Just before you take the turn towards the Dubai Museum and the temple, you come across a serene locale amid the bustling streets as if time has stood still and is watching everything else pass by in fast motion. As you enter the Al Fahidi Historical neighbourhood you are engulfed by the old world charm of yester era with stony pathways and wind-towers earlier called Bastakiya while the quiet lanes intersect, taking you to small cafes, hotels, art galleries, art studios and vendors of spices, antiques and Persian carpets.
On a warm day, my daughter and I set out to explore those quiet lanes as if we were doing it for the first time (we were visiting the place for the fourth time in 3 years). The first stop was the XVA Gallery. Since the cafe/gallery was just opening, not many people were around except for the staff and we were left to explore at our will.
This image is altered using 2 images together
We leisurely strolled around, closely observing the space and finally reached the gallery. Samira Abbassy, an Iranian artist, was on a solo display, “Redemptive Narratives and Migrating Patterns”, in the gallery.
“Redemptive Narratives and Migrating Patterns” - Samira Abbassy
Samira Abbassy’s work has a distinct flavour even when it reminded me of Frida Kahlo. The self-portrayal, the braided hair, the serpent, the knots and all the elements speak of the shackles of probably not just her but of all women; the womanhood, their trials and tribulations – social, political and emotional, while overcoming it through contemplation and reflection. One could see the evident influence of Persian as well as Indian mythology.
In the artist’s own words:
“This selection of works consists of works on paper and oil paintings on gesso panel. They are worked, reworked and occasionally destroyed.
These works take on questions and ideas of how to reveal the figure as a psycho/emotional being, and how to depict "a state of being" rather than making objective portraits of the figure.
My work can be described as autobiographical, and perhaps even confessional. I make appearances as various avatars evoking archetypes from various traditions; Greek myths, Old Testament stories, Hindu deities and Muslim folklore.
The titles offer clues to their source of intellectual, cultural, mental and emotional dilemmas, with which we all struggle. By excavating the art of cultures that were considered to be outside the “Western Canon” (Indian, Persian, Tibetan, Hindu/ Muslim/ Buddhist etc.), I concoct fictional or mythological histories.
The canvas becomes a place of self-examination; “a mirror of inclusion”, a place to contextualize the Self and establish an identity. The central figure appears as an archetype rather than a literal attempt at self-portraiture, as if attempting to depict myself from the inside out, starting with how it feels to be me, or rather, how it feels to be human.
By fusing together disparate languages, conventions and myths, I’m seeking an iconography of hybridism, where their underlying common threads can be found. My work attempts to transcend cultural boundaries by proving the porous nature of cultural influence through migration, both historically and currently.”
-Samira Abbassy, January 2017
XVA Gallery opened in 2003 by Mona Hauser. Mona Hauser is an art major who is innately artistic and has creatively put everything together reconfiguring one of the ruined houses with the permission of HH Sheikh Mohammed. Now she has four houses under XVA with 13 guest rooms designed by local artists. She has carefully chosen what goes best with what while renovating the space selecting apt colours that suits best with a neutral background since it is a historical neighbourhood. The house that she chose were originally built by the Siddiqui family and it took four years for the Dubai Architectural Heritage Department to refurbish it.
The neighbourhood opened in 2001 which makes is relatively new. The gallery leads the contemporary, conceptual and middle-eastern based artwork and they were one of the first in Dubai. They are also a boutique hotel with a vegetarian café catering to a niche group also because of the location as it is one of the major tourist attractions.
Vision of XVA
XVA stands for position, velocity and acceleration which is quite apt for the booming art scene in the Middle-East particularly Dubai.
The gallery mainly likes to have artworks about the sub-continent and the Middle-East. It primarily aims at promoting artists from the same region. The selection of artworks depends on the owner and gallery director which is sometimes subjective and quite interesting.
XVA does offer artists’ residencies to their in-house artists’ who come and exchange their art work. They could stay, work, enjoy the space, be inspired and create a body of works. Some names include Alikhaan Abdollahi, Mohsen Ahmedvand, Imran Channa, Simeen Farhat, Mahmoud Hamadani, Farouk Lambaz, Hussein Al-Mohasen, Saba Masoumian, Akim Monet, Jakob Roepke, Wissam Shawkat, Katia Al Tal, Barbara Wildenboer, Morteza Zahedi and others.
They used to be based in DIFC as well for a short period and used to exhibit in other galleries too but it all depends on the timing of their events. They do look forward to collaborations with galleries and other artists as well. They have been part of Sikka Art Fair, Design Dubai, Art Dubai and several others in the region. They are eclectic in choosing which art fairs they like.
As told to me by Banna who works in XVA gallery and was extremely enthusiastic in sharing the details.
image of Mona Hauser from Gareth Rees. Rest my own.
Referred XVA gallery website for some additional information on the artists.