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Life Style: Arab art takes center stage at Sotheby’s

DUBAI: Most art exhibitions give the artist an opportunity to display their finished works, but Jordanian creative Raya Kassisieh is hoping to reveal the intricate process that brings a work of art to fruition just as much as the final form of the piece itself.

“This exhibition is about investigations and starting points,” the Dubai-based artist told Arab News at the opening of her first solo display, “An Informal Affair With Bayt Al-Mamzar.”

“These tend to be vulnerable areas that artists try to hide or keep inside, but process is actually what my work is all about.”

Part of a series of charcoal drawings, titled “Man Hours.” Supplied

The three-week long exhibition opened on March 11 at Dubai’s Bayt Al-Mamzar, a villa-turned-art space nestled on a quiet street in Al-Mamzar, a neighborhood sandwiched between Sharjah and Dubai.

The multipurpose art space was developed by Emirati brothers Khalid and Gaith Abdulla, a former curator at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and features artists’ studios, a gallery, a residency, a co-working and events space, and rooftop screenings.

The space will host Kassisieh’s thought-provoking charcoal drawings and copper sculptures until April 5.

Kassisieh began her walk-through of the exhibition with a series of drawings, titled “Man Hours.”

“It’s very visceral, and I hope it shows and captures the labor that goes into it. It’s a literal process where there’s a very real touch,” she explained.

Process art, a movement that began in the US and Europe in the mid-1960s, believes that the end product of an artist’s endeavor is not the principal focus, and that the steps that go into producing an artwork are also relevant. The movement promotes the idea that the creative process can be an art piece in itself.

Kassisieh chose to explore everyday materials, including cement, fiber, gauze and wool. Supplied

While most process artists use perishable and transitory materials, such as steam, ice and sawdust, Kassisieh chose to explore everyday materials, including cement, fiber, gauze and wool.

The bodies of work in “An Informal Affair” that explore the idea of process most strikingly includes life-size bust sculptures fashioned by Kassisieh covering her torso in cement and plastic wrap, allowing the interaction of her body and the elements to dictate the final result.

“Both the body molds are investigations of my literal body as opposed to the rest of the works, which are investigations of what my body can do and what our bodies in general can do,” the 31-year-old artist said.

Fascinated by the way in which fashion and art intersect, the artistic display also includes a series of works that are an amalgamation of silk, glue, gauze, paint and linen transferred onto canvas that the Pratt Institute of Brooklyn alum likens to flesh.

An amalgamation of silk, glue, gauze, paint and linen transferred onto canvas. Supplied

“I want the conversation to focus on the fact that process is beautiful, and is worth sharing and talking about, and takes time. It’s OK to have many starting points and they all come together. You walk into the space and you can try to isolate them, but there’s a textural element that can’t be ignored.”

In an exhibition full of fascinating artworks, Kassisieh’s hanging wool sculptures are a highlight, largely because the artist was introduced to a large community of women who taught her to knit in order to help produce the handwoven installations.

“There is a beautiful communal effort and, again, a very womanly tradition of sitting around and knitting together. So that’s what really created these large works,” she said.

The hanging wool installation was handwoven by a collective of women. Supplied

The exhibit is tied together with a series of copper works, including one that debuted at the 8th edition of Art Dubai in Madinat Jumeirah earlier this month.

“I’m intrigued by copper. It’s found in earth, our bodies, in the cables that run the internet world,” she said.

“Copper is an incredible conductor of heat and electricity. The reason this copper yarn piece is called ‘Swaddle’ is because there is something beautiful in adorning a baby with a blanket that will reach its same body temperature.

The exhibit is tied together with a series of copper works. Supplied

“But there’s a harshness in metal, so you can’t necessarily do that. So it’s just an ironic take to try to understand this constant search for comfort and solace.”

Kassisieh reveals that she wants her artworks “to be something that makes you reflect on what you feel in your body, and what you feel about the constructs that we live in.”

Indeed each of the artworks are visually stunning, but they are creations that wouldn’t have materialized at the end without each step in the process.

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