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08 December 2023

Earth in focus at The Empty Quarter gallery

From Nadav Kander's Yangtze series. (NADAV KANDER)

By Keith J Fernandez

We're hurting the earth, and it shows. And evidence of our inhumanity to the planet went on display yesterday at The Empty Quarter gallery at the Dubai International Financial Centre.

Until March 6, the gallery is showcasing shortlisted works by a dozen artists for last year's Prix Pictet, the world's first prize dedicated to photography and sustainability. Last year's theme was earth, and some 300 photographers sent in "exceptional" entries, the Pictet jury says.

These are haunting images of food riots, desertification, ecosystems stretched to beyond their capacities. And behind them all lies one unspoken question: if this is the state of the planet now, what will it be like when we're nine-billion strong in 2050?

"The earth bleeds but it's not the blood we're used to. So we're not shocked when we see an excavation of 10,000 metres," says Elie Domit, Creative Director at the gallery.

On its walls are works by Andreas Gursky, Darren Almond, Edward Burtynsky, Naoya Hatakeyama and Ed Kashi, as well as Nadav Kander's winning pictures taken along the 6,500km Yangtze River, China's main freshwater artery.

In his artist's statement, Kander says he chose to use the river, which plays a significant role in both the spiritual and physical life of the people, as a metaphor for constant change.

"More people live along its banks than live in the USA, one in every eighteen people on the planet," he says.

"After several trips to different parts of the river, it became clear that what I was responding to and how I felt whilst being in China was permeating into my pictures; a formalness and unease, a country that feels both at the beginning of a new era and at odds with itself. China is a nation that appears to be severing its roots by destroying its past in the wake of the sheer force of its moving "forward" at such an astounding and unnatural pace. A people scarring their country and a country scarring its people."

Domit says the exhibition is his way of giving back, and that he wants school and university sudents and energy company executives to visit, to spotlight the issue of sustainability in a region where it's not always top of the agenda. 

- Prix Pictet runs until March 6 at The Empty Quarter. Call 04 323 1210


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