In the studio with Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim
- A full version of this interview will appear in the June 2018 edition of Harper's Bazaar Art Arabia
The drive to Khorfakkan from Dubai takes you through the full spectrum of natural beauty that the UAE has to offer. Once out of skyscraper-city, the road dissects dusty suburbs and, before long, gives way to undulating dunes. About half way into the journey, you begin the windy climb into the rocky outcrops of the Hajar mountains, which run like a spine down the eastern side of the country and act as a natural border between the UAE and Oman. As a final flourish, when you begin to descend from the hilly terrain and down towards Fujairah, the Gulf of Oman twinkles its shimmering waters at you and the fresh sea breeze fills the air.
It is in Khorfakkan, an enclave of Sharjah on the east coast that Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim grew up. The small village, boxed in on three sides by the mountain but open to the sea is contained yet outward facing. This is a fitting metaphor for the way Ibrahim works.
His small home-built studio contains detritutus from the past 30 years of practice. Stones and rocks that he has collected from the mountains and subsequently wrapped in copper wire are strewn haphazardly around and sculptures made from his own concoction of papier-mâché stand as testament to his daily commitment to creation. Ibrahim is certainly not a crowd pleaser. He is driven by an incessant and indecipherable need to make art. “Why do you make these odd-looking shaped sculptures?” I ask, somewhat provocatively. “Is there something in your mind that you are trying to symbolise or represent?”
“If I knew the answer to that question, my dear,” says Ibrahim with a gentle smile, “then I would never make another piece of art again.”
Of course, I wasn’t really expecting an answer. Any artist who gives you a formulated answer to these kinds of questions runs the risk of sounding prosaic and Ibrahim is certainly not that. When probed, he talks a lot about childhood memories. He tells me stories about the lines, which constantly appear in his work as coming from a time in his early youth when the man who delivered water to his house would mark up his visits in charcoal on the wall. Ibrahim, fascinated with mark making from the very beginning would emulate him, sometimes causing confusion with the weekly billing system. He also remembers finding ancient cave drawings inside his beloved mountain range, which sparked an interest in pre-history and the desire to draw – something that he believes comes from a kind of primordial urge.
A curator once said to me that Ibrahim represented the true avant-garde of the UAE and somehow that seemed like a fitting description as I sat in his studio and listened to him talk about his relationship with nature and his life-long experiment of making art that is a genuine expression of his innermost feelings (which are inexpressible in any other form). It is therefore apt that after three decades, Ibrahim is exhibiting his first full blown retrospective: a three-month show running at Sharjah Art Museum.
The show features paintings and sculptures that reveal the development of his practice and also clearly display his fixation on the line, his preoccupation with colour and his continuous desire to capture the soul of the mountain, which to him represents both nation and culture. Also in the show is an entire room filled with Ibrahim’s primordial signs and symbols – perhaps the closest thing to being inside his mind.
I met Ibrahim at the show’s opening and he mentioned to me that it made him feel as if he was standing at cross-roads. I asked him to embellish that description a week later when I went to his studio. “It is a very important show for me but it is also a crossroads and I find it a dangerous one because I am not sure what comes next,” he says. “At the moment, I am waiting to see if I will go right, left or straight ahead. It could be another turning point for me.”
So, while the artist waits, his audience waits with him and I, for one, am intrigued to find out what is next.
- Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim: Elements runs from March 16 - June 16, 2018 at Gallery 3, Al Mureijah Square, Sharjah Art Foundation.
- I visited Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim to interview him for Harper's Bazaar Art Arabia. For the full story and more images, be sure to pick up a copy of the June 2018 edition