AL SAWABER: Tarek Al-Ghoussein
The Third Line is pleased to present Al Sawaber, Tarek Al-Ghoussein’s third solo exhibition in Dubai curated by Salwa Mikdadi. Eponymous of a government-housing complex in Kuwait slated for demolition, Tarek’s new body of work documents forgotten spaces specific to a historical moment in urban development and the vestiges of lives once lived inside it.
While Tarek’s images examine abandoned spaces and objects, the photographs neither aestheticize the decay that results from neglect nor dispassionately document found conditions. At first glance there are similarities between the scenes from Al Sawaber and Robert Polidori’s photographs of the interiors in cities like Beirut, Pripyat, Chernobyl, and New Orleans. The richly textured images of environments where decomposition has been seen in motion by catastrophe or conflict reveal the care taken by Polidori to locate and compose vivid scenes of damage and deterioration. In contrast, rather than focusing on making images that appear as painterly vignettes, Tarek considers the relationship between the non-descript apartment units and the individual expressions intended to provide the security and stability essential for “homeliness”.
Tarek’s framing of the interior heightens the tension between the standardized apartment and personalized treatment, and results in subtly ironic images that reveal idiosyncratic attempts to make an undesirable dwelling inhabitable. Landscapes are common in the wall treatments throughout Al Sawaber, whether in the form of fairy-tale castles against pink skies or floral- patterned prints. In more elaborate examples, such as Al Sawaber 0282, an oddly scaled bird inhabits a maple forest complete with falling leaves that have turned from green to yellow and red at the end of summer; although the telephone jack remains concealed under a faux forest floor, the electrical outlet stands as a chrome-plated reminder that the reality of Al Sawaber is inescapable.
Al Sawaber will likely be demolished in the near future. Tarek’s work is therefore timely as it provides insight into the lives once lived in Al Sawaber and serves as a record of an important part of the Gulf’s recent past. More significantly, the Al Sawaber project presents spaces and objects with a sense of irony that never devolves into condescension, resulting in perceptive depictions of how dwellings become the expression of the individuals who dwell within them.
From an essay by Kevin Mitchell.