The shortlist for the Sheikha Manal Young Artist Award 2011 is currently on exhibition at the Dubai Ladies Club, with 50 artworks vying for the judges' attention ahead of the award ceremony on January 28.
A healthy mix of Emirati and UAE-resident artists form a shortlist selected from more than 200 entries representing 11 nationalities.
Jurors meet tomorrow to look over the exhibition and decide on winners under the categories of fine art, photography and multimedia, with a Dh30,000 prize for the leading work in each category and subsequent runners up prizes of Dh20,000 and Dh10,000 for second and third places in the competition, whose patron is Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Muna bin Kalli is the executive director of the Dubai Ladies Club, and tells The National that the trajectory of quality in each edition of the prize continues to rise. "This year is the best yet. I can see a clear progression in terms of diversity of medium and ideas.
"People also look forward to this award now. At the beginning it was quite different, but it has really developed its own identity, which is visible in this show."
Indeed, one of the most striking things about the pieces that make it on to the shortlist of Sheikha Manal's award is their experimental streak: Lantian Xie, for instance, has created a monitor that turns a visitor's nationality data into something akin to an airport departures board. Naji Mahmoud, already an award-winning architect and graduate of the American University of Sharjah, has created the undulating, smooth contours of a dune field out of hundreds of carefully cut pieces of cardboard.
"It's a piece about seamlessness," says Mahmoud, who rendered the idea digitally before setting to work on its complex assembly. "It's looking at how you can put very different elements and shapes together to achieve harmony."
Placed centrally in the exhibition is an installation by Sara Al Haddad titled Self-Portrait. Al Haddad has knotted together thousands of strips of pink yarn, interspersing that with pins, to create a slumped human form in the gallery space.
"This is a self-portrait, because it's about showing my doubts and flaunting them," she tells us on opening night.
Al Haddad is a recent graduate, and is looking now to build her portfolio and to explore Master's options abroad, specialising in textiles. "I'm very confident about this piece, because I see it as an expression of myself. This is me being mad, sad, angry."
One of the works that generated the most attention on opening night was a large, busy canvas by the Brazilian Caroline Simo Higueras, titled Pagoda Tree. The mounting trunk of a tree, painted in expressive yet exacting black lines, rises into a bloom of leaves-in-flux. The movement inherent to Higueras's illustrative style of drawing makes the piece declare itself in the award, and is a hot contender in the fine-art category.
Hamdan Buti Al Shamisi hails from Al Ain, and says that his shortlisted work of manipulated photography, depicting a man whose face has been digitally caved in, is about the sense of loss felt when a person leaves our lives.
The jury includes some of the UAE's foremost collectors and gallery directors, including Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, the founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah, Sheikha Hoor Al Qassimi, president of the Sharjah Art Foundation, and Rami Farook, the director of Dubai's Traffic space. There's also representation from the auction house Christie's, with the regional specialist Hala Khayat on the panel, and the locally based artist Patricia Millns.
With the exhibition continuing until Thursday, members of the public are invited to rate the works themselves at www.youngartistaward.ae, ahead of the People's Choice Award for the artist with the highest votes.
The Sheika Manal Young Artist Award has become a notable way for locally based artists to raise their profiles.
Winners since the award's inception in 2006 have included the illustrator and artist Fathima Mohuiddin (2010), who has since been represented in a number of exhibitions and projects, and the photographer-artist Evan Collisson.