NYU exhibition explores the expat condition

A thought-provoking new Abu Dhabi exhibition investigates the search for identity of expats making a home from home in the UAE

Have you found your own little slice of sunshine paradise or do you sometimes feel you lost “you” somehere along the way in the UAE? For many of us, there will be a little bit of both during the course of any given week.

The expat condition in all its forms is explored in an eye-opening exhibition by two intrepid travellers from South Africa and New York, who have been bound together by their shared creative journey.

Woven Identities is a striking new show at NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery operated by Project Space, which is dedicated to providing a platform for experimentation and exploration within the arts. Stephanie Neville and Jeff Scofield delve deep into the search for identity and belonging for people living transient lifestyles in cities such as Abu Dhabi and neighbouring Dubai.

Neville, who originally hails from Pretoria, South Africa, and has lived in the UAE since 1999, explains: “From my perspective, the exhibition explores the search for identity and belonging within a transient lifestyle such as experienced in the UAE, and how we can sustain and maintain interpersonal relationships when we’re faced with constant change.”

Scofield, a New York native who moved to the Middle East nearly 15 years ago, adds: “Our exhibition explores a subjective narrative with the environment in conjunction with society, where the individual is led through an adventure towards self-identity. By weaving together natural materials and found objects, we assemble visual narratives exploring the interconnectedness that binds us in the context of transience and flux.”

The exhibition features nine installations inextricably linked by the theme of self-identity far away from home, such as Neville’s here not here, an embroidery portrait installation looking at emotional aspects of absence, loneliness and memory, and Scofield’s Conversations (pictured left), a representation of a society of thousands of torn pages from books bearing script written in the many languages and alphabets in daily use across the UAE.

The two artists first met in 2015 and soon found their shared interests could spark a creative partnership.
Scofield explains: “We gravitated together because we share an interest in sustainable themes, particularly regarding human relationships and social identity.”

The pair create their own work independently and have found the tandem has evolved “organically”, with both complementing each other.

The exhibition has been one year in the making and both artists are full of praise for the efforts of the NYU Abu Dhabi curators in helping to turn their grand vision into a reality. It’s one we can now all share in.

Free. Until July 22 (open Sat-Thu 3pm-10pm). Project Space, NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, Saadiyat Island (02 628 8000).

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