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Afra Al Dhaheri, Absent Yet Present (detail), 2020

Wood and metal door handle with key

For Emirati artist Afra Al Dhaheri, concrete promised change. Coming of age in Abu Dhabi, a city restless for reconfiguration during the 1990s, the composite construction material mapped out whole new communities and solidified their boundaries. As an MFA student at the Rhode Island School of Design, she surrounded herself with it; her studio was stocked with cement from Home Depot – the material felt like home.

Al Dhaheri’s art is both fixed on architectural intricacies and keen to tear them down. “Concrete is usually understood as a brutal material, but when united with delicate materials it takes on a new fragility and meaning,” she notes. Her early explorations connected human-made structures to internal processes, like the speed of registering memory. Observing the lived space in the manner of French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, Al Dhaheri considers how our perceptions of the places we inhabit might inform our thoughts and memories. She meditates upon how the passing of time may feel, whether in her rapidly modernising homeland or when negotiating the static lines of an American metropolis.

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