Place any object on light-sensitive, photographic paper and leave it out in the sun for a few hours. The effect is that of a ghostly imprint left on the paper, halfway between a silhouette-like outline and a subtly translucent form.
Sheikha Fatima bint Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan has exploited this medium to create ethereal evocations of the abaya, and she exhibits the results this week at The Ara Gallery in Downtown Dubai.
The technique, called the photogram, was one of the first forms of photography and was popularised in the 1840s by the British inventor William Fox Talbot. Sheikha Fatima has used it to create flame-like forms and highly detailed, weave-like patterns on photographic paper.
Working in the darkroom, the artist placed the abaya on the paper, allowing the intricate folds of the material to be captured in the process. She then augmented and manipulated the images digitally before placing crystals and jewellery on them to create a three-dimensional effect and a sense of perspective within each work.
The artists Pablo Picasso and Man Ray worked with this primitive photography in the early half of the 20th century and saw its potential as an art form in itself. Essentially, it is akin to painting with light, and the clean abstracted effect of the process has an aesthetic of its own.
In a statement about her inspiration for the works, Sheikha Fatima noted that the abaya and national dress found in the region are emblems of a core sense of identity in an increasingly globalised world.
The current exhibition follows a private showing of these works in Abu Dhabi in February and is the first public exhibition of Sheikha Fatima's work after her studies in Visual Communication at the American University of Dubai. She is already a recognised patron of the arts and a collector.
The Ara Gallery focuses on Arab artists and, in particular, Emirati talent, having previously exhibited a number of painters and photographers from across the UAE.
The Black Garment: An Oriental Story opens tonight, 7-9, then runs daily until March 13, 10am-10pm (Fridays 3-10pm) at The Ara Gallery in Dubai.