Artist Spotlight with Shaikha Al Mazrou The Plinth (detail), 2021, Carrara marble and steel, 196 x 267 x 269 cm


Artist Spotlight with Shaikha Al Mazrou

Posted: Jan 27, 2023

ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Shaikha Al Mazrou as part of our Artist Spotlight series.

Shaikha Al Mazrou (b. 1988, UAE) is an artist and a professor of Visual Art at NYU Abu Dhabi. She received her MFA in 2014 at the Chelsea College of Fine Art, University of the Arts, London where she was awarded the prestigious MFA Student Prize. Prior to that she studied at the College of Fine Arts and Design, University of Sharjah where she was recently a Sculpture Lecturer. Recent solo exhibitions include Art Dubai, with Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai (2021), Rearranging the Riddle, Maraya Art Centre Sharjah, Sharjah (2020), Expansion/Extension, Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai (2019), and Solo Projects, Abu Dhabi Art with Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai (2018).

Al Mazrou is a winner of the Paulo Cunha e Silva Art Prize (2020). In 2018 she was awarded the first Artist’s Garden commission by the Jameel Arts Centre for her public piece Green House: Interior yet Exterior, Manmade yet Natural (2018). She has also been commissioned by Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, Abu Dhabi Art, Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority and The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture.

ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?

Shaikha Al Mazrou: My sculptural experimentations and investigations are expressions of materiality—articulations of tension and the interplay between form and content as well as an intuitive, keenly felt understanding of materials and their physical properties. I combine and evolve ideas from contemporary artistic movements similarly preoccupied with formal and material elements, from color theory to geometric abstraction. 

AE: What is your formal and conceptual draw towards industrial materials and techniques? How has your relationship with these materials evolved throughout your practice since you first began experimenting with them as an MFA student?  

SAM: My work does not necessarily evolve per se, but responds to the sensibilities of the time and the social landscape. Sometimes, the concept drives the material and at other times, the fascination with materiality becomes the driving force. It has been an enriching and challenging experience which has enabled me to grow and thrive both personally, professionally and academically. I spent most of my time at Chelsea discovering the foundry and ceramic department in the most playful way. 

AE: Tell us about your recent solo show at Lawrie Shabibi. What new aspects of materials did you investigate in the series present in this exhibition? What do the formal shifts in your work convey about conceptual evolutions within your approach?

SAM: My work dwells and drifts in the spaces between substance, transmutation, and deception. In my recent sculptures and works on paper, materials appear to betray their functions and their fixed properties, shapes and angles connect and then release into mysteries. We are left to wonder: what is the precise point in which one thing becomes something else? Is it even possible to know? In these artworks, are we looking at paper or steel, folds or welded fragments? I push my materials to see what they will yield, but I must ultimately also listen to their message and possibly even accept their secrecy.

AE: Tell us about your work The Plinth, that you created for the Dubai Expo 2020. What are the concepts behind this work and how do you envision generations of artists engaging with this piece in the future?

SAM: For the Expo 2020 Dubai commission, I proposed a permanent piece that is both a sculpture and an ongoing collaboration executed by the future administration of District 2020. The physical sculpture, conceptually and formally referencing plinths, is activated through commissioning other artists to use it as a platform or a plinth.

The program of activation and collaboration for the future use of the sculpture will be set out in a document (the Manifesto) that is the result of an intensive discussion with a community of artists across disciplines and other stakeholders. It will govern, through a set of rules and values, exactly how the program and use of the sculpture will be, including parameters for curating, type of presentation, and eligible art works. It may also detail under what circumstances this very document may be amended.

In this way the proposed work is not an ordinary institutionalized plinth used to contextualize art but rather a tool for dialogue with present and future artists. I took the opportunity of using the platform that Expo2020 Dubai offered to take a critical look at the current status of contemporary art in public spaces by proposing a work that offers possibilities for the future with the premise of an endless collaboration with future artists, curatorial and creative practitioners.

The aim is that the artwork becomes a living archive and living production through its ongoing commissioning of other artists and works that become a part of the work itself. The indivisible part of the work, the Document (Manifesto), is also the main driving force of the work raising many artistic and cultural debates from authorship to temporality and to rights of use.

AE: Can you elaborate on the intersections of tension, material, metaphor, and the personal within your practice?

SAM: The variable is found in the industrial zones throughout the Emirates that I have long frequented, spaces of machines spinning, grinding, and forming the materials for construction, spaces of sample books, and scattered remnants. In these places, I locate the raw materials that will allow me to start anew, through laser cutting, welding, gluing, hammering, and coating. This process entails a combination of a chance encounter and rigorous labor, a balance that I reinforce through the intuitive application of color, texture, and finish.

AE: What and who are some of your major creative influences, and why?

SAM: An artist should be able to respond to the condition of their homeland, time, urban development, and social space. Inspiration is not necessarily what drives my practice, as an artist, anything, everything or even nothing can inspire my practice. However, I would rather define it as observations, abstract observations that can be translated into tangible forms.  

AE: What are you currently working on and do you have any shows or projects upcoming in 2023-2024? 

SAM: I am currently working on a group show for Art Dubai and a solo for a Frieze Booth.


Instagram: @shaikha.almazrou