Monira Al Qadiri is a Kuwaiti visual artist, currently based in Berlin, who works on a multifaceted practice spanning video, sculptures, installation, and performances. Her research delves into the cultural histories of Gulf petro-states, focusing mainly on their urban and economic transformation over the last few decades, and the manifold contradictions of consumption and desire this has brought. In 2010, she obtained her PhD in Intermedia Art at Tokyo University of the Arts, with a dissertation called The Aesthetics of Sadness in the Middle East, which explores the conventions of poetry, music, art, and religious practices in the light of contemporary “petro-culture.” In this vein, Al Qadiri investigates the legacies of petro-state corruption and resource extraction, drawing from cultural and personal sources. She interprets these historical and political developments using speculative fiction and artefacts, with intertextual references from sci-fi, Arab soap operas, Gulf War-era pictures of Kuwaiti oil fields on fire, traditional melancholic music, pearl diving, and oil drilling machinery.
During Al Qadiri’s residency at the Rijksakademie (2016–17) she developed a series of 3D-printed sculptures resembling oil drill-heads coated in an iridescent automotive-like paint using an innovative process that she, along with the paint lab technician, developed in a series of workshops. During her research she discovered that pearls and oil belong to opposite ends of the same dichroic colour spectrum. These lighter and darker values correspondingly create an aesthetic and historical bond between the pre- and post-oil eras. One can sense how the ancient practice of pearl diving, once a trademark of the Persian Gulf, has been violently replaced by the petroleum industry’s relentless plunder and exploitation of natural resources.
Symbolically, the mechanisms and machinery that aid oil extraction are silent witnesses to industrial activity that is often hidden and invisible. The inner-workings of the petroleum industry are usually concealed from the public, who respond with amazement and fascination when they are finally revealed, concealing the danger these implements pose to the Gulf’s delicate ecologies. Invoking the ethos of speculative design, Al Qadiri is able to weave a trans-historical narrative between humanity’s past, present, and foreboding future materialised in these 3D-printed sculptures. She invites viewers to imagine a future without oil, while consecrating the oil drill-heads as relics from an ancestral past.
For her part of the Biennale exhibition, Monira Al Qadiri’s oil drill-bit series – initially developed at the Rijksakademie – was sized up to monumental scale, reminding us how the ‘magical transcendence’ of the Gulf landscape has continued to exacerbate anxieties about her country’s oil wealth and the destructive, unsustainable use of fossil fuels. Hovering slightly above the tabletop, these colourful drill heads spin and shine, creating a sublime experience of wonder, even as they act as terrifying symbols of environmental devastation.
Monira Al Qadiri has held several international solo exhibitions. The most recent venues to have shown her work include the Kunsthaus Bregenz (2023), Blaffer Art Museum (2022) Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (2022); The Blaffer Art Museum, Houston (2022); Berlinische Galerie, Berlin (2021); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2020); Kunstverein Göttingen (2019); The CIRCL Pavilion, Amsterdam (2018); Gasworks, London (2017); Stroom Den Haag, the Hague (2017); and Sultan Gallery, Kuwait (2014). The Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven and the Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai have works of Al Qadiri in their permanent collections.
Some of the most notable group exhibitions she participated in include: Thinking Historically in the Present, Sharjah Biennial 15 (2023); The Vibration of Things, The 15th Triennial of Small Sculpture, Fellbach (2022); Phantasmapolis, Asia Art Biennial, Taiwan (2021); Dubai Expo 2020 (2020); Our World is Burning, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2020); Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars, MoMA PS1, New York (2019–20); Future Generation Art Prize, Kiev (2019); Let’s Talk about the Weather: Art & Ecology in a Time of Crisis, Sursock Museum, Beirut (2016); among others.
Screenings of her filmography, mainly short films and videos, have also reached international venues such as The Belvedere Museum, Vienna (2022); BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels (2020); Seoul Media City (2019); The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2018); Ajyal Film Festival, Qatar (2018); Kunsthalle Schirn, Frankfurt (2017); Le Centre Pompidou, Paris (2016); Berlinale – Berlin International Film Festival (2014); and others.
She was recently awarded the Triennale Small Sculpture Award in 2022, and was featured in the Artsy Vanguard 2019, Artsy’s annual list of the most promising artists working today.
Sharjah Biennial 15
58th Carnegie International
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