While this exhibition aims to celebrate 50 years of cultural ties between the UAE and Japan, Al Lamki zooms out from this fixed period of time to explore the social, cultural and evolutionary shifts that have contributed to this context. Al Lamki takes the pearl, a reminder of the UAE’s historic legacy of pearl diving, as his subject matter and point of departure for a journey that crosses generations, cultures and geographies.
The title of this series, Lucy makes reference to the 3.2 million-year-old fossil skeleton considered to be the oldest example of a human ancestor, discovered in East Africa in 1974. Al Lamki moves on from early humanity to charter multiple modes of human expression and experiences from the Renaissance period to the rise of the leisure class. Interwoven throughout all of these works is the notion that the pearl is a subject of both lust and labour. It’s an object that has most commonly been used for decorative purposes yet invested with ever-shifting social significance and asymmetrical human relationships. The pearl has been a symbol of purity, wisdom, wealth, regality and mourning with these ideas shifting according to time and place yet it has also been the embodiment of labour and hardship for those tasked with capturing it.
Al Lamki ushers the viewer on dual journeys around a series of 16 hanging works painted with fluid jewel tones produced on non-conventional canvases. One side of the exhibition reveals a series of abstract works that have been produced upon pillowcases; a material that signifies the dreamlike state the artist enters into while producing. The other collection of works has been produced upon Haitian ceremonial cloth and offers up more realistic depictions laced with references to the pearl’s historic significance and social role.
Among the representational works, one can encounter the artist’s expressionistic reinterpretation of historic pieces such as The Parable of the Precious Pearl by Domenico Fetti and Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. By deconstructing such historic approaches to painting the artist aims to probe at hierarchies established in the western art canon. Other works reveal contemporary local scenes. One work depicts a dhow filled with pearl divers setting assail from the shores of Abu Dhabi; the piece forms a stark contrast to other depictions which include an antique natural pearl necklace bestowed upon Egyptian diva Umm Kulthum and a vintage 1914 Cartier pearl and diamond tiara.
Al Lamki’s installation is accompanied by an audio composition produced by the support of editor, Yoichi Kamimura. The piece offers up the soothing rhythms of the sea layered upon with the harmonies of the pearl divers’ fijiri chants. The tradition of fijiri chants – or Arab sea music – comes from the pearl divers' songs at sea which are often interpreted as expressions of fraternity and faith, developed by the brotherly bonds that grew on dhow ships. These men, about to embark upon a hazardous three-month journey in search of pearls embody the notion that life is often invested with periods of struggle and hardship that human connection might help us to overcome. The setting that the exhibition takes place in - the hotel’s Salon de Kinrin, which has seen many weddings and gorgeous pearl necklaces - signifies opposing facets of life - moments of celebration, ceremony, decadence and indulgence.