Hind Mezaina is an Emirati artist, writer, film curator, and founder of The Culturist blog (launched in 2009) and the co-founder of Tea with Culture podcast (launched in 2015). Working primarily in analogue photography and more recently in video, she has showcased her work in numerous exhibitions in the UAE, including Sharjah Biennial 13: Tamawuj (2017) and most recently at Abu Dhabi Art's Beyond: Emerging Artists (2020).
Mezaina’s work delves into themes of collective memory, the notion of heritage, and the representation of Dubai and the UAE in general in the media.
Wonder Land is her first solo exhibition (25 May-6 July 2021) under the Critical Practice Programme (CPP) by Tashkeel. Launched in 2014, this program consists of training, mentoring, critiques, studio visits, production support and studio access. Mezaina was one of the four artists picked for the 12th edition.
The Critical Practice Programme is customized to each artist, taking into consideration their practice and research area. Tashkeel identifies up to two mentors to guide each one as they conceive and create works to be presented in solo exhibitions during this year and in 2021.
Saira Malik (SM): What is the theme of Wonder Land your first solo exhibition?
Hind Mezaina (HM): There’s no one specific theme, the entire photo series is an observation and reflection of time and place during 2020, specifically in Dubai.
SM: How did the idea to change the course of this exhibition and focus on the impact of the pandemic on Dubai through your lens come about?
HM: I had 2020 to prepare for a new body of work to present at Tashkeel, but the world changed in March 2020 and any thoughts related to my art and the exhibition was put on hold to focus on more important things. It was my drives across the city that helped me come up with the idea for the exhibition and the kind of work I want to make and show.
SM: Describe the process to create this exhibition, was it all spontaneous or did you have places in mind you wanted to rediscover?
HM: It started off with long drives that I took in Dubai when most places were closed in the first few months of the pandemic. It was a way to get some relief from staying at home and for some needed change of scenery. Seeing parts of the city dotted with blank billboards grabbed my attention, and to me they symbolized 2020. I wanted to get closer to these billboards to photograph, and I also incorporated walking in different parts of Dubai to enjoy a slower pace of experiencing the city and also noticing things that one wouldn’t see whilst driving.
SM: From empty billboards on highways to abandoned public phone booths, you explored the city like never before-which of these objects really struck you and why?
HM: As I mentioned, the blank billboards for sure, but I was also struck by green spaces, natural ones with indigenous plants. They appear in between well developed areas, or behind fences.
SM: How difficult was it to remove yourself from the subject and taking on this third person objectivity to a place that is so familiar to you?
HM: I feel I’m in constant observational mode in Dubai, so I don’t think it’s difficult to remove myself, although I will contradict myself by saying the works are all very personal too.
SM: What do you want your audience to experience when they view this exhibition?
HM: An appreciation of a quieter, more modest side of Dubai, and I also want the exhibition to create a dialogue/conversation with visitors to think about the multiple perspectives and experiences of living in a place like this. Which is what I am aiming to achieve with the artist tours where I’ve invited guest speakers to join me in these discussions.
SM: What did you learn about your city and in-turn yourself through this project?
HM: I was happy to be able to reconnect with the city in ways I hadn’t thought about before, and find walking paths in a place that isn’t pedestrian friendly, and to be reminded there are parts of the city that still feels humane and accessible.
Words: Saira Malik and Hind Mezaina
Images courtesy of Hind Mezaina