Seeing Things

The visual artist’s work draws inspiration from the cultural histories of the Gulf region

Monira Al Qadiri is a Kuwaiti visual artist. Born in 1983 in Senegal, she was educated in Japan and began her rise in the field of art. Through her keen eye for innovative topics, she became a staple on the global arts scene, with her works exhibited at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), Frieze, the Venice Bienalle, Art Basel, Palais de Tokyo in Paris and the Qatar Museum. She is currently based in Berlin.

Source: ICD Brookfield Place

Monira is a multifaceted artist who is able to convey multiple key messages through her work. Her practice, which spans sculpture, installation, film and performance, is primarily based on research into the cultural histories of the Gulf region. Her interpretation of the Gulf’s “petro-culture” is manifested through speculative scenarios that take inspiration from science fiction, autobiography, traditional practices and pop culture, resulting in uncanny and covertly subversive works. She is currently based in Berlin.

KHAMSA had the chance to exclusively interview Monira Al Qadiri and quiz her on her line of work and the various inspirations that were part of her journey. She will be part of a thought-provoking exhibition at ICD Brookfield Place, which hopes to engage the city in conversation around the goals of COP28. Monira’s visionary exploration of the petrochemical industry through “Benzene Float” and “Nawa” offers a unique lens on art, culture, and pressing environmental issues.

١. Throughout your journey as a visual artist, you have honed the themes of culture, fiction, and performance to fine-tune your work. Could you tell us how your venture into art and this unique niche began, and what made you stick to it?

I believe artists working in the 21st century have a lot of tools and technologies at their disposal that becoming a multidisciplinary practitioner comes naturally to them. There is no longer any need to limit oneself to a single craft or theme. In the same way that our world is constantly evolving and expanding, so do our preoccupations and our processes.

Source: Seeing Things

٢. Could you briefly describe BENZENE FLOAT and NAWA, and how they help people analyse and understand their relationship with oil?

The BENZENE FLOAT series illustrates the scientific compounds of several kinds of petrochemicals that are usually invisible to us in our daily lives, but here are exaggerated into huge, colourful inflatable sculptures that can no longer be ignored.

NAWA looks like a field of flowers at first glance, but is in actual fact following the cut shapes of steel cables that carry oil out of the earth.

٣. There is a very interesting conundrum with the oil industry – the fact that it thrives on being consumed despite oil itself being a rare resource. How is that line of thinking reflected in your artwork?

Oil is a miracle and a curse at the same time. It has revolutionized the way we live in the modern world, but it is also harming the environment. My work always reflects these two opposing states simultaneously, offering a more realistic outlook on our dependence and complicity with these substances.

Source: Seeing Things

٤. You have worked extensively with themes related to oil for years now. Is there a personal connection you share with this particular subject?

I grew up during the Gulf War in Kuwait (1990-91) when 700 oil fields were set ablaze, burning continuously for almost two years. Since that time I started feeling that oil is a central character in my life, a kind of protagonist, so I began making works around this subject.

٥. Lastly, do you feel there is some scope for art to be employed in greater capacity to address environmental issues that have been at play for years?

Similar to many societal issues and crises we are facing now, I feel like art can address serious subjects such as climate change in unique and interesting ways that open our eyes to these issues. Art is part of the human psyche, its preoccupations, its challenges, so it is not unusual that it reflects the state of the world around us.

Source: Seeing Things

The exhibition at ICD Brookfield Place will take place from November 16, 2023 to January 3, 2024. To see more of Monira Al Qadiri’s work, visit here.