It was this feeling of awe for the cosmos that she wanted to carry over into her installation. The glass sculptures are reminiscent of the "Wabar pearls" in the meteorite crater, gleaming black stones formed in the sand by the impact. At the same time, their pearl shape is also an allusion to the era before the age of oil in Kuwait, when diving for pearls in the sea was still how people made their living.

From desert tent to skyscraper

Monira al-Qadiri is part of a young generation of Arab artists who are addressing the consequences of the age of oil for their societies: the cultural and social shift that followed the start of oil production was a radical one. Al-Qadiri’s grandfather worked as a singer on a pearl-fishing boat. Within a very short space of time, oil production had turned the lives of the region’s inhabitants completely upside down. In a single generation, they were catapulted from desert tent to skyscraper, from camel to Mercedes.

"Holy Quarter" installation and presentation by Monira al-Qadiri, 2019 in Munich's Haus der Kunst (photo: Maximilian Geuter/HdK)
Torn between prosperity and inner emptiness as a consequence of the oil era: the glossy black colour of the glass sculptures is a reference to the oil that shapes everything. Qadiri is convinced, however, that only those who recall the time before oil production can develop ideas for a post-fossil-fuel future

Al-Qadiri compares the dawning of the oil era to an invasion of aliens from outer space, like Wabar, the fictional space-creature. She argues that an imported western model of progress has made the region’s people completely forget their own cultural roots.

To this day, wealth and overconsumption in the region are based on oil, and al-Qadiri says that this has led to a disconnect between wealth and an inner emptiness. The black colour of the glass sculptures is a reference to the oil that shapes everything. But the artist is convinced that only those who recall the time before oil production can develop ideas for a post-fossil-fuel future.

The aesthetics of sadness

But in the Middle East, al-Qadiri argues, the past has been repressed and disappeared from the collective consciousness and so there are no credible ideas for a direction in which to develop. "The stories of our societies are crumbling," she says. "There is no vision for the future at all." She calls the situation in the Middle East "painful" and "tragic".

"All the same, for me there is an aesthetic quality to this oriental melancholy," she says, and she deliberately contrasts this with the western compulsion to be permanently cheerful. "The aesthetics of sadness in the Middle East" was also the title of her doctoral thesis. The future seems gloomy. But there are still the vital voices of young artists like al-Qadiri –and their huge creative potential.  

Claudia Mende

© Qantara.de 2020

Translated from the German by Ruth Martin

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