Sarah Alagroobi is an artist, curator, and writer exploring art “beyond disciplinary borders” and among the maze of identity. Based in Abu Dhabi, Alagroobi’s work looks at the “whitewashing, cultural erasure, identity, displacement and Otherness” she and countless others have experienced as POC.
My work is often driven by lived experiences that are relational to a given context, I have investigated topics of whitewashing, cultural erasure, identity, displacement and Otherness.
Her works are spellbinding, created from a lengthy process of layer build-up and removal. Where the artist has sanded, blasted, and scraped away at the surface, the vibrant colours of the previous layers are revealed, creating an almost psychedelic affect. One is reminded of topographic maps, or the exterior of buildings damaged by age or conflict.
In an interview with Art Plugged, Sarah talks to us about her multidisciplinary practice, existentialism, and “the concept of memory or frozen nostalgia within the digital sphere”.
Q: First thing’s first, introduce yourself! What do you make, how do you work?
A: I am an Emirati multidisciplinary artist currently based in Abu Dhabi with a Masters in Painting from the Royal College of Art. My practice involves painting, print-based/time-based media and poetry as a response to personal and collective experiences that portray an agile simplicity in expression of place, identity, borders and a sense of belonging.
Q: What would you say your artistic background is? How long have you been working?
A: I come from a graphic design background which has sort of veer into ambiguous and vivid forms of expression. I find myself often creating works that might not look the same as each other but all show a similar conceptual thread which is mostly to do with uncovering parts of memory, identity and displacement.
Q: Are there key themes in your work?
A: My works often responding to notions of culture and identity of both Middle Eastern and Western contexts. My work is often driven by lived experiences that are relational to a given context, I have investigated topics of whitewashing, cultural erasure, identity, displacement and Otherness. As a cross-disciplinary artist, my work often is a process of excavation through the deployment of materiality. During these uncertain times, I have been very interested in exploring the expansiveness of place through various modes of nature and life outside of the four walls of my flat.
The world has become very small, so this need for hypothetical spaces to exist in memory is something I have been researching. I have also been writing about identity politics through the lens of my own journey which sits on the fringes of existentialism.
Q: What is the significance of texture in the works?
A: Texture plays a key role in the compositional consideration of the work I make. It is the foundation of a subtractive process of making rather than an additive one and there is a deep fascination with unearthing, excavating, and revealing buried paint layers of history that can only be revealed through a tedious and laborious process of carving out. The process involves a primarily sculptural implementation and semiotic traces of the work’s narrative that transcend not only the history of the work but convey a kind of physical deliverance.
Q: What is your favourite piece you’ve created?
A: A lot of my work has sentimental value, so to pick my favourite work would make me go back in time to when I was about 5 years old! So to keep with the current works, I would have to say my favourite would have to be a poem I wrote called Syria Serenading Graveyards and Dusk. The work started as a written piece that then transformed into a transcription of my visit to Syria after 10 years of not visiting.
My grandmother had passed away and it was a deeply emotional time as she was the last of our matriarchal lineage. It was a response to my inability to go visit because of the war so I wrote it with some video footage I took so it holds a very special place in my heart. Here are the links to the video work I discussed the question above:
Q: Who are your biggest inspirations?
A: I am a firm believer that anything and everything can be a source of inspiration, so my inspiration comes from my fellow artists to name a few; Shaikha Al Ketbi, Ayesha Hadhir, Mays Albeik, Emma Fineman, Walid Al Wawi,
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I have spent a good amount of time during quarantine to work on my writing, I am extremely dyslexic so it has been a painstaking process that I am trying to master but practice makes perfect! But enjoy poetry, spoken word, writing so I think I will lean into that part of my creative practice more so. I hope to co-curate an exhibition with BANAT Collective, a creative community that discusses intersectionality of womanhood within the MENA region.
Q: Social Media as a tool for artists – pro or anti?
A: Pro, social media has become the fuel in which artists are purging their existential crisis during this lockdown so although it is an oversaturation of information and visual stimulation, it is also a wonderful tool to network, engage in critical art discourse and be a part of a larger conversation. It really fascinates me on how digital engagement can garner cross-cultural debates from a single tweet, image, thread…etc making a powerful tool that evokes sentience in a similar way to human responses.
I also find the concept of memory or frozen nostalgia within the digital sphere can be used as a playful tool by artists to bend a mould visual explorations. Digital footprints are very temperamental. I also love how now more than ever artist are using social media as a tool to educate people on the human experience and how they can work together to create tangible change.