The work of Emirati artist Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim is rooted in the geography of Khorfakkan


As a land artist, Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim is deeply grounded in the geography of his native Khorfakkan, a mountainous coastal region that is part of the emirate of Sharjah. His home is the constant, silent subject in every work he conceives, a practice that grows increasingly challenging as rapid development changes the country’s physical landscape each day. Born in 1962, he is a founding member of the Emirates Fine Art Society, a collective established in the 1980’s at a time when there was neither money nor audience to support the growth of art in the UAE, still decades before the region’s entry into the global art market.

Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, `Khorfakkan', wood, paper, and glue, 2007

Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, `Khorfakkan’, wood, paper, and glue, 2007

Ibrahim works from a home studio space in Khorfakkan which includes a garden where he follows the growing season with the intuition of a farmer, planting indigenous seedlings, watching for them to sprout leaves, waiting for the leaves to fall to the ground, then fermenting the yield into tan clay to be sculpted and baked. When viewed in a gallery or museum context, his sculptures might give off the appearance of archaeological relics.

Mohammad Ahmed Ibrahim. `Male, Female', clay, paper, leaves, and glue, 2001

Mohammad Ahmed Ibrahim. `Male, Female’, clay, paper, leaves, and glue, 2001

Although the forms Ibrahim employs might be simplistic, his work itself is far from basic. As the entirety of his practice is interconnected with the changing UAE seasons and natural topography, there is an inherent state of listening that accompanies everything he creates. Ibrahim’s works on paper are often compared to the American artist Keith Haring’s characteristic use of symbols in murals, and he is sometimes referred to affectionately as “Keith Haring in the desert”.

His work is terrifically primal, dancing and darting within a trope of archetypal shapes and indecipherable codes that frequently allude to tensions and dichotomies. In no other piece is this more evident then ‘Male, Female’ his six-foot tall 2001 clay sculpture that examines the interconnectedness of the sexes.

Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, From the 'Forms' series, Posca marker and ink on paper, 2012. Courtesy of the artist and Cuadro Art

Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, From the ‘Forms’ series, Posca marker and ink on paper, 2012. Courtesy of the artist and Cuadro Art

In 2014 Cuadro Art in Dubai presented ‘Primordial’, a landmark solo show of Ibrahim’s work which introduced a new audience to ‘Stones Wrapped in Copper Wire’, a 2007 installation which brought portions of the mountain that sits beyond the artist’s studio into the traditionally sterile and largely artificial gallery space. To construct the installation, Ibrahim made a ritual of taking an early evening hike up the mountain to select a rock, then would carefully wrap it in copper wire, as though sealing the history and collective consciousness of the changing land into its form.

 Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, ‘Stones Wrapped with Copper Wire’, stones and copper wire, 2007. Courtesy of the artist and Cuadro Art

Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, ‘Stones Wrapped with Copper Wire’, stones and copper wire, 2007.               Courtesy of the artist and Cuadro Art

In other cases he has painted rocks and then returned them to their original position in nature, quietly constructing monuments to memory without the need for external documentation or validation. This attitude is consistent with his stubborn insistence on keeping his day job as a hospital technician regardless of his artistic successes.

Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim’s work was showcased at the 2009 Venice Biennale and was awarded the first prize for sculpture at the Sharjah Biennial in both 2001 and 1999. He participated in the 2015 A.i.R programme in affiliation with Art Dubai and had a solo show opening at Cuadro Art in Dubai in March, 2015.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Art Issue #29, on page 70.