Art Here 2021
Richard Mille Art Prize
18 November 2021 – 27 March 2022
Latifa Saeed (b. 1985, Dubai) is an Emirati visual artist whose work seeks to extrapolate the complexities of cultural narratives by exploring the intrinsic qualities of regional materials. Focusing specifically on her immediate environment, she uses the rapid development of her native city as a lens to observe the broader relationship between land, identity, and materiality. Her work occupies a space that is at once between past and present, complicating standard notions of time by presenting the viewer with particular dichotomies: lightness contrasted with heft; heritage countered by development; and chaos balanced by quiet order. This opposition is neither reconciled nor overcome but conceived, rather, as two sides of one phenomenon.
In The Pathway (Dubai, 2021), the artist explores the contours of her social terrain by focusing on the gaps opened by the building blocks of the urban landscape. The pavement brick is a basic unit of construction and the central point of contact between inhabitants and their territory. Often overlooked, traversed by movement, it is at once central to and separate from its immediate environment. As a pathway, pavements open a connection to a new territory; but pavements can also conceal the fragility of existing territories. Through selection, molding, casting and careful placement, the artist focuses our attention on the invisible structures which mediate the intimate act of placing one’s feet on the ground. The forces of construction slow down, becoming visual whispers, fluid compositional structures that, both transparent and physical, are designed to be both looked at and looked through. As movement in time is delayed, we recognize the essential features of space unfolding as place and come to understand, in the process, our fundamental relation to our immediate environment.
“I did not decide to become an artist, I was born an artist. I grew up in an artistic household in Dubai surrounded by the many art and design objects that my mother has long collected. She has an archive of photographs, films, and poetry — many of which have been in our family for many generations. My art is rooted in my homeland, the UAE. My inspiration stems from nature and from my life in Dubai. I constantly observe and am inspired by the growth, the changes and the transformation of the city. It is a transformation that happened so fast, in such a short amount of time. Everything around us is continuously shifting and I often feel like I am living in a different place every few years. When I was five, there was only one skyscraper in Dubai, and now we are living in a metropolis — an Amazon of buildings.
My practice is multidisciplinary and begins with research, documentation and archiving various objects and materials. Over time my artistic practice has developed into three-dimensional form. A major influence on my art is the societal transformation taking place in the UAE. The culture is changing. Traditions are changing as well as the language, the topography, the urban landscaping and the scenery. My work is a narrative of metaphorical contemplation and reflection on the current times which resonates from Arabic poetry and literature. A major part of my practice involves intended hidden meanings and representations familiar uniquely to the Arab mind. I look at how the future as we live it is now encapsulated in a multi-dimensional reality. It is a record of the present. Later on, it will be considered as a record of the past. I greatly think of the three temporal states of past, present and future. I look backwards and forwards. It is by looking forwards, to the future that I try to understand what we could create now for others to look back and reflect on. I feel that my mission as an artist is to document what is happening now, in my own voice.
Art is not something new to the UAE. I have been living in a creative environment my entire life, and as have my mother and my grandmother. I’ve always had an innate desire to create. When I was three years old, I remember thinking to myself: “I want to be making art for the rest of my life.” In high school I focused my studies on studio art and then in university I pursued a degree in arts and science with a focus on graphic design. After I graduated from Zayed University in Dubai, I began producing and exhibiting my design work, both locally in the UAE and then internationally at Milan Design Week and London Design Week. Most recently, in 2019, I enrolled in the Salama bint Hamdan Emerging Artists Fellowship (SEAF) in partnership with the Rhodes Island School of Design. The 10-month artistic education and development program facilitated a connection with the larger art community in the UAE. My work has now been exhibited at Tanween by Tashkeel, Design Days Dubai (Dubai design week); Middle East revealed, curated by Wallpaper*; Dray Walk Gallery, London and Middle East: Design Now, during London Design Week; UAE Design Stories: The next generation from the Emirates during Milan Design Week.
When I was still in university, Sheikha Lateefa bint Maktoum invited me to visit Hassan Sharif’s Flying House in Dubai’s Al Quoz area. It was an inspiring moment as well as such a privilege to be able to have met him and observe his establishment in person. In 2008, Sheikha Lateefa bint Maktoum created Tashkeel, one of the first centers in Dubai to host artist residencies and exhibitions. I was the first member and had the privilege of observing Sheikha Lateefa bring the space to life. Tashkeel has been a vital source of support for artists in the UAE and served as a particular impetus in the formation of my own artistic voice and practice. Being an artist in the UAE is about belonging to community, it is important to know what your fellow artists are working on, understand what the generation before us was doing, absorb and learn from their legacy.
The Art Here exhibition at the Louvre Abu Dhabi builds bridges between the institution, artists and the people by bringing everyone together around art and culture. The Louvre Abu Dhabi strikes the visitor with its incredible architectural form, inspiring us on a historical, artistic and conceptual level. When you are there, you become immersed in an environment of knowledge, history and archeology. To be able to visit such a museum in our country is crucial. If I search for inspiration, the Louvre is one of the places that I go to. I often like to be immersed in a place or an experience more than to seek inspiration. I often spend the day quietly alone to submerse myself in another world. When I make a piece of art or even think about my art, I like to be alone and write. My art is born from these periods of introspection when my whole being is completely immersed in my surroundings.
When I read the brief of the Call for proposals for the exhibition, I was immediately interested in participating. For me, memory reflects heritage, time reflects evolution, and territory reflects the future. Combining these three themes together to create an experience for visitors to capture is what I believe to be a specific extrospection of an Emirati artist. For this project, I melted a sheet of glass to take the impression of a concrete brick. Using these glass bricks, I constructed a pathway on the floor of the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The idea of using a brick came while I was walking on a concrete brick pathway in an industrial area in Dubai that serves as a division between the high rises in the city and its industrial areas. The resulting work is a representation of a memory, time and territory. These themes are transient. The bricks used are familiar to the region while the layer of glass which takes the form of a brick endows the work with fragility and vulnerability. The Pathway is a modular art piece and can be rearranged in different formations. It can be scaled up and also serve as an architectural intervention.”
Interview with Latifa Saeed, 19 October 2021, Dubai