Photograph by Melinda Szekeres

Bayn: Exploring the In-between

Rethinking notions of national identity.

Feb 26, 2017

Tucked away behind the old industrial warehouses and hypermarkets of Mina Zayed, Warehouse 421 opened its doors on Feb. 25 to its second exhibition this year, Bayn: The In-Between. The exhibit focuses on acknowledging, navigating and elevating the in-between state locals experience that is neither part of their parent’s generation nor Abu Dhabi 2030 and beyond. Running almost in parallel with Lest We Forget’s Emirati Adornment: Tangible & Intangible installation, Bayn uses its own visual language to invite visitors to rethink notions of national identity.
At the opening, Munira Al Sayegh was in her element. Al Sayegh is the curator of Bayn, UAE Unlimited’s third installation. “She’s doing the hand gestures,” some of the artist collaborators murmured to each other. I asked what they meant, and Maytha Al Shamsi and Sara Al Haddad, two of the artists, told me that when she does hand motions like that, she’s feeling confident.
The organization that supported her, UAE Unlimited, is satellite platform that supports emerging Emirati and UAE-based artists. It was founded and supported by H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, who also identifies as a part of the Bayn generation. Al Sayegh curated works by eight emerging artists and the acclaimed Saudi Arabian artist Manal Al Dowayan.
Cameras followed Al Sayegh around the gallery, but her attention was always on the crowd in attendance. She pointed to Al Haddad’s piece titled inhale, which floods the corner of the first room with crochet tissue paper. The work spreads and mimics breathing, forming tightly-knit yet unconnected blobs on the ground. Al Sayegh told people around her to take note of the empty space between the three pieces, the in-between, as she called it.
“It’s that moment of transience that exists in the search and the finding of home,” Al Sayegh said a few minutes later about i am sorry, the concrete box-like structure that is positioned at the corner.
We moved quickly through the artworks, but her talk always circled back to transformation and adoption. It was these processes that Al Sayegh sought to document and physicalize in visual space, drawing on artworks of a variety of medium and themes.
NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery Director and Chief Curator Maya Allison sees two important forces at work in the UAE’s art scene. One is the youth of the nation defining what they want their country to be like; the other, coming from outside, is the art world highlighting works that deal with what it means to be from the UAE.
Allison, whom Al Sayegh, in a more demanding time, referred to jokingly as her curatorial therapist, was invited by UAE Unlimited’s Executive Director Shobha Pia Shamdsani to mentor Al Sayegh. Al Sayegh and Allison had known each other for a few years now, given the small and intimate nature of the region’s art community.
“The brilliance of this particular exhibition is that the narrative is not coming from an outsider examining the emerging artists of the UAE, but from an insider, who is having this same questioning herself. It is high time such a perspective came to the fore, and [Al Sayegh]’s selection of artists shows how much more there is to see and think about beyond binary identity/region politics in art,” wrote Allison.
The reflections by the commissioned artists on navigating the present are extremely important to Al Sayegh, since these ultimately impact the future. She hosted monthly meetings and readings with the participating artists.
“This exhibition was collaborative process … created amongst all of us,” Al Sayegh said.
The other participating artists include Asma Al Ahmed, Hatem Hatem, Nasser Al Zayani, Saif Mehaisen, Talal Al Ansari and Talin Hazbar. The exhibition is on view until June 18.
Photograph by Melinda Szekeres
Melinda Szekeres is Features Editor. Email her at
gazelle logo