Bayn: The In-Between

“The drive for change on a physical level in the United Arab Emirates has created a parallel shift socially and culturally. As the landscape began to change, so did the mindsets, the native language, traditions, and the identities that we once labeled so clearly.”

– Munira Al Sayegh –

The United Arab Emirates, fifty years ago, known as the Trucial States, was a place not many people knew of, least of all visited. But today, mention “Dubai”, and eyes will light up in recognition. Yet, it is the brand and the bling people think of. Not the past. Or the impact of accelerated transformation on the lives of the people inhabiting the country that is far more than the image, one city projects to the world.

The vision for the future, as outlined in official documents that guide development, and the memory of the recent past, stand in sharp contrast with one another. The past is often romanticized, while the future is only a mirage of possibilities. What happens between the past and the future, in that in-between space we call the present, can be messy and confusing.

In the latest art exhibition at Warehouse 421, Bayn: The In-Between, a group of artists are trying to “describe, question, and expand on the threshold found between a starting point and its end.” The artists in this exhibition, Asma Al Ahmed, Hatem Hatem, Manal Al Dowayan, Maytha Al Shamsi, Nasser Alzayani, Saif Mhaisen, Sara Al Haddad, Talal Al Ansari, and Talin Hazbar, “look at the changes in the physical and social landscape to deconstruct and reconstruct inherited labels and question the assigned boundaries and identities.”

Curated by Munira Al Sayegh, the artworks either look at the external shift that is taking place in the physical landscape, or the transformation in personal shifts and perceptions. My personal favourite is a work called Tree Of Guardians, by Manal Al Dowayan. In it she not only reflects on her own status as an Arab woman in Arab society, but also highlights the disappearance of the names of generations of women in a patriarchal society in which lineage is traced through the males and not the females of the family.

“If you paid attention, you could hear mercenary architects barking instructions to create the perfect city: Move. This. There. That. They never slept, shouting orders into the night, into the wee hours of the morning, never resting. The city was a board game and labor its pieces, there to make buildings bigger, streets longer, the economy richer. Then to leave. After.

– From: Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan

No one, who resides in the United Arab Emirates, escapes the impact of transformation. In a country, where about eighty percent of the population are expat workers, questions of identity, change, and transition are part of this in-between life we deal with on an almost daily basis. It is a place we can only ever temporarily call ‘home’. Tied to a perpetual circle of application, and re-application of residence visas, all expat workers live a transient life. And as such, we often grapple for definitions of ‘home’ and cultural identity in an ever-evolving search for belonging.

Notes:

  • Another exhibition, Lest We Forget, at Warehouse 421 focuses on both the Tangible and Intangible Heritage of the Emirates, and is an important reminder that the past should not be forgotten in the drive for progress and prosperity.

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