Critics’ Picks

Aliyah Alawadhi, Belly Dancer and Emirati Men (still), 2021, video, 1:05 min.

Aliyah Alawadhi, Belly Dancer and Emirati Men (still), 2021, video, 1:05 min.


“Ybna Al3eid”

Bayt AlMamzar
House 2, 26 Street, Al Mamzar
September 2–October 16, 2022

Tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood on the border of Dubai and Sharjah is Bayt AlMamzar. Once a family villa, it is now one of the very few independent multipurpose art spaces in the Emirates. For the exhibition “Ybna Al3eid,” curators Talal Al Najjar and Salem AlSuwaidi filled the space with video and sound works, illustrations, paintings, photography, and installations by fourteen young artists from the Gulf. The show’s title uses the informal style for transliterating Arabic to English when text messaging. Translating literally to “we brought the Eid,” the Gulf Arabic phrase applies to situations in which a clumsy or embarrassing mistake has dire consequences.

The exhibition indulges critically and satirically in juvenile mischief, drawing from the realities of youth subcultures in the region—communities that are inward-facing and extremely aware of public reputation. Firas Darwish’s installation Non-Verbal Instruments of Psychological War, 2022, hints at the paranoia produced by the perceived social surveillance, stationing non-functioning CCTV cameras alongside a video documenting various hand gestures that convey authority. Projected onto the floor, Aliyah Alawadhi's Belly Dancer and Emirati Men, 2021, uses glitched and spliced iPhone videos to merge the title characters in a shape-shifting choreography. For HOW DO YOU SATISFY?, 2022, Vivi Zhu hides photographs of improvised instruments for pleasure (sex toys are banned in the Emirates) within a miniature chest, requiring viewers to rummage to see them. All told, the exhibition feels like a house party, with artworks that reject social mores to celebrate rebellion through acts of play.