Winning Installation for The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award 2023 Unveiled at Abu Dhabi Art

Winning installation for The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award 2023, Shaheeq.

Shaheeq is inspired by the UAE’s mangrove trees and their ability to inspire hope and practical solutions to the climate crisis

Under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Shamsa bint Hamdan Al Nahyan, NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), in partnership with Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation (ADMAF), unveiled the winning submission of the eleventh edition of The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award 2023 at Abu Dhabi Art.

Shaheeq borrows wisdom from the mangrove trees sprouting around the UAE landscape and aims to inspire viewers to acknowledge and maintain the solutions already activated in our environment, and to illuminate a positive philosophy towards ‘metaphysical grief’ caused by the climate crisis. It was sculpted by the artists using Rammed Earth, a sustainable construction technique that is thousands of years old and involves a mixture of the Rammed mangrove soil, sand, and clay. Shaheeq will be on display during Abu Dhabi Art until November 26, with a touring exhibition to follow at NYU Abu Dhabi, Um El Emarat Park, and Jubail Mangrove Park, where it will eventually biodegrade back into the earth from which it came, leaving no trace of its existence.

The winning artists are NYUAD graduate Vivi Zhu, a Chinese-born award-winning documentary filmmaker, artist, and social entrepreneur whose interest lies in discovering and telling microcosmic stories that reflect bigger social-political pictures; University of Sharjah graduate Hala El Abora, a Palestinian Jordanian artist living and working in Dubai, whose practice is driven by her obsession with the concept of non-ephemerality, permanence, and the desperate need to preserve; and Majd Alloush, a Syrian artist who holds a BFA from the University of Sharjah and an MFA from NYUAD, and whose work spans multiple disciplines including printmaking, sculpture, photography, moving image, installation, and performance. 

In attendance at the unveiling were founder of Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation H.E. Huda Al-Khamis Kanoo, NYUAD Vice Chancellor Mariët Westermann, NYUAD Art Gallery Chief Curator Maya Allison, Director of The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award 2023 Emily Doherty, Christo’s Director of Operations and nephew Vladimir Yavacheff, along with this year’s winning artists, among others.

“More than a decade since its inception, the award has played a crucial role in nurturing the creative capabilities of young artists, both students and graduates from the UAE's art colleges. It highlights the role of artists in powering the cultural industries, as key contributors to the creative economy. With Abu Dhabi Art, one of the capital's prominent global art events, there is a broad imperative to transfer knowledge, overseen by academic experts in the arts. This process begins with conceptualizing artistic works and extends to their execution and presentation to the public."

Her Excellency Huda Ibrahim Alkhamis, founder of the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation and founder and Artistic Director of Abu Dhabi Festival

Her Excellency continued: "The winning artwork for the eleventh edition this year, 'Shaheeq' by the talented graduates Majd Aloush and Hala El Abora from the University of Sharjah, and Vivi Zhu, a graduate of New York University Abu Dhabi, reflects our shared societal commitment to environmental awareness. It underscores the necessity of promoting environmentally-friendly artistic practices, shedding light on the symbolism of the Ghaf tree and its resilience in challenging natural conditions. The Ghaf tree serves as a source of inspiration in the fight against climate change, during this time of the COP28 conference in the UAE, which is attended by more than 198 countries."


“Shaheeq reminds me of our intrinsic cohesiveness as a species, we aren’t separate from each other or nature. The artists’ collaboration with the environment highlights this generation’s concerns for climate change and the urgent need to imagine and manufacture a more sustainable future. The use of the mangrove trees, and the forest ecosystem that supports them encourages us to look for solutions within our own natural ecosystems. And as we approach COP28, these themes assume ever greater relevance.”

Executive Director of The NYUAD Art Gallery and the University’s Chief Curator Maya Allison

“Shaheeq is representative of maturing art education in the United Arab Emirates. These artists, recent graduates, and current students, won The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award 2023 because their concept showed an ability to think creatively and conscientiously, with sophisticated attention to detail and hands-on skill.  Through their work, Vivi, Hala and Majd are not only finding ways to highlight immediate environmental concerns and seeking solutions, they are using ancient construction techniques and sculpting the piece with their own hands. We congratulate them on their innovative style and brilliant team work, and wish them every success as practicing artists in the future.”

Director of the Award Emily Doherty

Produced annually since 2013, in collaboration with The NYUAD Art Gallery, The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award serves as a launch pad for artists across the Emirates, encouraging new artwork and offering winners insight into professional life as an artist, from commission to exhibition. The program is open to UAE-based students and recent graduates.