Aisha Alabbar Gallery is pleased to present square: not square, Eman Al Hashemi’s first solo exhibition at the gallery. In this exhibition, the multidisciplinary Emirati artist addresses the effects of waiting by isolating different square-based objects and utensils from their everyday usage and subjecting them to surreal, slightly funny tests of time and multiplicity.
In multiple series of works made in ceramics, stitched and compressed paper, and concertinaed books, the artworks highlight the differences that emerge from sameness. Square plates are stacked up, squares form uneven grids, and spoons sit alongside each other in a parody of identical manufacture. For Eman, the repetition of objects speaks not to the purity of mathematics but to the contextual reality of life. By carefully making every work herself, she emphasises individuation and difference in what are ostensibly identical objects.
The Dubai-born artist is currently in her second year of studying ceramics at RISD in Providence, Rhode Island, after being part of SEAF Cohort 5 and studying fine art at the University of Sharjah’s Fine Arts and Design College. Her practice is marked by the formalism in materials that emerged over the past five years in the UAE, as artists moved away from found items and Pop idioms and towards studio-based work governed by concepts of perception, investigation into the properties of materials, and geometric principles. For Eman, this interest in formalism brings with it a commitment to manual production, such that her time producing the work becomes part of the project’s enquiry around time as constituent material, impacting and affecting the physical stuff of the object itself. In Sliding Tablecloth (2018), for example, she presents a laborious act of production that makes mockery of the order suggested by geometry, where she stitched together coloured squares into a fragile, ephemeral tablecloth, like a softer, more magical version of the 20th century’s austere grid.
The artist examines the essence of the grid, the square, applying it as the backbone of several projects, such as the architectural Unfinished Towers (2019–21), that are ceramic versions of buildings whose sides are formed of melting, sagging windows, as if following the methodical desire of a grid to its logical conclusion (four sides, four grids) and ending with something not abstract but indifferently quotidian; the unfinished towers that dot neighbourhoods in the midst of change.
With its anthropomorphism of the “waiting” object, Eman’s work is also marked by a literary conceit and self-awareness that seeps in at the edges. She shows that material properties, environmental conditions, and the boredom – and meditative freedom – of repetition all bear on the making and even reception of a work. If the twentieth century was led by the form of the grid, Eman reminds us that the grid must be formed of something: whether paper, ceramics, fabric, or the time the artist and viewer put in.