Manarat Al Saadiyat Zemanna
Zemanna: Replaying the 90s at Manarat Al Saadiyat
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If you love arts and all things ’90s, you’re likely going to be into the exhibition at Manarat Al Saadiyat.

Zemanna is all about life in the ’90s. It is a visual exploration of the 1990s in the UAE and the impact of those years on art and society. This decade, the beginning of a significant change in the country’s population, was characterised by street vendors and colourful neon-lit signs; it had a mood of ease and simplicity.

In this exhibition, artists were asked to present nine interactive installations that address the period of the 1990s and its influence on the present time. With the help of these installations, the exhibition reflects the vibrancy and density of this time, showcasing the surfacing of a community undergoing rapid transformation. This multiroom experience highlights key characteristics of that time such as the Volcano Fountain, the re-rooting of migrating families into the UAE, and the role of pop culture, media, and play. It answers the question of: What led to the 1990s, and what did the 1990s lead to?

Fatima Al Yousef, Acting Section Head at Manarat Al Saadiyat, said: “Zemanna is an exciting and unique exhibition, utilising the power of art alongside immersive and interactive experiences to reflect on and reminisce about a foundational decade. Featuring works by established UAE artists, plus an array of inventive cultural activations, this exhibition serves to both support local creatives and explore our past with pride and introspection.”

Artists & Projects

  • Proposed as an experiential video essay, artist Mays Albaik’s Of Hope, Home, and Hauntology draws a picture of the 1990s through the story of two Arab expats who arrived in the United Arab Emirates in 1991. Her project reflects the development of the country’s architectural environment.
  • The Volcano Fountain reflected the overwhelming and stylised aesthetic of the 1990s — the way many kids of that decade remember their childhood today, as a mass of colour, clunky technology and a serious dedication to play.
    Artist Fadel Al Mheiri’s al-Burkan consists of everyday items such as a Sony Walkman, plastic lunch boxes, sticker books, comics and football boots that feel vintage now, but felt very modern in those days. 
  • Vaadaka is an installation consisting of two rooms and a telephone booth. These spaces are used as sites for restaging the memories, celebrations and mundanities of individuals who lived in and around the United Arab Emirates in the 1990s.
  • Dish. The introduction of satellite television had a huge influence on society in the United Arab Emirates. When artist Alaa Edris reflected on the last decade of the 20th century, she thought about how people were attached to their television sets, not quite unlike the attachment to smartphones today.
  • In Past Voices by Rawdha Al Ketbi, homes are abandoned along with silence but cassette tapes maintain the past through sound, taking us back to these stores that no longer exist.
  • Artists Ghada Al Sayegh and Maytha Al Shamsi have curated magical Barbie-like box time capsules, inspired by the 1990’s Toys “R” stores and Action Zone arcades of Abu Dhabi. The artists explore the culture of having fun and capture the nostalgia of our childhood experiences.
  • Outside In is a ‘snapshot’ of a memory that is both specific and familiar to many. Artist Aisha Al Ahmadi uses sand from a residential area in Mirdif, Dubai, which was once played in, and create a makeshift football field similar to those found in neighbourhoods across the United Arab Emirates in the 1990s.
  • In artist Afra Al Dhaheri’s installation, visitors can tap into their childhood, pick up a pillow and construct their own little safe havens, like building blocks.
  • Inspired by the United Arab Emirates’ ‘car cruising culture’ and the cartoon Bumpety Boo, artist Jumairy’s interactive sound sculpture manifests itself in the form of a Nissan Patrol.

Zemanna opened on January 17 and it will be running until Monday June 13. The exhibition is curated by Munira Al Sayegh with Dirwaza Curatorial Lab.

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