I first met Ebtisam AbdulAziz during my initial visit to Sharjah in the autumn of 2004, when I began working there on the Sharjah Biennial 7. I remember seeing her on a daily basis at the Sharjah Art Museum and all the local art-related events being staged then. Ebtisam is one of the most active and dynamic local artists.
Born and raised in Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates, Ebtisam is a mathematics and science graduate. She has worked as an artist since the early Nineties, when she became interested in experimenting with painting and media. She is a member of the Emirates Fine Arts Society and serves on the editorial committee of the society’s regular publication: Tashkil. She translates essays on art theory and art practice from English into Arabic, because she feels there is a lack of information in the UAE on the international art practice. Ebtisam regularly contributes art reviews to several UAE dailies as well as manages arts-related initiatives in Sharjah and Dubai, in collaboration with other local artists. Her work has been shown at several group exhibitions in the UAE and, most recently, she was among the artists selected to participate in the Sharjah Biennial 7.
Talking about her experience during the Sharjah Biennial 7, Ebtisam said, "This was the first time I ever participated in a biennial and I’m very grateful for being represented, as well as for having been exposed to such a diverse group of art works and to all the presentations and discussions included in the biennial’s symposium. It’s important for UAE artists to see such art, since the exposure enriches our work and influences our creative development." When I asked about her earliest artistic experiences, she responded by reminiscing about her father encouraging her creativity when she was a child: "...my father was creative and enjoyed drawing, but never pursued making art in his own life. Instead, he always provided my siblings and myself with drawing supplies and crafts’ materials when we were children. He would sit and draw with us. This might well have contributed to my becoming an artist later in life."
During the recent biennial, two spaces in the Sharjah Art Museum were dedicated to Ebtisam’s work. Her video piece, Vision and Illusion, showed an optician’s seeing-test light box and also relayed a recurring dialogue between the optician and his patient – a continuous reading aloud of letters in a monotonous tone. "I tried to present this work in a way that would oblige those viewing the piece to walk in the dark through a narrow and almost mysterious corridor leading to a screen on one side of the corridor, something only visible after the visitor makes a certain physical effort. Through the quasi dictatorial nature of my installation, and by leading the viewer along an uncertain path, I tried to imitate the dictatorial manipulation that certain rulers exercise upon their subjects. My art piece was what the viewers were pursuing, and, as the artist, I assumed a position of power, which I chose to abuse by engineering the viewers’ experience with my work. Vision and Illusion is about the uncertainty that exists between people and ruling systems, but also about two people trying to have an exchange. It concerns the hidden meanings in communication and the withholding of information by people and systems in positions of power".
Ebtisam’s second work at the Sharjah Biennial 7 is entitled Number and Lifetime. It consists of two large photographs of hands and an alphabetically-arranged archive of hundreds of photographs of hands, each displaying the photographed subject’s hand and date of birth, thus revealing little information about the artist’s models and inviting viewers to use their imagination while relating at all to the photographed hand. Ebtisam created this archive over a period of two months, prior to the opening of the Sharjah Biennial 7. During that period, she approached people on the street and visited many offices and institutions, her aim being to photograph the hands of a broad spectrum of people with different backgrounds and engaged in different professional activities. "I wanted to show the mark of time, work and history on people’s hands, and create an archive that reflected the age and social differences of a portion of Sharjah’s population, highlighting in particular the differences between the old and the young, the healthy and the somewhat physically disabled, and people from higher social classes and the workmen who lead difficult lives and do extremely physical labor. Hands can reveal a great deal about a person’s history, and the mark of time’s passing seems registered on a hand forever". During the opening of the 7th Sharjah Biennial, Ebtisam set up an impromptu studio in her exhibition space. Here she photographed the hands of visitors and added these images to her archive.
Mahita ElBacha Urieta
London based curator & arts/culture projects producer. Recent work includes coordinating the 7th Sharjah Biennial, 2005.
Vision and Illusion, 2005 Video installation
Number and Lifetime, 2005
Installation, photographs, intervention