Rayyane Tabet, portrait © Douglas Friedman

Keeper of the past in the present for the future: an interview with Rayyane Tabet

For the occasion of his upcoming solo show at Sharjah Art Foundation, we invited Rayyane Tabet to be My Art Guide Dubai/Sharjah/Abu Dhabi guest artist. In this interview he tells us about his first in-depth presentation in the UAE region.
by Carla Ingrasciotta
February 2, 2021
Carla Ingrasciotta
Rayyane Tabet

“Exquisite Corpse” is your first in-depth presentation in the UAE region. Could you tell us about the exhibition? What will you be presenting and what is the show’s main focus?

Exquisite Corpse” brings together newly commissioned and reconceived works from “FRAGMENTS” (2016–ongoing), my most ambitious project to date. Drawing on personal insight and historical records to stage encounters between audiences and matters of geopolitical consequence, this show explores an archaeological excavation led by German diplomat Baron Max von Oppenheim in Tell Halaf, northeast Syria, at the turn of the twentieth century. My great-grandfather Faek Borkhoche worked as von Oppenheim’s secretary for six months in 1929, a few years after Western powers had carved up the region. Following this familial connection, I have developed works that engage with family heirlooms and archaeological artefacts through accidents of history—across time, generations and continents. Taken together, this project intimates the wide-ranging fallout of an era that looms large over current discussions of cultural appropriation, museological practice and freedom of movement. On display will be five large scale installations spread across three of the Sharjah Art Foundation’s galleries.

When was your first encounter with Sharjah Art Foundation and curator Ryan Inouye?

I have had a long-term engagement with the Sharjah Art Foundation for over a decade. My work was included in Sharjah Biennials 10, 12 and 13, I took part in a few editions of the March Meeting and the Foundation co-funded the publication of my exhibition catalogue “FRAGMENTS”. As for Ryan Inouye, we worked together on my participation in the 2nd New Museum Triennial in 2012 and Sharjah Biennial 12 in 2015. Since then, we have been in constant contact and in 2018 we began a conversation about working on a show in Sharjah. 

Your practice often deals with anthropology, which you use to investigate socio-political events. When did you first approach these themes and how have they developed over time?

My work is an extension of my training in architecture and sculpture. With each project, I follow the paths and acquire the tools necessary for its realization. Since 2016, and because of my involvement in the “FRAGMENTS” series, I have learned a lot from spending time with archeologists and conservators who work in encyclopedic museums. That being said, I don’t think my practice deals with anthropology per se, rather, it deals with the material remains of human interventions and the ways in which these remains are able to write an alternative history of the world.

Rayyane Tabet Basalt Shards (detail), 2017 From ‘FRAGMENTS’, 2016–ongoing, Installation view: Kunstverein Hamburg, 2017 Courtesy of the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Beirut and Hamburg Photo: Fred Dott
Rayyane Tabet, Dear Victoria, 2016-ongoing. Photo: Jens Ziehe. Courtesy of the artist & Sfeir-Semler Gallery Beirut | Hamburg

As you may already know, My Art Guides has recently published the book “A Room with a View”, a collection of 20 letters from international artists who shared their experience of lockdown during Pandemic. We’d also like to know about your experience of lockdown? Where and how was it spent?

I have been in San Francisco since March 13, 2020; the longest time I have spent in one place. I am taking this experience the only way I can: one day at a time.

The pandemic has helped us to better understand the transient nature of our lives, how have you reacted to this? What role do you think the artist plays in this ever-evolving situation?

I have spent a good deal of my life thinking about the past and projecting into the future. The pandemic has taught me to think in, about, through and for the present. Artists are record keepers of the past in the present for the future.

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