Sculpture symposium

The Abu Dhabi Sculpture Symposium brings world-class artists to the capital, writes Claire Carruthers

Instantly recognisable with their broad shoulders, thick forearms and, on closer inspection, broken fingernails, sculptors are the true grafters of the art world. There’s no flouncing about with sable-haired paintbrushes, creating clichéd sunsets with their Winsor & Newton box-sets. No, this is a special collective of artist ‘builders’ who weld, mold, chisel and carve (come rain or shine) with the dedication of a German foreman, to create beautiful, awe-inspiring works of art.

Seeing sculptors assemble en masse will be a rare sight for Abu Dhabi – this is, in fact, the first time such an event has taken place in the capital. Amid the buzz surrounding the opening of the Guggenheim, the Louvre and the building of various other cultural attractions within the city, it would be easy for an event like this to slip under the radar, but that would indeed be of detriment to the art-loving public.

Rarely has a group of artists been invited to produce work that will, upon completion, take up permanent residency in various locations around the city. On February 25, this will all change. Seventeen international artists (from the UK, Egypt, Italy, Austria, Bulgaria, Slovenia, UAE, Lebanon, Korea, Germany, USA, Republic of Georgia, Spain, Australia, and Japan) will join together for the inaugural Abu Dhabi Sculpture Symposium. The event will see the artists creating works at the Armed Forces Officers Club as members of the public wander around, watch, and engage with the masters at work: a calendar of events, workshops, desert trips with the artists and lectures (to be held at Zayed University campuses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai) will give a mini-arts festival feel to proceedings.

‘We reviewed more than 400 international sculptors and requested three different designs from each of them that would complement the UAE’s culture and history,’ says Symposium director Salwa Zeidan, who has played a large role in organising the event, and believes it will have a positive impact on the art form’s perception. ‘It was imperative that we find renowned and experienced artists who could not only elevate the standard of the event but also add value to the lecture programme and in turn enrich interaction with the public and ZU students.’

The International Sculpture Symposium movement originated in Austria in 1959, when sculptor Karl Prantl created an event in an abandoned stone quarry in a bid to provide networking opportunities for artists working in 3D. Symposiums have since spread across the world, taking place in Austria, Japan, America and Australia. Zayed University vice president, Dr Sulaiman Jassim, highlighted the strategic importance of the event, by saying, ‘Abu Dhabi is gradually affirming itself as a cultural capital in the region, and we are proud to be able to establish this artistic dialogue with such a diverse mix of artists through the art of sculpting – I have no doubt that the positive impact of this project will last for years to come.’

The Abu Dhabi Sculpture Symposium will take place over a six-week period (February 25-April 7), co-organised by Zayed University, Salwa Zeidan Gallery and Abu Dhabi Municipality and the Armed Forces Officers Club – the intention is to make it an annual event. Konstantin Dimopoulos is one of the international artists taking part, and he hopes that his ‘wind driven kinetic sculpture’ will remind visitors and those involved in developing the city that ‘there still resides the people and natural environment that has existed here for centuries.’

American sculptor Jon Barlow Hudson first visited Abu Dhabi in 1991 and has returned several times since. ‘It is a fascinating city and intriguing in its growth and development as a cultural capital – it has a dynamic energy.’ Jon will be building a six-metre-high painted steel structure, circular in shape ‘to imply wholeness and unity’. As a young, emerging talent Lebanese artist Husam Chaya is planning a similarly inspiring piece made out of marble – the shape of which will encourage wind to whistle through the curves and chasms to create a sort of sculptural music. Bulgarian sculptor Gheorghi Filin agreed to take part only after she became aware of the high standard of fellow artists. ‘Encounters between artists of value always creates an exchange of positivity. The organisation of the event in Abu Dhabi gives me hope that everything has been done well and chosen with skill.’

There’s no doubt that this will generate international attention on the city’s cultural development agenda. Yet, the sheer power of a sculpture symposium is the opportunity it poses for the public to meet and interact with artists. Now that’s how you go about building an organic art scene.
At the time of going to press, a full events timetable for Abu Dhabi Sculpture Symposium was not yet available. Visit and for further details.

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