I took a chance after the Guggenheim talk to get Nabil’s thoughts on these issues and the role that has been cast for him in their midst. The very fact that such art could be displayed and discussed in the UAE was an advance in itself, he said. « Taboos » were being challenged. It struck me as an Orientalist narrative masked as respect for indigenous culture but really remarkably divorced from whatever might be going on in UAE society. Is everything Islam vs. secular, veiled vs. unveiled, « East vs. West »? Who do these false binaries benefit.
« I visited the Louvre (Abu Dhabi), the first body of work they acquired, and you see nudity, you see the body, it’s very present but at the same time it’s an Islamic country, so art has no taboo, so once you decide this is art and this is a museum we cannot limit it and think we cannot show that, because it’s part of life. So I think they reached a point where they are trying to say we are not less than the West, we do everything at the same level as the West, we have as important a museums as the West and we import art from everywhere in the region and they have the money to do it, » he said. « You effect societies when you show them art and you make their eyes look at art. »
« It’s a positive thing happening finally in the region in the middle of all the craziness, » Nabil said. « They graduated from universities from everywhere, they want to see their countries the same way they saw other countries in the West, so it’s like let’s do an art revolution, let’s show people art and change people’s perception and their judgement about things through art. They bring museums here and artists and curators and little by little things will definitely change everywhere. There are all these questions when you come to an Islamic country and you see suddenly all these liberal institutions – but why not, I think it’s good, it’s better to have it than not. »
These would be noble intentions, but does the structure of the arts industry in https://datingranking.net/australia-inmate-dating/ the UAE suggest there is any real aim to foster critique that engages the political and the economic? Qatar may have covered up the private parts of Greek statues, and the UAE can boast in response that it leaves genitals be – but is that not a poor substitute for serious criticism? Dubai-based artist UBIK seemed to think so in his conversation with Heddaya. His fear was that the city would remain « some super-commercial area that’s never going to develop into something critical, and the art scene won’t develop ».
Youssef Nabil: I think this happened through the old Egyptian black-and-white movies I was watching all the time when I was a child, and the fact that I was in love with mostly dead people, this did something to me subconsciously. I think also because I was an introvert as a child and always had difficulties communicating with other people, I was always observing and I knew that I could communicate easily through anything visual. So later on I chose the camera, it was my way of talking about my thoughts.