Crude Memory During Venice Biennial : Almaha Jaralla

16 April - 15 May 2024

Reimagining spaces from the past while contemplating the future, Almaha Jaralla's exhibition, Crude Memory, presented under Abu Dhabi Art’s Beyond Emerging Artists programme negotiates spectral realms with a closeness that resonates deeply. Among these explorations lies a fictional revival of Al Ruwais, a city constructed by Adnoc in the 1970s, located 240km west of Abu Dhabi. Through Crude Memory, Jaralla considers the urban and private landscapes of the 1970s and 1980s, capturing the essence of modernity that swept through the nation during the oil boom era. This body of work not only charts the architectural fabric of the time but also envisions its evolution as economic priorities shift away from oil towards other sectors.

Through a combination of sculptures and photographs, Jaralla connects post-modern principles to vernacular sensibilities, offering a glimpse into abandoned spaces and remnants of once-thriving gardens. In doing so, "Crude Memory" contemplates the fate of the environment amidst the architectural and industrial vestiges of the past.

Artists, Almaha Jaralla, Samo Shalaby, and Latifa Saeed will showcase their work at Marignana Arte Gallery in Venice from 16 April to 15 May, coinciding with the opening of the 60th edition of the Biennale, which carries the theme of ‘Foreigners Everywhere’ this year.


My 2023 exhibition and related artworks titled Crude Memory developed from an investigation of the architectural creativity that flourished in the 1970s and 80s in Abu Dhabi. In those early years Abu Dhabi was a young city and the vernacular for building houses was unburdened by past architectural tradition. It was therefore incredibly inventive, playful and authentic. My work considers how to memorialise a rapidly transforming local architecture, developed by petro-modernity. More widely, it is about how to keep the past with us. I fictionalise a particular history, that of the fishing headland Al Ruwais which was transformed into an industrial ‘new town’ to better serve employees of the nearby oil refinery and later, other facilities, through photographs of now abandoned domestic spaces (shown in the first iteration of this exhibition) and through these oil paintings about crude oil. The installation is a way of bringing Al Ruwais back into our time.


Showing in Venice is really interesting for me because of the history of pearl trading between our part of the world and Europe – in particular Venice. Pearl diving was crucial for our economy before the oil boom that was to change our urban fabric. As our towns and cities transform even further, how will we remember the architectural remains of our not-so distant past, that are already disappearing? Venice, like Abu Dhabi, is an island but whilst we grapple with radical change, in what seems an incredibly short time frame, Venice has suffered centuries of flooding and damage to its building and architecture. I think there are interesting conversations to be had about the architectures of both places, about the context of showing Crude Memory in Venice.


Almaha Jaralla