For her first solo exhibition in Germany at ACUD Gallery in Berlin, Monira Al Qadiri presents a simple combination of sculptures and video works created in the past five years and brought together by the curatorial efforts of Elodie Evers and Camila Palomino.
Upon entering the gallery, one immediately notices the graffiti-like white sign on the black gallery wall. NFT or naft means oil in old Persian. This is an appropriate introduction given that the Gulf countries’ economic overreliance on oil is the common denominator for all the other works in the show. Even its title, Bubble, refers to the effervescent and iridescent nature of liquid crude oil, as well as being the economic term referring to a financial worth inconsistent with intrinsic value.
In the centre of the gallery stands ‘Deep Float’, a piece created earlier this year as part of the artist’s ongoing two-year residency at Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. It is a clawfoot bathtub filled with black fluid, out of which two smeared hands arise like horns. The submerged figure seems to be synchronously drowning and surfacing from the dark substance. It appears frozen in a moment of suspense, much like a bubble about to burst. ‘Deep Float’ contextualises privacy as twofold by alluding to a space of intimacy and comfort but by implying secrecy and corruption.
‘Rumours of Affluence’ (2012) also addresses corruption and opulence, specifically in Kuwaiti society. The video, narrated by the artist, recounts various events of corruption in Kuwait’s stock market: the speculation bubble, the economic crash of the early 1980s and recent scandals of government bribery and embezzlement of public funds.
Al Qadiri grew up in Kuwait before moving to Japan where she completed a PhD in intermedia art in 2010. The subject of her research was sadness in the Middle East. This is readily apparent in ‘SOAP’ (2014), a patchwork of overly dramatic clips taken from various soap operas broadcast in the Gulf region, on which Al Qadiri superimposed images of migrant workers (presumably Pakistani) performing various tasks: serving, sweeping, cleaning. SOAP attempts to inscribe domestic workers within the economic equation by demonstrating the reliance on inexpensive migrant help in the realisation of the Gulf dream while highlighting their invisibility from local popular visual culture. Rich in its levels of meaning, the work utilises irony, linking workers to bars of soap whose usage causes them to disappear.
The third video of the show, ‘Travel Prayer’ (2014) features manipulated images of a camel race accompanied by a soundtrack that combines a childlike melody, much like those used on carrousels, and a voice reading a traditional travel prayer. Following recent laws prohibiting children as camel jockeys, the animals now wear whipping machines on their back, controlled by their Bedouin owners who follow the race in SUVs cheering for their win. The video functions almost like a prayer for a hypnagogic culture overrun by superficiality and traveling towards an unimaginable future, one in which the reserves of oil are bound to expire.