“I spent my childhood without witnessing a sunset, since the sun never sets in Khorfakkan,” says Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim. The Emirati artist’s hometown faces East towards the Gulf of Oman, sitting against a picturesque bay where the rocky Hajar Mountains converge with the sea. It’s a hidden paradise surrounded by mountains on three sides and the ocean on the fourth. The mountains block the sun for about two hours before it finally sets beyond the horizon.
It’s this very landscape that reveals itself in Mohamed’s work. “I felt that I had been deprived of sunset hues and this encouraged me to imagine, experiment, and magnify the colours I use,” he notes. As a lifelong resident of Khorfakkan, he has an affinity with the natural terrain of the UAE. Celebrated for his playful mixed media art, his cultural production is splashed with vibrant colours that come from pigments of earth, paper and sand that he uses for his papier-mâché and clay sculptures.
Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim and Maya Allison; Photography by Augustine Paredes
For this year’s National Pavilion UAE at Venice Biennale that runs until 27 November 2022, Mohamed has unveiled a solo show titled ‘Between Sunrise and Sunset’, which has been curated by Maya Allison, the founding Executive Director of the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery. “Mohamed’s work almost has a prelingual quality to it, like a signature undecipherable language,” says Maya. “His technique leads to forms that are instinctive and derived from his subconscious.”
“Venice is the perfect location to exhibit and signify the fluidity in my work, since it’s a city that’s constantly shifting itself.”
Artist Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim
The installation mirrors the biennale’s theme, ‘The Milk of Dreams’, which focuses on the connection between bodies, earth, and metamorphosis. The organic cluster of amorphous forms suggests a transformation process; organised in a dense column, the colours of the human-sized, tree-like sculptures shift from bright tones to subdued black and white hues—an effect that reflects on his exhibition’s title.
From the outset, Mohamed’s work has been inspired by the local environment of Khorfakkan and the natural materials he has worked with for almost four decades. But a closer look reveals that the colour gradient also represents the dualities that are a part of human existence. The process of creating these forms is repetitive and meditative, yet each is unique and tells a story.
These forms are derived from the physical dialogue he has with materials—assemblages of papier-mâché are built up over loose skeleton structures that shift and settle into their final position as he works, and often incorporate elements like earth, leaves, tea, coffee, and tobacco. “I can feel the rhythm in the forms of this installation—while some might view it as an artwork that evokes childlike wonder, others may perceive it in their own distinct way,” he notes. “I’m interested in understanding other people’s interpretations of my work, so I like to leave it open-ended.”
Maya has worked with Mohamed for several years and played a special role in developing and encouraging his practice, always exploring his works from multiple vantage points. The exhibition is the duo’s fifth collaboration and marks the launch of the third book that Maya has produced, which studies the artist’s work, with the first two looking at his practice in the context of his milieu.
“Mohamed’s work almost has a prelingual quality to it, like a signature undecipherable language. His technique leads to forms that are instinctive and derived from his subconscious.”
Curator Maya Allison
The accompanying publication, titled Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim: Between Sunrise and Sunset, is the first monograph of the artist’s work, edited by Maya and artist-curator Cristiana de Marchi. “Inspiration always comes from nature and being in harmony with the spirit of the area. Venice is the perfect location to exhibit and signify the fluidity in my work, since it’s a city that’s constantly shifting itself,” Mohamed states.
Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim. Between Sunrise and Sunset. 2022. Installation at the National Pavilion UAE, La Biennale di Venezia. Papier-mâché, cardboard, tea, tobacco, grass and leaves. 128 parts, dimensions variable; Photography by Ismail Noor.
As a part of the UAE’s first generation of contemporary artists from the late 1980s, an avant-garde group that included Hassan Sharif, Mohammed Kazem, Abdullah Al Saadi, and Hussein Sharif, Mohamed has invaluably contributed to the foundation that defines the UAE’s cultural scene today. And he’ll continue to shine his light.
Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim. Between Sunrise and Sunset. 2022. Papier-mâché, cardboard, tea, tobacco, grass and leaves. 128 parts, dimensions variable; Photography by Ismail Noor
Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim’s ‘Between Sunrise and Sunset’ exhibition runs at the National Pavilion UAE, Venice Biennale until 27 November 2022.
IMAGES COURTESY OF NATIONAL PAVILION UAE, LA BIENNALE DI VENEZIA