Art & Culture

“Sites of Memory, Sites of Amnesia”

L’Officiel Arabia in conversation with Abdullah Al Saadi about his recent exhibition at 2024 Venice Biennale
UAE Abdullah Al Saadi at his studio, Image courtesy of the National Pavilion UAE-La Biennale di Venezia, Photo by Roman Mensing

The Venice Biennale stands as the pinnacle of artistic recognition, akin to the Oscars for the art world. The 2024 edition, titled "Foreigners Everywhere," curated by Adriano Pedrosa, boldly champions new voices while honoring established talents. It serves as a tribute to the universal human experience, reflecting on the sense of displacement and belonging inherent in our lives. From April 20 to November 24, 2024, this iteration expands beyond traditional exhibition spaces, encompassing the entire city with diverse events and museum showcases. It prompts introspection into our ongoing physical and existential journeys, questioning whether we seek connection or inadvertently isolate ourselves in the midst of our familiar surroundings.

A notable instance in the realm of contemporary art is the emergence of artist Abdullah Al Saadi, who stands as the sole representative of the UAE National Pavilion. His latest solo exhibition, titled "Sites of Memory, Sites of Amnesia," has garnered significant attention within the art world. Featuring a staggering collection of 456 artworks, Al Saadi offers viewers an immersive and introspective journey into his personal experiences and memories.

UAE Abdullah Al Saadi_ Sites of Memory, Sites of Amnesia. Image Courtesy of National Pavilion UAE – La Biennale di Venezia. Photo by Ismail Noor of Seeing Things

The exhibition is a testament to Al Saadi's artistic prowess and his ability to encapsulate the essence of his native landscapes, particularly those of Khor Fakkan, through various mediums. From evocative paintings on canvases to intricate depictions in metal boxes and etchings on stones, each piece serves as a window into Al Saadi's rich tapestry of memories and emotions.

Curated by the esteemed Tarek Abou El Fetouh, the exhibition is carefully crafted to guide viewers through Al Saadi's inner world, inviting them to explore the depths of his personal landscapes. As visitors traverse the exhibition space, they are encouraged to decipher the symbols and narratives embedded within each artwork, thus offering a deeper understanding of Al Saadi's creative process and inspirations.

El Fetouh highlights the distinctive quality of "Sites of Memory, Sites of Amnesia" in fostering a profound connection between the artist, his art, and the viewer. He emphasizes that Al Saadi's work transcends mere visual representation, serving as a catalyst for introspection and contemplation. By delving into themes of memory and place, Al Saadi confronts notions of identity, belonging, and the passage of time, evoking a diverse range of emotions among viewers.

UAE Abdullah Al Saadi, ,Rock 24.1, Image courtesy of the National Pavilion UAE - La Biennale di Venezia, Photo by Roman Mensing

In a recent exclusive interview with L’Officiel Arabia, Al Saadi provided deeper insight into the intent and emotional resonance of his work. He expressed a desire for spectators to focus on the reflective journey through the narratives of his travels, inspired by the traditions of Arab poetry where immersion in nature sparks creation. "We aim to recreate this journey, and I hope visitors will engage with the different layers of meaning embedded in each piece," he stated.

When asked about the emotional strength of retracing memories and places, Al Saadi acknowledged a mix of personal sentiments and collective history. "The emotions that surface are a mix of personal sentiments and collective history. This interplay often evokes a powerful resonance in my work. While some might view these memories as melancholic, I see them as inspiring and forward-looking, driving creativity and fostering new connections with the natural landscape around us," he reflected.

UAE Abdullah Al Saadi, Box 26, Image courtesy of the National PAvilion UAE - La Biennale di Venezia, Photo by Roman Mensing

Al Saadi's ultimate wish for visitors is “to leave the exhibition with a sense of interconnectedness-to the past, the future, nature, and our place in it”. This spiritual takeaway underlines the universal themes of his work, resonating deeply with the overarching narrative of the Venice Biennale 2024.