I began by photographing the places in the UAE that were part of my daily life, driving in my car for hours after my government job ended each afternoon, rolling the driver’s side window down and shooting with my Leica. After experimenting relentlessly in the dark room, in 2011 I was ultimately asked to participate in Emirati Expressions II, a group exhibition bringing together contemporary Emirati artists to coincide with Abu Dhabi Art. During that period, I was influenced by guest tutor Stephen Shore, who encouraged me to make my practice into a visual diary of the places and rituals that are part of everyday Emirati life but fading from plain sight as a result of the country’s rapid development.
My first shows at Cuadro Gallery in Dubai, Prayer Rooms (2012) and Sibeel Water (2013), were documentations of spaces associated with daily rituals, but also a meditation on the places we walk by everyday without truly noticing. I also began hoarding and cataloging retro equipment from around the country, then incorporating Kodak slides, large format cameras, and other influences from the past into my practice. During those years, I referred to myself as a documentary photographer.
In 2015, Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah commissioned me to shoot Art Index 1.0, a series of black and white and color large format portraits of the 50 cornerstone artists, patrons, curators, and dealers of the established UAE artistic community. At the same time, I visited the small coastal town of Khorfakkan to shoot the ritual slaughter of sheep in preparation for Eid Al Adha. My practice expanded from documentarian to contemporary photographer when I began to capture people from behind the lens. Suddenly my choices, voice, and even my unanswered questions became part of the composition and were in conversation with both subject and viewer.
My latest series, Salah, which showed at Cuadro Gallery earlier this year, incorporated performance, video and other mixed media elements. Rather than shooting a space, I made myself and the movements and meta-movements involved in Muslim prayer, the subject.
I am currently working from a studio based at Sharjah Art Foundation, continuing Salah, as well as Reverse Moments, an ongoing project aiming to chart the history of photography in the UAE. As part of my investigation I came across one of the country’s first movie theatres, now on the brink of demolition. I have salvaged images, documents, and even seat numbers from the cinema and am working on a related show that will examine where memories go when the physical or cultural space it once occupied no longer exists.
Although I will always value research and documentation, particularly as it is grounded in my country’s culture, my work is now moving beyond borders and neat labels.