Gulf folklore and fragmented memories inspire new Tashkeel exhibition ‘Telling Tales’

Artist Debjani Bhardwaj creates magical yet subverted worlds through the medium of paper

Dubai, UAE August 14, 2018  |  Tashkeel presents ‘Telling Tales’, a solo exhibition by Debjani Bhardwaj of intricate drawings, papercuts and installations rooted in traditional Emirati and Omani stories opens at its gallery in Nad Al Sheba on September 18 and runs until October 30. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, booklet and a programme of talks, tours, workshops and screenings for all ages.

The visual artist, who divides her time between Dubai, Muscat and New Delhi, is the latest alumna of the Tashkeel Critical Practice Programme. Having worked with mentors Les Bicknell and Hassan Meer over the last year, Bhardwaj chose to explore the parallels between the contemporary human condition and the traditional folk tales of the UAE and Oman.

“The Critical Practice Programme made me traverse uncharted territory. It helped me work within a supported environment to attempt and explore the radical potential of paper, which I was curious about but had never tried,” Bhardwaj said.

Bhardwaj relishes the transformative process that comes from the seemingly laborious act of cutting paper, believing that the minimalism and fragility of her practice enables her to ‘think with her hands’, presenting infinite possibilities.

In ‘Telling Tales’, Bhardwaj creates an alternate universe inhabited by characters from traditional stories – narratives that provide moral guidance, motivation and inspiration. Seeking to realise the fantastical figures of her childhood, which remain in her subconscious, she explores the precariousness of the human condition as portrayed across the canon of storytelling from the Arabian Gulf.

“There are endless ways paper can be drawn on, cut, and manipulated, both two-dimensionally and sculpturally,” she said.

“Fluctuating between the real and the imagined, these delicate creations probe into the precarious line between the possible and impossible. Referencing traditional folk tales from the Arabian Gulf, my works present fleeting moments, dreamlike scenes and a menagerie of peculiar characters performing impossible tasks.”

Several of Bhardwaj’s works are tunnel books. Paper-cut silhouettes are layered and bound together, to create the illusion of depth and perspective, then framed within wooden boxes and backlit to evoke ethereal, otherworldly scenes. Other pieces include installations, a Jacob’s ladder and a praxinoscope. This drum-shaped device, a successor to the zoetrope, is lined with pictures portraying, in sequence, the progress of a moving object. When the toy is spun, these are reflected upon a corresponding series of mirrors, creating the illusion of motion.

Throughout the programme, Bhardwaj was supported by respected art practitioners Les Bicknell and Hassan Meer. Bicknell is Course Tutor on the Book Art MA at London’s Camberwell College of Arts and a senior lecturer at Norwich University of the Arts, also in England. Omani artist and curator Meer is the Director of Stal Gallery, Muscat.

Lisa Ball-Lechgar, Deputy Director of Tashkeel, said: “Debjani Bhardwaj is a long-time friend and member of Tashkeel. She has participated in a staggering six editions of our annual ‘Made in Tashkeel’ summer show and in 2011, we presented her second only solo exhibition entitled ‘Spindle, Shuttle, Needle’ at Tashkeel Al Fahidi.

‘Telling Tales’ at Tashkeel Nad Al Sheba marks the culmination of the fourth edition of the Critical Practice Programme. Debjani is joining a distinguished body of alumni, including Afra Bin Dhaher, Vikram Divecha, Hadeyeh Badri, Raja’a Khalid and Lantian Xie. We hope that her experience on the programme will provide further depth and impetus to her ever-growing practice and career.”

‘Telling Tales’ runs from Tuesday, September 18 until October 30, 2018 at Tashkeel, Nad Al Sheba 1, Dubai. Open from 10am to 10pm daily, except Friday, admission is free. Tours are available upon request and a programme of talks, tours and screenings will run throughout. For further details, visit, email or call +971 4 336 3313.

About Tashkeel

Established in Dubai in 2008 by Lateefa bint Maktoum, Tashkeel seeks to provide a nurturing environment for the growth of contemporary art and design practice rooted in the UAE. Through multidisciplinary studios, work spaces and galleries located in both Nad Al Sheba and Al Fahidi, it enables creative practice, experimentation and dialogue among practitioners and the wider community. Operating on an open membership model, Tashkeel’s annual programme of training, residencies, workshops, talks, exhibitions, international collaborations and publications aims to further practitioner development, public engagement, lifelong learning and the creative and cultural industries.

Tashkeel’s range of initiatives includes: Tanween, which takes a selected cohort of emerging UAE-based designers through a nine-month development programme to take a product inspired by the surroundings of the UAE from concept to completion; critical practice, which invites visual artists to embark on a one-year development programme of studio practice, mentorship and training that culminates in a major solo presentation; MakeWorks UAE, an online platform connecting creatives and fabricators to enable designers and artists accurate and efficient access to the UAE manufacturing sector; Exhibitions and Workshops to challenge artistic practice, enable capacity building and grow audience for the arts in the UAE; and the heart of Tashkeel, its Membership, a community of creatives with access to facilities and studio spaces to refine their skills, undertake collaborations and pursue professional careers.

About the Tashkeel Critical Practice Programme

The Critical Practice Programme offers sustained studio support, critique and production of up to one year for practising contemporary artists living and working in the UAE. The programme generally culminates in an exhibition, publication or other digital or physical outcome. Each artist’s programme is carefully constructed and built around his or her practice and/or areas of research. Tashkeel works with artists to identify a key mentor to build, challenge and guide them. This mentor can be a fellow artist, or a curator, critic or arts professional with whom the participant feels both comfortable working and whose own area of research and/or practice ties in with the proposed programme and areas of focus. Ongoing participant updates are posted via a blog on the Tashkeel website at key points during the programme.


Artist Biography

Debjani Bhardwaj currently lives and works in Muscat. She has held two previous solo exhibitions – ‘Spindle, Shuttle, Needle’ at Tashkeel Al Fahidi in 2014, and ‘Seeing the Invisible’, hosted in 2014 at the Franco-Oman Centre, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman. She has taken part in more than 50 group shows. Originally from Kolkata, India, Bhardwaj gained an MBA from the country’s Birla Institute of Technology, Ranchi (BIT) in 1995 and started her career as a financial analyst. In 2007, following a move to Dubai, she became a full-time practising artist, and in 2016 she obtained a master’s degree in Fine Arts from the University for the Creative Arts, a distance learning institution operated by the United Kingdom’s Open College of the Arts. A long-time friend and member of Tashkeel, Bhardwaj has also contributed work to previous editions of ‘Made in Tashkeel’ as well as ‘Connectivity’ (2016), ‘Metamorphosis’ (2013), ‘Mawtini’ (2012), ‘As the Saying Goes’ (2011), ‘Silent Conversations’ (2009) and ‘Vibrations Within’ (2008).

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