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The Absent Body, Nadine Khalil

July 2021

How can we conceive of the artist’s body, implicated in an artwork yet existing outside it? This three-part curatorial narrative was sparked by an interest in situating the artist’s missing body. Mapping a framework around young GCC-based artists, it responds to questions such as: how do embodiment and disembodiment manifest through presence, absence, pain, and mediation? Focusing on three entangled axes—the absent body, the suffering body, and the technological body—the following works are reimagined beyond their materiality in an online format, outside the body that performs the work. Starting with the absent body, performativity becomes gestural and residual, evoked by architecture and imprinted on material.

Architectural markers and residues



For Afra Al Dhaheri, hair is both conceptual thread and raw material. The Emirati artist often decontextualises the idea of hair in structures made of cement, clay, rope, foam, and resin, depicting its capacity to be moulded—tied, pulled, braided, dented. Hair memorises form, she intimates. A bodily extension, its shedding is also indicative of residual forms. One at a Time (2020) is a testament to this surplus and accumulation, tracing the other side of absence in material remnants. The work marks time, its length referencing a duration outside the body. As residue, hair is symbolic of both extreme absent-presence and longevity.



Rooted in the body, yet growing beyond skin, hair lives within and outside boundaries. Al Dhaheri finds analogies in architecture. Spiral Staircase No. 1, 2 & 3 for instance, is based on the image of a staircase wrapped around the ruins of a demolished Mina warehouse near Abu Dhabi’s port. These winding stairwells are a regular outdoor feature of Emirati homes, leading up to the air conditioning units and water supply on the roof. While alluding to cultural constructs that separate the interior from the exterior, privacy from visibility, the work also suggests movement, in particular the ways in which the moving body inhabits space. These ruined architectures become indices of the human form. Decay and motion converge, as do architecture and the body, echoed in Al Dhaheri’s lines and sense of scale.


Afra Al Dhaheri, Spiral Staircase 1, 2, 3, 2020

Acrylic and Carbon Graphite on Paper, Triptych

25 x 18 cm each

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