Sunday May 08, 2022

Louvre Abu Dhabi hosts Emirati artist Ahmad Saeed Al Areef Al Dhaheri’s work

Louvre Abu Dhabi hosts Emirati artist Ahmad Saeed Al Areef Al Dhaheri’s work

Louvre Abu Dhabi, where the sky touches the sea.

Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

celestial experience is being offered under Louvre Abu Dhabi’s dome in the Ottoman Pavement (Apr 15 - May 15), which comes from the work of Emirati multidisciplinary artist, Ahmad Saeed Al Areef Al Dhaheri.

The enchanting audio-visual journey is titled Physiognomy, Land and Territory and reflects on the Firasa science (Physiognomy or discernment in Greek) known in the Arabian Peninsula, and the ability to form an accurate discernment based on the surrounding observations, sharp insights and intuitions.Firasa is also known to be the study of general form and countenance of our surrounding environment.

It goes through a journey of an observational stage, confirmation, contemplation and insight, to be considered an accurate discernment. The people of the Arabian Peninsula (especially in inland areas) had the ability to predict the weather, judge the people they encountered, identify allies from foe settlements, ancient water sources and navigate bare landscapes, using nothing but their insightfulness in reading the starry night skies.


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Al Dhaheri’s piece explores his visual journey to Firasa, and delves into multidisciplinary environments, across multi continents, encompassing landscapes and the extra-terrestrial vastness of the night sky. His practice embeds historical symbols through contemporary mediums to convey the significance of past cultures and heritages. He uses various techniques to visually represent historical knowledge in digital art, video installation and photo manipulation and has been showcased both locally and abroad at numerous galleries and exhibitions. Al Dhaheri speaks to Rlixa

What is the message you convey through ‘Physiognomy, Land and Territory’?

The purpose is to encourage the observer to take a closer look at the magnificence of the surrounding nature.

Why did you decide to work on this theme? What inspired you?

This new immersive experience is a continuation of my earlier installation presented in 2020 called “Al Lamad” (the sundial), an astrological tool that helped communities in the area operate the aflaj (irrigation network system in the UAE), across generations.  For a very long time, and before the industrial revolution, societies across the United Arab Emirates relied on agriculture, which dictated where they lived and worked.

Louvre Abu Dhabi hosts Emirati artist Ahmad Saeed Al Areef Al Dhaheri’s work Ahmad Saeed Al Areef Al Dhaheri is an Emirati multidisciplinary artist.

The falaj irrigation system functioned as the core of those societies. It required a very sophisticated astrological tool called Al Lamad, or Al Alam or the sundial, to keep the economy fairly balanced. The whole economy was based on the operation of this tool. This artwork features the main switch of those societies. That switch required astrological knowledge and a discerning person to operate, also known as “Al Areef” - which happens to be my great grandfather.

He practiced Physiognomy (also known as Firasa in Arabic) on a daily basis and acknowledged it as a science indeed. Just as his predecessors did.

What are the elements that make up ‘Physiognomy, Land and Territory’?

It is an immersive audio-visual experience that depicts the change from sunrise to sunset through the night sky.

How is Firasa (discernment) linked to art?

Physiognomy is linked to art. Artists are especially attuned to the physiognomic overtures of people, objects, scenes and events that move them. We are inspired by everything around us and as creatives, we want to create and translate what stimulates us into artwork (be it visual, auditory or written). Art should make you feel something – and that’s where Firasa comes in.

Every piece of work has a meaning behind it. And that inspiration is derived from the ability to apply a level of Physiognomy to our surroundings. Take for example, face reading – we apply the use of Physiognomy in today’s digital world - a very good example being face recognition devices.

How are ancient experts of Firasa and the millennium man in the Arabian Peninsula conjoined?

Firasa includes stages of observation, confirmation, contemplation, and insight, to reach an insightful interpretation. In any aspect of daily life or profession, millennium men will apply it and develop it in their own fields of work or aspects of life. I believe it to be the driving force between the emotions that instigate a reaction.

Alia Al Shamsi, who is Cultural Programming Manager at Louvre Abu Dhabi, also spoke to Rlixa

What impressed you about Ahmad Saeed Al Areef Al Dhaheri’s work?

I believe the poetry of his work was the first to capture my attention, the visual narrative and the story that he tells through his journey across the UAE.

In what ways does Al Dhaheri’s work fit into Louvre Abu Dhabi’s programme?

The well-developed concept, the ability of the artwork to create impact with the viewer through its visual aesthetic and its relationship with Physiognomy.

Can you brief us about how the collaboration with Al Dhaheri evolved?

It is a unique experience to work with an artist whose practice is based on ancient knowledge or teachings passed on through the generations and that are integrated into his artworks. It renders the conversation deep and meaningful. You will see things in a new and enriched perspective.

As an Emirati yourself, how does ‘Physiognomy, Land and Territory’ resonate with you?

It is a beautiful ode to our land and wonderfully illustrates its richness in its diversity, as it does the ancient cultural practices.

As a programmer, what features do you look for in works to be displayed at LAD?

Stories that create dialogues between different cultures and brings us closer to one another.

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