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Image courtesy of Warehouse 421

“The Cup and The Saucer” Review: Drawing on Abu Dhabi

The Cup and The Saucer is a new Warehouse 421 exhibition that has emerged from the roots of the UAE. It is a surrealist and contemporary attempt at making sense of the local landscape’s accelerated change.

Oct 11, 2020

Conceived over a two-year period in conversation with independent curator Munira Al Sayegh, The Cup and The Saucer is the first solo exhibition by artist Hashel Al Lamki. The exhibition was commissioned by Warehouse 421, one of Abu Dhabi’s prime arts centers founded in 2015. The space, known for hosting exhibitions and public art programming, belongs to the foundation behind the UAE pavilion in the Venice Biennale. Many of the exhibitions showcased at Warehouse 421 are bound to be presented at other places. The Cup and The Saucer is an exhibit that has emerged from the roots of the UAE, and is a surrealist and contemporary attempt at making sense of the local landscape’s accelerated change.
Having involved four NYU Abu Dhabi alumni in the curatorial process, The Cup and The Saucer is leaving many footprints on the Abu Dhabi ecosystem.
“This exhibition can be considered a milestone of contemporary art in the Emirates, especially in Abu Dhabi. There hasn’t been a commission of this scale,” described Daniel H. Rey, Class of 2020 and Curatorial Research Intern for the show. The pieces showcased by the artist were built from scratch, taking nearly two years of research, collaboration and creation for them to be presented at Warehouse 421.
The name of the exhibit is a metaphor for the momentary split that occurs when a cup is removed from its saucer.
“Within that moment, a single item breaks into two individual entities,” notes Al Sayegh in the Curatorial Overview. The metaphorical moment of shift between a cup and a saucer is explored through nine subthemes, each distinct yet interconnected. Similar to the relationship between a cup and a saucer, the subthemes are simultaneously dependent on each other and independent from each other. The exhibit beautifully explores overarching ideas of unity, separation and individualism from Al Lamki’s intimate perspective of the UAE: “We gave birth to a show from here, for the people here.”
One of the subthemes, Versailles, explores selfhood through monumentalizing moments and landscapes around Al Lamki. In this section, there are 50 pieces and a sound piece in a medium sized room with painted green walls, all of which are proposed as a single artwork. For Al Lamki, the monumentalization serves as the arrival of a higher self.
“It is very rare to see such a raw relationship between the artist and his artwork,” described Hessa Al Nuaimi, Class of 2020 and Exhibition Project Assistant.
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Image courtesy of Warehouse 421
Much of Al Lamki’s work is also a personal reflection on the industrial development of the UAE he was raised in. The rapid development of the nation came with new materials, new waste and hyperconsumption. Through the repeated use of such materials in the artworks, Al Lamki gives us a new awareness on the UAE’s accelerated change.
“He injects life into what we discard, the things we interact with on a daily basis but never question,” captured Rey.
The reframing of perspective on the country’s rapid development gives the audience a new language to have a dialogue about the culture of consumption in the Emirates.
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Image courtesy of Warehouse 421
Jakob Plaschke, Class of 2020 and the Exhibition’s Editorial Intern, shared that his favorite section of the show was titled Control and Guilt, which has a display of 40 ornate and elaborate lamps. The section explores the idea that for each pull, there is a push. For every decision made, there are consequences.
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Image courtesy of Warehouse 421
Throughout the exhibition, Al Lamki and Al Sayegh bring to the foreground elements of life that go unnoticed in Abu Dhabi. One of these elements are the massage cards that are often littered on the streets, at which passersby momentarily glance before continuing on their journey.
“There is clearly a bigger picture behind the artwork for the viewer to contemplate,” added Al Nuaimi. Again and again, Al Lamki continues to inject life into the disposable and the discarded.
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Image courtesy of Warehouse 421
One section of the exhibition belongs to no subtheme and is the foundation of the metaphor behind The Cup and The Saucer. This section showcases 16 Egyptian film posters highlighting one main character, Abby. The posters of Abby unpack ideas of language, belonging and transformation in the local landscape.
Image courtesy of Warehouse 421
What makes this entire show particularly special, in addition to the aforementioned qualities, is the community behind it. Al Lamki is also the cofounder of BAIT 15, the art studio and exhibition space that pioneers independent artmaking in Abu Dhabi. In contrast to many of the art spaces in the UAE, which are often state sponsored or publicly funded, BAIT 15 is a completely independent artist-run studio. Al Lamki recalls that a majority of his work for the exhibition was made in BAIT 15, to the extent that one of his paintings has a gap because the canvas was not able to fit across the room.
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Image courtesy of Warehouse 421
Independent artmaking spaces such as BAIT 15 are vital, especially in the dominantly state-sponsored arts scene.
“It was really cool to see that [BAIT 15] was a possibility. That in itself makes for a really interesting perspective that you can clearly see come through in this exhibition. It is a culturally critical perspective,” noted Plaschke.
Al Nuaimi remarks that much of the work produced by BAIT 15 artists is incredibly unique and bold, as they produce artwork that encourages us to question and have conversations. The value of such spaces is also reflected by the community working behind the scenes.
"It was a very different experience working here; this was a lot more of a holistic experience,” mentioned Plaschke. Grassroots arts is instrumental in the creation of an authentic community identity and expression.
The Cup and The Saucer is a crucial step towards community driven transformation of artmaking in Abu Dhabi. Al Lamki hopes that more independent spaces similar to BAIT 15 will continue to be formed: “We need more people coming together, working and producing.”
He concluded with his aspirations beyond the show and how he hopes the exhibition will raise the questions needed for dialogue: “As a result of that dialogue, there will be progress. While that will not happen in the lifespan of this show, I hope these conversations continue.”
The Cup and The Saucer is open at Warehouse 421 till October 25th, 2020. Visiting schedule is from Tuesdays to Sundays, 10:00 - 20:00.
Lubnah Ansari is a Contributing Writer for The Gazelle. Email her at
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