Art Dubai 2019: A journey drawn through an archaeology of the present

Julius Baer has commissioned Chourouk Hriech, a French emerging artist of Moroccan origin, to create and curate ‘A Journey Drawn Through an Archaeology of the Present’, an exhibition with a focus on creating a bridge between Switzerland and Dubai.

Ahead of Art Dubai, Regis Burger, Head Middle East of Julius Baer (Middle East), shared the background on the commission and talked to Chourouk on her artistic practice and her debut at the fair.

Why did you decide to commission Chourouk Hriech this year?

Regis Burger: Julius Baer has a long standing commitment towards supporting the art and cultural scene in Dubai and this is the fifth year we are a sponsor of Art Dubai. We have always leveraged artists from the Julius Baer Art Collection for our Lounge at the Fair.  As we focus on fostering a dynamic blend of both emerging and firmly established artists in our core markets such as Dubai, this year we decided to expand our scope to include emerging artists from the Middle East. It was a happy coincidence that Art Dubai simultaneously launched their Bawwaba programme, a new gallery section featuring arts from Latin America, Middle East, Africa and Central and South Asia. We were fascinated by Chourouk’s profile and her monochromatic artworks which offer a unique sense of representation.

Tell us a little about the process? What was the brief?

As the leading Swiss private banking group focusing on preserving our clients’ wealth for the next generation, our strategy has always been to look towards the future. For the 2019 lounge, we wanted Chourouk to create a bridge between Switzerland and Dubai, depicting us as a global organization with local know-how. The first part of the brief was to portray Julius Baer’ journey from our origins in Switzerland dating back to 1890 to expanding and establishing a strong foothold in the Middle East, especially Dubai. We established a presence in Dubai 15 years ago and we were the first organisation to be licensed in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) which highlights our commitment and progressive vision towards the region.

The second part was to showcase our focus on the future through our next generation investment philosophy which looks at sustainable opportunities in five key themes for long term structural growth. These themes include: Digital Disruption, Energy Transition, Arising Asia, Shifting Lifestyles and Feeding the World. We then wanted these linked back to the incredible speed of development of Dubai as well as the synergies we share with Dubai’s futuristic vision.

Chourouk Hriech is known to draw exclusively in black and white. For ‘A Journey Drawn Through an Archeology of the Present’, she presents contemporary yet almost fable-like artworks, which aresometimes retro-futuristic sometimes timeless, and will transport the audience through the unexpected strata of an archaeology of the present.

Why do you choose solely to work with black and white?

Chourouk Hriech: Black and white came naturally because my drawing tools and Indian ink were black, and my support was white. Then, as years passed, I came to like this monochrome, which gave the best, realistic and graphic narrative of my work. Drawing is for me the eldest brother of writing. Then I realized that anything I drew corresponded to events, objects or places lived and visited. Drawing has to do with memory. And one day I realized that my memory was in “black and white”. All the photos of my Moroccan family, which accompanied me during my childhood in France, were black and white photos, in a coloured world in the 1980s.

The results of this colour choice as well as your subject matter mean that your work sits somewhere between reality and imagination – would that be a fair way to describe it?

Yes, absolutely, I draw recognisable figures that exist and aren’t imagined, but fantasised. All my work comes alive from reality, from life experiences and from this reality there is what I see and understand, just like what you see and understand. Each one has a meaning, sometimes it differs, sometimes meets, sometimes not. All my work is built on these possibilities of meaning and simultaneous reality.

Do you feel your French and Moroccan nationality has a particular relevance while examining your overall practice?

I think that we understand things only by practicing them in the longest way, and the most extraordinary is how they continue to surprise us when they mingle with the world. Memories in black and white, a past that escapes us in life today, a part of shadow, light, the frequent presence of a mirror, a reflection, a dark light. A Maghreb culture that melds the visible and the hidden. Architectures that make us look without being seen (small windows, moucharabieh on the wall), structures linking paradoxes. Berber music too, repetition or trance, all this echoing the gestures and figures repeated in my work. The presence of the garden too, Andalusian tradition, which requires a mastery of nature and architecture. My drawings often assume from another point of view that we cannot take, or have … The trip too, the displacement, the movement, the Mediterranean is my home. So yes, my childhood between France and Morocco has given birth to an insatiable nomadism in me, a thirst for the world and for landscapes.

How about Dubai in particular, as your practice is centred around capturing changing urban landscapes, is Dubai a particularly inspiring place for you?

Dubai is the city of all possibilities, all the landscapes are there, may they be natural or shaped by man. It is this mixture of paradoxes that obviously intrigues me the most!

Tell us about the Julius Baer commission specifically, is that piece based on your experience in Dubai?

Our collaboration is an incredible story, also full of paradoxes. I had to find paths connecting the Swiss mountains to the dunes of the desert. It was  a difficult but fascinating drawn adventure and I learnt a lot of new things. I think we never finish learning.

You will also be showing in the Bawabba section, which uses solo presentations to present a narrative of the Global South. Can you tell us more about this presentation?

For Bawabba, I will present a set of landscape drawings, places and stories borrowed from the world I went through. I still wonder, how do I exhibit time? How do I make visible what escapes us? Does distance escape us? These are all those issues that have influenced the works shown.

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