At first glance it looks like still more of the UAE's ubiquitous construction spoil: a mound of jagged rock, in hefty chunks, sprawls across the smooth gallery floor. But a second look reveals another element: a couple of strands of gleaming copper wire have been wrapped around each piece of rock, like string around a parcel.
The contrast between primordial rock and gleaming industrial wire speaks eloquently of the meeting of old and new.
This is Stones Wrapped in Copper (2007), the contribution of Emirati national Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim to On Site, the inaugural exhibition at the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery.
Nobody, not even the artist, has counted the rocks, but there are many hundreds of them, making together a truly massive statement.
Ibrahim is from Khorfakkan – an enclave that is part of Sharjah emirate but is on the UAE's east coast – and so is his stone. There's a deep sense of connection with his home region in much of this artist's work. His intimate connection with place is reflected not only in the range of possible interpretations of pieces such as this one, but also in what he works with: Ibrahim uses the natural materials of his native area, where he still lives, in much of his work.
Some of the other pieces in the artist's four-decade career are made with clay from a pit near his home, some with palm tree husks, and some with other natural materials from his environment. "It is a part of my life, to deal with nature," he says.
Stones Wrapped in Copper took about two months to produce, the artist recalls. "At first I did them all myself but later on I took helpers. Looping the wire around each rock and twisting it tight took "from 10 to 15 minutes" for each piece, he says. "It hurts the hands".
The wrapped rocks, from the mountains of Khorfakkan, contain some copper, a fact that adds a level of meaning to the wrapping. Industrial and natural, shiny and matte, ageless and modern, each chunk of rock adorned with its shards of wire demonstrates the same duality that many will see in the nature of today's UAE.
Natural versus human-made: it's a natural subject in a country that has developed so fast.
Last year Bashar Al Shroogi, director of Dubai's Cuadro Fine Art Gallery where some of Ibrahim's work has previously been exhibited, told the Abu Dhabi newspaper The National that the artist "concentrates on finding the most intriguing primitive forms, and that is his continual challenge … Most artists have a progression in their work that they move forward to a process of conclusion, but Ibrahim tackles it backwards to a process of mystery."
On Site runs until January 17, 2015, at the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery on Saadiyat Island. Admission is free.
Photo credit to John Varghese