A Bridge from Estonia
A working vacation in UAE
By Sujata Devadas, April 14, 2016
Six Estonian artists recently visited Abu Dhabi to relish fabulous weather and create art to exhibit at The Art Hub in Musaffah, situated at the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, UAE’s capital.
Estonians value art. It spelled freedom and independence when the might of superpowers, manipulated the media. To counter propaganda practiced by military superpowers, artists used color, form or music for subtle communication. Estonians understood these insinuated messages. Art held their spirit of freedom steadfast.
The Estonian Art Month
UAE national, Ahmed Al Yafei, founded The Art Hub 3 years ago, conscious of its influence, It is a platform for cross-cultural interaction between national, regional and international artists. He owns a sizable art collection himself. ‘Live. Create. Exhibit’ is the Art Hub slogan. In January 2016, it was the California Art Month.
Estonia was the next invitee, Al Ain University fine arts teacher from Estonia, artist Toomas Altnurme, helped organise it. He set up a competition and informed the 1000-member strong Estonian Artists Association about it. Aside from UAE resident Toomas Altnurme, five others were selected for the visit: Jana Huul, Katrin Karu, Markus Kasemaa, Raivo Kelomees and Tiuu Rebane. The amount of work-time was about 2 weeks as these visiting artists participated gladly in the Estonian Independence Party arranged here, became the jury for a children’s drawing competition, met local artists, visited The Louvre Museum on Saadiyaat island, and camped in the desert. Art Hub supplied them with all the art material for participation in Estonian Art Month.
The cultural capital of Tallinn
Tiiu Rebane, project manager at Muhu Art & Innovation Residency of Estonian Artists Association, explains, “Estonian art is free. Information within us, orients us to the meaning and purpose of our life. Freedom, therefore, gives artists space to express themselves without using brutality or ugly methods.” Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, is a UNESCO world heritage site and it’s cultural capital. Art gets funding from the Ministry of Culture.
“Up to 1990s, painting was the popular art form.” says Tiiu, “Then, it was digital art. Now, installations and sculptural works - huge and abstract - are more trendy.“ Textile art, sculpture, design and paintings find ready purchasers. Galleries mostly feature modern and conceptual art.
Transcending cultural borders
Toomas has sculpted public monuments in over 40 countries. Japan, Chile, Brazil, South Carolina in the United States, and South Korea are a few such nations. 300 group symposiums and 100 solo exhibitions to date have shown his sculpture, paintings and photography.
For 15 years, Katrina worked in marketing, Then she received a request to paint a portrait. She accepted and soon chucked her job to pursue art full-time. People, nature or a desert camp can be inspiration. Kinship with women crystallized 2 more of Katrina’s paintings - a woman in Abaya lying in repose on the sand, pensive and oblivious of time; another recumbent woman lifting her head as the sun sets. The sand and acrylic ‘desert rose’ completed her submissions.
For The Estonian Art Month, he stepped over cultural boundaries to emphasize similarities and common patterns. “The horseshoe in Estonia; a beloved Islamic symbol is the moon; the temples roofs in Asia: Beijing’s Temple of Heaven, the Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar or the Lotus Temple(the Baha'i House of Worship) in Delhi, India - all portray good luck. This became my coveted pattern for this exhibition. It is a bridge of art from Estonia to Abu Dhabi.”
Sand and snow
Katrina Karu agrees. As she sank her knees into the sand at Liwa oasis, she saw an amazing similarity. “Everything in Estonia right now is blanketed by snow - all white. In front of me, Liwa is enveloped in the golden color of soft, grainy sand.” In the recesses of her mind, her first set of paintings for Art Hub glimmered into shape. The majestic expanse of UAE’s geographical heritage had found its mark in this Estonian guest, Katrina.
Tiiu first joined IT engineering but switched to art as a better option. In her first visit to this region. Arabian geometric designs mesmerized her. In the middle of the desert, she saw the sky reflected as stripes in the sand. People were so friendly, she found happiness and progress all round. She painted 3 sets of distilled images to represent UAE and Estonia: ‘Black Gold’ in Abu Dhabi signifying petroleum and ‘Blue Gold’ for Estonia. Tiuu regards the horse as a a spiritual animal, for Arabia and Estonia. Nature’s distinction: the desert here and the forest in Estonia completed the 3 sets. Paintings and installations combined with sculpture form her expression of art.
Satisfaction through art
For Raivo Kelomees, camping in Liwa, face resting near sand, feeling its warmth, and photographs of sea fossils visible on the surface of mountains in UAE, shaped his desire to paint a dialogue between fossil fuels and instill it in the minds of viewers at the exhibition. Gracious sand and the Arabian sea cover the mainstay of this economy, wealth preserved over millions of years - crude oil, In Estonia, shale oil or tight oil is a strategic energy resource. They both do the same thing. He submitted four paintings and two 3 D digital art for the exhibition.
Raivo is an an art historian too, a theoretician researching the creative, imaginative or technical skill of other artists. His research spans historical and contemporary art. He paints, but video art and interactive documentaries are his strong suit,
“Artists get immense satisfaction when life through art - a diary that documents physical reality provoking thoughts, sparking ideas or ruffling feelings to touch the viewer or shake them - gives them an identity.” says Raivo. “Even their portrayal of nature halts the viewer in mid-stride, because they tilt normal perception by accentuating some aspects of their work, Artists suffer when funds are hard to come by for such work. Therein lies the insecurity for the artist.”
Dream comes true
Jana Huul, the gallerist at Võru Culture Centre, at Võru Town Gallery, South Estonia, is a sculptor. She sculpted a miniature of mosques ‘the sacred place’ at the Art Hub. This art residency visit was a dream come true. “Art museums visits may flounder in Estonia but children, free of inhibitions, show great promise.” she says. “Students of our art museum education programs, bring in adults confidently, and teach them to value art. That is success. Art courses, workshops, talks and discussion forums also attract creative talent.”
Art is a great emotional release for Jana. Without it, she feels restless and burdened. She took lessons in ceramic and textile art at workshops in her teens, then studied in an art school. She is adept now at using snow, sand, wood, plastic and textiles to sculpt.
In France, United States and Canada, she made sculptures out of a 3 or 4 metre snow cube. “4 long days with 3 or 4 others.” she recalls. “In my first exhibition, I used plastic and lights to sculpt 3 women, each defining ‘beauty’ differently: a plump 40-year-old is content she is beautiful; a ten-year-old eats nothing sweet to be perfect in shape and practice ballet to become a ballerina. I was 20 and the third sculpted figure: all red with lights glowing in my chest. My freedom and excitement while stepping into the adult world wondering ‘where I should go?’ was beauty for me.” Colorful paintings featuring her life was her second exhibition. Both were in Talinn.
The bigger picture
Markus Kasemaa is the grandson of Elmar Kits, ‘the Picasso of Estonia'. Art, he believes, has a far greater role to play than remain in obscurity in museums and art galleries. It captivated him in his teens. Today Markus mentors start-ups and is a creative consultant for business establishments. Traditional and conceptual art are his forté.
“Art intervention pays good dividend as a management strategy” he says. At Innovation Arabia 8 (Dubai) last February he stated “buying art is a crime. Everybody seeks creativity and innovation. But artists are disillusioned when unique, authentic visual creative expressions are purchased by museums or collectors, and stored away in cellars, denied for public viewing and interpretation.”
“It cultivates relationships in education, science, business establishments and different communities.” he says. The Abu Dhabi Art Hub aspires to do exactly that with their ‘Art By Country’ monthly program. With the same vision, Markus continuously exhibits his work at various locations: at the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Estonian Aviation Academy, on streets, and in several offices including that of Skype (3 of Skype’s 5 developers and creators are Estonians). In UAE, he seeks to do the same. He did 10 or 11 paintings on canvas. No color. Drawing from his previous visits to UAE, Markus drew 20 or 30 separate drawing groups. After 60+ solo exhibitions, Markus says “The biggest bonus for an artist is the ability to see the bigger picture.”
Successful art venture
Visiting UAE left them richer by emotion. They were like an Estonian family for a month. “People are friendly and open. Artistic ventures are ‘out of the box’ fun, enjoyable, a game, a vacation.” says Toomas. “Painting is color therapy; sculpture is 3-dimensional, form therapy - to recover emotional balance and make friends. Energy is poured into creation - not into violence, abuse or cruelty, So we are ambassadors of peace, anti-war, the antithesis of bombing and destruction.” Tiiu says, when she starts her artwork, “I have to think it through. The creation becomes wiser than me. Later, I derive new information from it which I was unaware of creating. In fact, a painting becomes alive. The artist has to decide when to let go.”
A network like the one provided by Art Hub is important all over the world. Estonian-Arabian Art Retreat will be held in Estonia for 10 days in August.
Visiting Estonian Art
To view the artists work, visit:
Katrin Karu: http://www.katrinkaru.com
Jana Huul: http://janahuul.com
Tiiu Rebane: http://tiiurebane.wix.com/rebane
Markus Kasemaa: http://kasemaa.ee/markus/wp1/home/
Raivo Kelomees: http://www.kelomees.net
Toomas Altnurme: http://altnurmeart.simplesite.com