During the Thanksgiving Holiday week of 2016, my spouse and I traveled to the middle east to visit our nephew. So we traveled to Doha, Qatar to visit him. Then we continued on our journey to the United Emirates city of Dubai. After visiting the grand malls, beaches and Burj Khalifa tower (currently the world’s tallest structure), we discovered a wonderful little gem called the XVA Gallery. The Gallery, located in Dubai’s heritage district, now called Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood. Among the permanent exhibitions was a shadow art gallery.
The XVA Gallery
XVA Gallery started in 2003. It is one of the leading galleries in the Middle East, specializing in contemporary art from the Arab world, Iran and the Subcontinent. Most of the exhibitions focus on works by the regions foremost artists as well as others emerging onto the scene. The artists express their different cultural identities and perspectives while challenging the viewer to ignore prejudices and borders. XVA Gallery and XVA Art Hotel reside in Dubai’s heritage district, now called Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood.
One exhibit in particular, resonated with me. It was the shadow art pieces created by artists Bassam Al-Selawi & Maysoon Masalha of Jordan. These 4D art (the forth dimension is light) sculptures depend on light cast upon it in order to bring the message to life. Their unique shadow sculptures combine modern sculpture techniques with Arabic calligraphy (generally verses from the Quran). When the IKEA lamp projects on the three dimensional sculpture, the shadows create a singular image. The images ranged from men on camelback to the Dubai city skyline.
The unique shadow sculptures combine modern sculpture techniques with Arabic calligraphy (verses from the Quran). When projecting a spotlight on the three dimensional sculpted words (Arabic calligraphy), the shadow art creates a singular figure. Perhaps what is most powerful about the artworks, is the way the sculptures and their respective shadows interrelate. The interrelationship creates a visual narrative and illustrates each other in an unparalleled four dimensional way. The sculptures are resin and crafted to look like carved wood.
Maysoon Masalha (the artist) explains that the most difficult part is to come up with an idea of what the words and shadow art should convey. They begin with a lot of sketches and then make a clay model. Masalha creates a mould for the final casting with resin. They chose resin because it is easy to handle and not very expensive. Although they make several limited edition pieces from each mould, each piece requires completion by hand to correct details lost during casting. This is a delicate process because the minutest mistake in the notches and curves gets magnified in the shadow. You can see more of their amazing art at this site.