Critics’ Picks

Fatema Al Fardan, You can’t sit with us, 2020, photographic print on paper, 36 x 24". Photo: Zeashan Ashraf.

Fatema Al Fardan, You can’t sit with us, 2020, photographic print on paper, 36 x 24". Photo: Zeashan Ashraf.


“In Response to Solastalgia”

36JW+22C, Al Barsha, Al Barsha South
November 3–December 18, 2021

Installed in a restaurant that currently doubles as one of Dubai’s only off spaces, “In Response to Solastalgia” unspools the textures and timbres of alienation in a city characterized by its transience and demographic stratification. “How does it feel like, being a stranger in your own home?” the exhibition text asks. Terribly familiar, actually, but contra most others that take up the same subject, this group show, curated by Anna Bernice, offers a defter, subtler take.

Distance is made intimate. Many works, like Almaha Jaralla’s lovely photographs of alleyways—overlaid with the Arabic word “ana,” or “I,” for a staticky, almost pointillist feel—are installed in diner booths viewers must awkwardly lean over to see. High above an espresso machine, a young abaya-clad woman poses in the rubble of a demolished Abu Dhabi warehouse in a large photograph by Fatema Al Fardan whose title ominously translates to “children go to heaven.” The question of how to give voice to statelessness both legal and affective also occupies Walid Al-Wawi’s video Forbidden Fruit, 2020, in which a Yafa orange powers a tinny chip that plays a Hebrew birthday song; rather than a greeting card, it’s embedded in a child’s refugee document. Other artists offer paeans to the cities of their hearts, the most poignant of which is Nadine Khalil’s poem for a post-explosion Beirut, the detritus of memory, and “what it means to reside in a language.”

Meanwhile, by the exit, Nava Rizvi’s “How to learn Arabic the easy way,” a 2018 series of calligraphic drawings of diacritics-as-waveforms, suggests inky chromatography and the bar graphs of Dubai’s ever-multiplying skyscrapers. They hang beside Malek Elghuel’s hand-cranked music box, slotted like a belt buckle over long strips of perforated cards crammed with handwritten notes: a visual-sonic record of seven conversations with displaced Libyans. You can’t go home again.