Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Making Iranian food in Dubai

We had a few friends over for great food and conversation on Friday evening.  As usual, Mohammed was happy to make a wonderful fresh meal for the group.  This time he made Iranian chicken and vegetables with basmati rice.  It is so simple to prepare and was absolutely delicious!

To make this dish you just need: 
one full chicken
garlic (to taste)
3-4 small red onions
3 potatoes (peeled and cut)
2 tomatoes (sliced)
2 eggplants (sliced lengthwise)
2 lemons
olive oil, salt, pepper, arabic spices (you can buy it already mixed), saffron, sugar.
basmati rice prepared with cumin and olive oil.

Cut chicken into separate pieces, coat both sides in arabic spices, add some sugar and put to the side.

Start with a large pot, pour in some olive oil (a few tablespoons) 
add 4-6 cloves chopped garlic
add chopped and peeled potatoes
add chopped onions
add seasoned chicken, then squeeze the juice from both lemons over the chicken
add salt and pepper and saffron
Cover, cook on LOW for 20 minutes. 

after 20 - 30 minutes lightly fry eggplant in olive oil.  
-cover the pot with aluminum foil, poke holes and put eggplant on the aluminum.  Cover entire pot with lid.  Allow eggplant to steam for 10-15 minutes. 

After eggplant has been steamed take away the foil and add to the rest of the yumminess. 

It will continue to cook and turn into a sort of stew before your eyes.  Just remember to be patient and not turn up the heat!  Altogether I guess it took one hour.  Let me know if you try it and it is as good as it was here!

*** It should be noted that I did not actually make this food, but I watched Mohammed make it and then I ate it and it was wonderful.  If you try it Make sure you are drinking some cold beer - to fully recreate the moment. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Review of Emirates Fine Arts Society Annual Exhibition

Review of The 30th Annual Exhibition of the Emirates Fine Arts Society

            The 30th Annual Exhibition of the Emirates Fine Arts Society, currently showing at the Sharjah Art Museum, in Sharjah, U.A.E. is underwhelming at best.  The museum sits across a quiet cobbled road from the Emirates Fine Arts Society, a historic, traditional style Arabic villa, with open blue skies above and soft, romantic shadows and narrow passageways.  Upon entering the museum, it is not obvious that the biggest and most highly acclaimed exhibition of the year is taking place.  Walking into the entry way, one will see a few young beautiful women, dressed in traditional black abayas covering their bodies and hair, with exotic makeup painted on their faces making the ladies appear to be from a royal family.  Here you can find some assortment of maps about the arts district in Sharjah and some small flyer about the exhibition.  Luckily I had local artist and curator Mohammed Kazem with me as a guide, or I would not have necessarily realized the exhibition begins up on the second level. 
            The show begins with a floor installation outside of the main entrance to the galleries.  In the slaughterhouse of love, 2011 by Patricia Millns is spread out on the floor, different artifacts of gestures of love or domestic keepsakes, all in the color red, covered by what appear to be glass cake covers organized in a circle.  It is clear the purpose is to demonstrate an idea about lost love, mistrust and holding onto what was one passionate and fiery, but ends up communicating something cliché and tired. 
            Without knowing anything about the artists shown in this exhibition it is difficult to understand why certain works were selected.  There was no apparent theme and it seems to be open to any artist who is making work in the U.A.E.  Upon reading the curator’s statement in the catalogue, that appears to be the case.  The show was intended to be an overview of the various types of works being made in current day Middle East.  In this case, it is questionable if a curator is really necessary at all.  
            As I moved from one room to the next, in a long hall of evenly sized gallery spaces divided by walls, like cells, it is clear that the understanding of contemporary art is still developing in the U.A.E.  The walls are all painted a sort of light yellow-cream color, and the lighting seemed somewhat dim.  A room of three large impressionistic style paintings may be followed by a video piece, which is next followed by a large aluminum sculpture criticizing the misuse of Arabic language.  In general the show as a whole reminded me more of an end-of-term undergraduate class at a university than a collection of the best of the best artists from one of most rapidly developing and exotic places in the world.
            One of the first rooms with perhaps the most compelling work, had the art of Mohammed Ahmad Ibrahim.  Mohammed’s works Models is a series of mixed media sculpture, made with plastic water bottles with lids, and colorful paper maché.  It is a quietly strong selection of three pieces, all representing large pots which could be used to transport water or grains, but within each ‘pot’ are empty plastic water bottles, posing many questions to the viewer about the history and future of water.   The material was familiar to me, as it is the exact same material I began working with last year to build a sculpture of a memory of a motorbike from India.  The playful colors used by Mohammed resemble childlike toys such as Play Dough, making the work all the more compelling when considering the concept behind it.

Models, Mohammed Ahmad Ibrahim, 2011
Mixed Media
Different sizes

            During the hour I spent in the museum viewing the works one at a time, there were no other visitors or guards present.  It was a bit of a shock to me, as I had heard about this museum over the past year, and knew of classmates coming to attend a highly acclaimed exhibition in which they all participated and showed their art works. 
            As the art scene in the Middle East finds its voice, it appears there is much room for criticism and participation.  The artists I have met thus far are warm and open to conversation and excited to have new voices within the movement.  As I continue my work, questioning the objects and things we are a species give value to, I find Dubai to be rich with clues and insight into my research.  This is a blended and new culture, with a population of around 5 million, with only less than 1 million native Emirate people.  The commonality between those who choose to live here is obviously wealth and the idea of living a luxurious lifestyle.  As artists who work to create objects for a variety of reasons and different motivations, it is easy to see how artists may be led down a path of making artwork purely as decorative objects in the hopes of selling their works for obscene amounts of money. 
            Important contemporary artist and critique in the Middle East, Hassan Sharif states in his contributing essay in the exhibition catalogue: “Images of this age (are) able to take over our emotions and consciousness to a point where our cultures have turned into consumer cultures.  Just like we import various commercial products, we also import different hybrid cultures and in turn different superimposed images that have become an imitation of the present age.” (Sharif, 33)  In this statement he is referring to Jean Baudrillard’s observations about having emotional reaction to repeated and artificial imagery such a having opinions about the aesthetic of a city one has never visited, but seen images of on the internet.  This dangerous trend has already greatly impacted us as a species, and will continue to shape the way the artist and viewer communicate ideas.  No matter what, the UAE is a large player in the world of art, and as a young artist and student, there is much to see and learn from a country that is only 40 years old, and still working to determine its place in the history of art.  

Movement by Layla Juma

Forest Bird by Abdulrahman Al Ma'aini

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Carbon paper drawings

The blue skies of Dubai winter are brilliantly bright and beautiful. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Beach Barriers

Ten steps apart, all in a line.  Like the towers in dubai.  Cement blocks on sand.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

cuts on rubber

Dubai towers all look unique at first, but as I look around they become nearly indistinguishable.  I began a series of prints this week influenced by the Dubai towers.  The shape, contours and contrast of darks and lights reminds me of fingerprints used to identify individuals.  Mainly the towers here are constructed by extremely wealthy land developers and corporations, each one competing for the newest most impressive building in the city.  It appears that the investors are putting their fingerprints on the landscape of Dubai, but is it really their mark - or the mark of the laborers who are actually building these towers in astoundingly short periods of time from start to finish?  The series of prints are carved in rubber - not a typical material for printing but it is available for me in this city and it feels appropriate for making sort of fingerprints of the buildings here.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Looking at buildings

I have heard many times in the past week how much Dubai is changing before our eyes.  Many things are impressive about this Emirate, but for me the shiny buildings which seem to be growing out of the desert in the blink of an eye are the most overwhelmingly noticeable.   

My questions are quickly turning into ideas for art works.