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06 December 2023

Emirati artist Abdullah Al Saadi to represent UAE at Venice Biennale


National Pavilion UAE has appointed Emirati artist Abdullah Al Saadi to represent the UAE at the 60th International Venice Biennale opening in April 2024. The exhibition will be curated by Tarek Abou El Fetouh.

Al Saadi’s prolific practice ranges from painting, drawing, sculpture, performance, and photography, to collecting and cataloguing found objects, and the creation of language systems. His work is informed by the UAE’s landscape, heritage, and his own family, often exploring relationships between individuals and their natural and social environment.

“The International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is an important international platform for knowledge and cultural exchange. Since 2009, the National Pavilion UAE has firmly established itself as a leading platform for showcasing Emirati heritage and the rich tapestry of the local arts and culture,” said Salem Al Qassimi, the UAE Minister of Culture and Youth.

"We will continue to support creative Emiratis as ambassadors for building cultural and creative communication with artists from various parts of the world, in line with the UAE vision and its mission. By empowering the next generation of creatives, we are building common grounds for the different cultures to meet and celebrate their diversity and creativity in the art and cultural fields."

Al Saadi said. “I am honoured to represent my country and show my work at the UAE National Pavilion at Biennale Arte 2024. Since I was a student, four decades ago, art has been an integral part of my daily life. My art is the result of interactions with places, people, ideas, and aesthetics that I encounter every day where I live and in my journeys. I find myself driven to document these experiences visually or in written diaries and contemplations, seeking to transfigure the ordinary with the passage of time.”

Since the 1980s, Al Saadi has consistently created a comprehensive and distinctive body of work connected to the landscapes of the Arabian Peninsula. Some of his most notable artworks include Stone Slippers (2013) a collection of slippers made from stone accompanied by drawings, conveying a visual metaphor of the journey of a wanderer, constantly travelling in search of something. Al Saadi’s fascination with preserved historical manuscripts is depicted in Al Saadi’s Diaries (2016) which was presented in 2017 at the 57th International Venice Biennale, Viva Arte Viva, curated by Christine Marcel.

Director of the National Pavilion UAE, Laila Binbrek shared, “Abdullah’s central position within the art history of the UAE is also reflected in his participation in two previous National Pavilion UAE group exhibitions, in 2011 and 2015. It is incredibly gratifying to include his work once again in this year’s Pavilion, this time for a solo exhibition.”

The 2024 exhibition will be curated by Tarek Abou El Fetouh, with whom Al Saadi has recently collaborated on a public intervention in Expo 2020 Dubai with his exhibit titled Terhal which stemmed from the artist’s experience with the UAE’s natural environment. Over the last two decades, Abou El Fetouh has been dedicated to creating institutional platforms that provide opportunities for contemporary artists in the region through commissions, events, and residencies. His curatorial practice is influenced by classic Arab intellectual and scientific literature. Abou El Fetouh is currently Senior Curator and Director of the Performance Department at the Sharjah Art Foundation. He was selected by Al Saadi which is in line with the pavilion’s ambition to encourage an artist-led approach.

Talking about Al Saadi’s practice, Tarek Abou El Fetouh said, “In his rich and diverse artistic practice, whether drawings, maps, diaries, or objects, Abdullah’s visual language remains recognizable through his passionate longing for immersion in nature; he constructs a unique relationship with landscapes, which goes beyond the familiar. I am delighted to be working with him once again, curating his solo exhibition for the National Pavilion UAE in Venice”.

The National Pavilion UAE is an award-winning pavilion that curates’ untold stories about the UAE’s arts and architecture through its participation in the International Art and Architecture Exhibitions organized by La Biennale di Venezia. National Pavilion UAE is commissioned by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and supported by the Ministry of Culture and Youth.