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Palestinian Artist Mona Ayyash’s Exhibition At 421 Campus In Abu Dhabi Offers An Immersive Experience

Abu Dhabi: In her first institutional solo exhibition, The Clock Doesn’t Care — on at 421 art campus in Abu Dhabi till August – renowned Palestinian visual artist Mona Ayyash showcases a captivating collaborative video piece with a group of actors, dancers, and performance artists, focusing on languid body movements.

Themes of ennui and slowness, a constant refrain in many of the artist’s other works as well, also  headline The Clock Doesn’t Care. The montage of six single-channel digital videos was commissioned by the 421 Arts Campus as part of their Artistic Development Program. It dwells on the indifference of time to human pursuits nudging viewers to confront their own fraught relationship with time and boredom in the process.  

This overarching theme is evident in Ayyash’s earlier creations as well — such as `Folding Bellies’ and `Chair Squat’ — where repetitive movements propel the narrative forward. Her other creations — She’ll be Apples, Night Wanderer, Swimmers – all use bodily movements as metaphors to drive home the artist’s vision. 

Consequently, the Dubai-raised artist’s work eschews a linear narrative, framing these performances as voluntary and intentional movements mimicking nonfunctional bodily movements. Perhaps that why The Clock Doesn’t Care has an almost meditative effect on the viewer celebrate as it does the mundane while examining existential questions like passing time and wasting time. As one moves into different areas of the show, the exhibition design featuring fragmented viewing platforms and cut-out frames further augments viewers’ engagement with each piece.  

The artist explains that her aim during Warehouse421 Homebound Residency 2020/2021 “was to make a video piece containing footage filmed by the participants selected to work with me on this project”. For this, she created a call for participants via Warehouse421’s social media, “inviting anyone to assist in creating the footage”. Seven people from the local community were chosen to film themselves doing a series of body movements after they committed to 6 online Zoom sessions.

During the sessions, the artist and participants had a back and forth on the project’s evolution and reviewed the developing video, as well as the next set of exercises. “I encouraged the participants to seek out compositions through light, shadow, color, and form,” she adds.

The videos were then compiled to reflect Ayyash’s theme in a myriad ways. While in some she plays with an accumulation of gestures and actions; in others, the bodily gestures are whittled down to a bare minimum adding to the immediacy of the viewer experience.

At some level, The Clock Doesn’t Care also helps the artist — who has exhibited extensively across Canada, UAE, Saudi Arabia and New York – make a social commentary on modern life. It seems to say that in a hyperconnected — world where overstimulation through social media, phone and other tech gizmos – is a constant, one’s individuality is overwhelmed by such distractions stunting personal growth.   

Antithetical to this perpetual mental and physical onslaught is Ayyash’s worldview which steers one’s gaze on the present, the here and now. She seems to take her viewers on a delightful artistic odyssey that is at once personal and universal; ordinary as well as extraordinary.  

Neeta Lal is an international-awards nominated Delhi-based Editor and journalist, formerly Senior Editor with The Times of India, who has travelled to 73 countries in search of good stories on art, culture, travel and lifestyle. She has covered global art events across Asia, the UAE and Europe.  

Neeta Lal
Neeta Lal | South China Morning Post.  Delhi-based journalist and editor Neeta Lal has worked with India’s leading publications in her three-decade career.