundance. A virtual tour of the exhibition is available to view on the National Pavilion UAE website.

The National Pavilion UAE is commissioned by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and supported by the Ministry of Culture and Youth. For more information on the participation of the UAE at the International Art and Architecture Exhibitions of La Biennale di Venezia over the years and the open call process, please visit nationalpavilionuae.org or follow the National Pavilion UAE on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.