Art Gallery Exhibition to Explores one of the UAE’s Most Important Artistic Communities

But We Cannot See Them: Tracing a UAE Art Community, 1988-2008, at the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery.

Press Release

The spring exhibition at the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, But We Cannot See Them: Tracing a UAE Art Community, 1988-2008, will open March 2, 2017, surveying one of the most important artistic communities in this country’s history.

Community has played a key role in every modern art historical breakthrough, with artists banding together around manifestos, or turning to one another for support when art institutions rejected their innovations. Art communities grow out of critical and creative exchange among peers and mentors.

But We Cannot See Them focuses on one community of artists, sometimes called “the five”, at an intersection of visual artists, writers, and filmmakers based in the UAE. Its members identified with a “new culture” of encouraging radical, formal and conceptual experimentation. Eventually, some of these artists founded the celebrated Flying House.

In tandem with this exhibition, The NYUAD Art Gallery is publishing of a book of interviews with the artists. Together, the exhibition and book begin the process of tracing this pivotal artistic community in the key years of its formation.

Founding Director and Chief Curator of the NYUAD Art Gallery, Maya Allison notes: “When I first met these artists and learned about the history of their community, it struck me that theirs shares a structural similarity with ‘underground’ or ‘independent’ art scenes that I’ve studied. Operating as an artistic community outside of formal art institutions allows artists a combination of freedom and support that can enable powerful creative innovation.”

Allison explains, “I am told that in the early 1990s, when curators came to the UAE looking for contemporary art, they concluded none was being made, because they could not see it. Yet contemporary art was actually flourishing. The particular artists in this exhibition developed what we might call an ‘underground,’ in spite of – or because of – the scarcity of public venues able to support conceptual and formal experimentation in the UAE at the time. When The Flying House opened in 2007, that space gave them a new found visibility, leading to further audience and institutional support.”

But We Cannot See Them is curated by Maya Allison, with Exhibitions Curator Bana Kattan, with research and program development by Programs Curator Alaa Edris. It includes archival material and videotaped interviews with members of the community, alongside artworks from the 1988 through 2008, as well as a reading room of work from other important members of the community, including Cristiana De Marchi, Adel Khozam, and Nujoom Al Ghanem.

Artists include: Hassan Sharif, Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, Abdullah Al Saadi, Mohammed Kazem, Hussain Sharif, Vivek Vilasini, Jos Clevers, and Ebtisam Abdulaziz.

The title of the exhibition is drawn from a poem written by a key member of the community, poet and filmmaker Nujoom Al Ghanem. More details about But We Cannot See Them to be revealed closer to the time of the exhibition.

But We Cannot See Them: Tracing a UAE Art Community, 1988-2008
March 2 to May 25, 2017
The Art Gallery at NYU Abu Dhabi

About NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery

The Art Gallery, which opened on November 1, 2014, and is located at the main entrance to NYUAD’s Saadiyat Campus, presents curated exhibitions of art and material culture across historical and contemporary topics, with a special emphasis on subjects of both regional concern and international significance. Through focused exhibitions, events, and publications, the gallery serves as a catalyst and locus of intellectual and creative activity, linking the University with the Abu Dhabi public and a worldwide community of artists, curators, and scholars. The 664-square-meter (7,000-square-foot) exhibition space features soaring double-height ceilings and an outdoor installation space. It is fully equipped for exhibitions in all media, with custom walls and lighting allowing for experimental and traditional installations, from video art to ancient works. The curatorial platform supports scholarly and experimental installations, artists’ projects, guest curators, and landmark exhibitions. The coming exhibition program centers on three themes: landscape and the built environment, Islamic art and culture, and art in global dialogue. To contact the gallery, call +971-2-628-8000, or visit the website:

About NYU Abu Dhabi

NYU Abu Dhabi is the first comprehensive liberal arts and research campus in the Middle East to be operated abroad by a major American research university. NYU Abu Dhabi has integrated a highly selective undergraduate curriculum across the disciplines with a world center for advanced research and scholarship. The university enables its students in the sciences, engineering, social sciences, humanities, and arts to succeed in an increasingly interdependent world and advance cooperation and progress on humanity’s shared challenges. NYU Abu Dhabi’s high-achieving students have come from over 115 countries and speak over 115 languages. Together, NYU's campuses in New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai form the backbone of a unique global university, giving faculty and students opportunities to experience varied learning environments and immersion in other cultures at one or more of the numerous study-abroad sites NYU maintains on six continents.