By Dina Ibrahim, The Third Line Gallery
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Tarek Al-Ghoussein, born in Kuwait to Palestinian exiles, spent part of his youth in the United States, Morocco, and Japan and has worked in the United Arab Emirates for the last twenty years, where he has recorded and reflected on the massive changes taking place there.
Much like Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, Al-Ghoussein’s work is as much about the journey as it is about the final images. His fascination with the sheer existence of the islands sparked his curiosity to start documenting them back in 2015. Out of the 215 Islands, Al-Ghoussein has already visited and photographed approximately 30. His pursuit of a complete survey has been challenged by gaps in public information about the islands, access restrictions, and most notably, pending permission requests. While he remains hopeful that the project can find a path to completion, as in The Odyssey, his journey is much longer than expected.
Skillfully employing his strong sense of surrealism with a dreamlike color spectrum and whimsical compositions, Al-Ghoussein creates a world that is both delightful and disquieting at the same time. Although they are shot in real places, the absence of specific geographic markers in the photographs raises more questions than provides answers. The playful and often absurd interaction between the artist and these dreamscapes, leads the viewers to question the ambiguous reality and perhaps, even the existence, of these islands. Gradually fading from his own consciousness, Al-Ghoussein chooses to omit the islands entirely from some of the images, where he can be seen alone at sea. Eventually, even he, himself, is absent from the image. Perhaps this represents his own contemplation of his place as an artist, or more significantly as an Abu Dhabi resident, in relation to the geopolitical landscape of the islands.
So, as the story of Odysseus was as much about his homecoming as his journey, the persistence of the artist in choosing to return and continue documenting the remaining islands despite the setbacks, brings a larger significance to this story. Already six years in the making, one is then left to wonder whether Al-Ghoussein’s journey will, in the end, take longer than Odysseus’s ten-year journey.
Tarek Al-Ghoussein is a Professor of Visual Art and Director of the new MFA program at NYU Abu Dhabi.
His solo shows include Odysseus, The Third Line Dubai (2021) and warehouse 421, Abu Dhabi (2019); Al Sawaber, The Third Line, Dubai (2017); K Files, CAP Kuwait (2017); K Files and Sawaber Series, Nevada Museum of Art (2016); K Files, The Third Line, Dubai (2014); E Series, Kalfayan Galleries, Athens (2011); and A Retrospective: Works from 2003-2010, Sharjah Art Museum (2010).
His work has been shown in group shows including Theatre of Operations, MoMA PS1 (2019-2020); Negotiating The Future: 6th Asian Art Biennial, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (2017); The Creative Act: Performance, Process, Presence, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (2017); The 15th International Biennial of Photography and Photo-related Art, Houston (2014) ; Lost in Landscape, Museo di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, Italy (2014); Photoquai, Photography Biennial, Paris (2013); From Palestine with Hope, Art Space, London (2013); Safar/Voyage, Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver (2013) and The National Pavilion of Kuwait 55th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy (2013).
Al-Ghoussein’s works are collected by museums worldwide including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Freer Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian, the Nevada Museum of Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum, the Royal Museum of Photography in Copenhagen; the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo; the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha; the Sharjah Biennial Collection, and the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation.
Founded in 2005, The Third Line is a Dubai-based gallery that represents contemporary Middle Eastern artists locally, regionally, and internationally. A pioneering platform for established talent and emerging voices from the region and its diaspora, The Third Line has built a dynamic program that explores the diversity of practice in the region.
In addition to its exhibitions, The Third Line engages in the production of art publications in English and Arabic and hosts numerous non-profit, alternative programs that add to the discourse on art, film, music and literature in the region.