Abu Dhabi Art 2021 to host UAE debut of Passage, the National Pavilion UAE’s 2019 exhibition created for the Venice Biennale

Taking place from 17 – 21 November 2021, Abu Dhabi Art will present Passage, an immersive video and sound installation created by artist Nujoom Alghanem, as part of its Gateway section. Passage will also be exhibited as part of Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation’s upcoming exhibition, Portrait of a Nation II, open from January until April 2022. This three-way collaboration will mark the first time Passage will be shown in the UAE, allowing new audiences to experience this important work outside of Venice.

Abu Dhabi Art, in partnership with Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation (ADMAF) and the National Pavilion UAE – La Biennale di Venezia, will be showcasing Passage, a groundbreaking installation by artist Nujoom Alghanem, as part of the Gateway section of Abu Dhabi Art Fair 2021, which will take place from 17 to 21 November at Manarat Al Saadiyat. Next year, Passage will also be shown as part of Abu Dhabi Festival’s 2022 flagship exhibition, Portrait of a Nation II.

Passage is an immersive video and sound installation created by acclaimed poet, filmmaker and artist Alghanem and features actress Amal Hawijeh. Filmed in the UAE and Venice, Passage was conceived and developed for the National Pavilion UAE’s exhibition at La Biennale di Venezia, with the 2019 pavilion curators Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, co-founders of multidisciplinary curatorial platform Art Reoriented and co-directors of the Hamburger Bahnhof museum. The work responds to the theme of La Biennale for that year, May You Live in Interesting Times, and explores themes of displacement and journeying. Bardaouil and Fellrath are also co-curators for this year’s Abu Dhabi Art Beyond: Emerging Artists programme.

Passage will premier in the UAE as part of Abu Dhabi Art’s Gateway, an annual section of the fair that highlights local and international artists through globally relevant curatorial frameworks. For the most recentGateway, in 2019, guest curator Paolo Colombo was invited to present Fragments, Yesterday and Today, which looked at the relevance of archaeological and anthropological artefacts through contemporary artworks.

Dyala Nusseibeh, Director of Abu Dhabi Art, said, “We are delighted to be collaborating with ADMAF and National Pavilion UAE on presenting this seminal work by Nujoom Alghanem, first presented at the Venice Biennale in 2019, at Abu Dhabi Art 2021. Passage addresses the subject of displacement through contemporary Arabic poetry and the art of film. Following its international debut in Venice, this is the first time it is being shown back home in the UAE and in my view, this is an unmissable, beautiful work for visitors to experience at the fair. Our collaboration with ADMAF and National Pavilion UAE also speaks to the close ties that connect all our local cultural institutions and our united efforts to support the local art ecosystem through all our endeavors.”

Laila Binbrek, Coordinating Director of the National Pavilion UAE, said, “Following an outstanding response to Passage at the 2019 Venice Biennale, we are pleased to be presenting this thought-provoking video installation in Abu Dhabi. Through poetry and film, Nujoom Alghanem articulates a unique perspective on the universal experience of displacement. Our ten participations to date at the Venice Biennale are a testament to the National Pavilion UAE’s mission of telling the untold stories of the UAE and reflecting the growth and maturity of our local creative industries. Our participation in La Biennale has enabled us to use our platform for dialogue across interwoven communities. The UAE premiere of Passage was made possible thanks to the support of our partners, Abu Dhabi Art and the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation, and we are looking forward to presenting this body of work here in the UAE.”

In a cross collaboration with ADMAF, Passage will also be presented in ADMAF’s Portrait of a Nation II exhibition. Part of ADMAF’s annual Abu Dhabi Festival, the exhibition offers insight into the creative practices of nearly 60 contemporary artists who call the UAE home. Key themes of the exhibition include collaboration, cultural mapping and innovation, all of which reflect on the UAE’s history, identity and progressive art scene. The exhibition will take place from January until April 2022.

H.E. Huda I. Alkhamis-Kanoo, Founder of the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation and Founder and Artistic Director of Abu Dhabi Festival, said, “ADMAF has a long history of collaboration with the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi which is at the heart of the mission we both share to nurture creativity in unity with our nation’s art ecosystem. We are pleased to partner with Abu Dhabi Art and the National Pavilion UAE to present Passage, Nujoom Alghanem’s unique use of fiction and reality to explore the universal experience of displacement. Bringing the Emirati artist’s seminal work to be shown for the first time in the UAE reflects ADMAF’s 25 years of dedication to cultivating and supporting artists in the UAE.”

Passage is shown in the form of a two-channel video presenting two distinct narratives – one real, one fictional – simultaneously projected on opposite sides of the same screen. The “real” narrative follows Alghanem and Hawijeh, a renowned Syrian actress who resides in the UAE, as they create a film for the Pavilion. The “fictional” narrative portrays Falak, a displaced woman played by Hawijeh, as she travels on an arduous journey that culminates in her arriving at the National Pavilion UAE’s permanent space in Venice. The two films are bound by one shared soundtrack, which evokes a different meaning for each narrative. At several moments, Alghanem’s voice is heard reciting segments from her poetry. 

Nujoom Alghanem Passage (installation view), 2019 Courtesy National Pavilion UAE – La Biennale di Venezia Photo credit: Barbara Zanon

Nujoom Alghanem said, “After waiting more than two years, Passage finds its way back home where it was founded as an idea, developed, and the majority of it produced before it was finalised and premiered in Venice. Thanks to Abu Dhabi Art and Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation for their collaboration to provide all the resources and support for the project to be introduced to the audience in the UAE. I would also like to thank Sheikha Salama Bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation for commissioning the project and the Ministry of Culture and Youth for their support.”

She added, “As an artist I am grateful that I had the opportunity to produce this film in collaboration with two remarkable curators such as Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath for the National Pavilion UAE in a time that felt unpredictable when it comes to displacement and shifting realities. However, taking note of the current events around the world, the concept of Passage is a symbolic portrayal of the stories many displaced individuals have experienced. It demonstrates that art has the ability to be a witnessing eye to reflect on current issues and the ability to create parallel realities that are beyond imagination.”

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated 136-page publication under the same title, edited by Bardaouil and Fellrath. The publication is available in English and Arabic language editions and includes an essay by the curators, an interview with the artist, several poems by Alghanem, and a selection of imagery from the film. The publication will be available for purchase at Manarat Al Saadiyat for the duration of Abu Dhabi Art Fair 2021. It is also available on Art BookAmazon and Silvana Editoriale.

The fair’s upcoming edition will be open to the public at Manarat Al Saadiyat from Wednesday 17 November to Sunday 21 November 2021.

Following the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee’s latest regulations and requirements for attending events and exhibitions, visitors will need to have a ‘green’ status on the COVID-19 tracking app, AlHosn, and a negative PCR test taken within 96 hours.