In an exclusive ceremony under the remarkable dome of Louvre Abu Dhabi, Bahraini-American artist Nasser Alzayani was announced as winner of 2021 Richard Mille Art Prize in the presence of HE Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, H.E. Saood Abdulaziz Al Hosani, Undersecretary of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, Manuel Rabaté, Director of Louvre Abu Dhabi, Peter Harrison, CEO Richard Mille Europe Middle East & Africa and Pharrell Williams, Grammy Award-winning artist, record producer, entrepreneur, and ambassador of Richard Mille.
For this inaugural year, the exhibition and prize underscored the work of Emirati and UAE-based artists around the theme “Memory, Time, and Territory” and corresponded with the UAE’s jubilee celebrations. A distinguished four-member jury including HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, Chairman of UAE Unlimited, an avid art collector and patron of the Centre Pompidou, the British Museum and Sharjah Art Foundation; Christine Macel, Chief Curator at the Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou and an art critic; Hala Wardé, founding architect of HW Architecture and long-term partner of Jean Nouvel, who was the lead of the Louvre Abu Dhabi project; and Dr. Souraya Noujaim, Louvre Abu Dhabi’s Scientific, Curatorial and Collections Management Director shortlisted and gave seven artists the opportunity to exhibit their artwork at the museum.
Nasser’s practice expresses a research-driven documentation of time and place through text and image, as well as found and cast objects. Incorporating themes of factual and fictional archaeology, his most recent work explores alternative narratives of collective experience.
Peter Harrison, CEO of Richard Mille EMEA, said, “It is an honor to join you at Louvre Abu Dhabi under the incredible dome that crowns this architectural masterpiece, to award the first ever winner of the Richard Mille art prize. Not only are we celebrating our incredible partnership with Louvre Abu Dhabi but we also have the immense pleasure of witnessing Nasser Alzayani receive the coveted prize. Nasser is paving the way for future artists across the region to join this initiative and encourage all creative talent to take part.”
“We are delighted to announce Nasser Alzayani as the winner of the first edition of The Richard Mille Art Prize. The collaboration between Louvre Abu Dhabi Art Here and The Richard Mille Art Prize represents a further extension of the role of the museum as a space of interaction and exchange for contemporary art through our ongoing interactions and links with regional contemporary artists,” said Dr. Noujaim. While Christine Macel shared, “The artist we have chosen for tonight has a very sensitive and beautiful soul, with a practice of art that mixes together content and good plastic language.”
Louvre Abu Dhabi Art Here is an annual exhibition and art prize which will serve as a platform to showcase contemporary artists from the region working in a variety of media. Each year, the exhibition will see several artists selected through an open call for proposals, each exhibiting one artwork in the Forum, a space of interaction and exchange within Louvre Abu Dhabi, dedicated to contemporary art. The theme for the 2022 Louvre Abu Dhabi Art Here annual exhibition and the open call for submissions for the second edition of the Richard Mille Art Prize will be announced soon.
Below, Vogue Arabia chats with Nasser Alzayani.
So today, you are representing Bahrain. You are in the UAE, you are an artist that is recognized for his art and has been selected by a big, big, big jury. How do you feel?
I feel like it’s a point in my career where I finally felt like the work that I’ve been making is to be recognized and to me, the recognition is so important. I am so thankful to have won the 2021 Richard Mille Art Prize. When I think back to when my project started, before it even made it to be part of this exhibition, it all really feels like it has come full circle. I would like to thank Richard Mille and Louvre Abu Dhabi for giving me the opportunity to be part of this exhibition, I am so proud to have been able to show this work. This experience has given me a lot more than art, it has given me the chance to build a community of peers I look up to and lifelong friends. I am very grateful for the support that this initiative has provided, and I am excited to see what the future holds for me and the other artists who will be given this opportunity.
Did you expect it?
Yes and no. I expected it a little bit because I know I work hard.
We had a theme this year. How did you translate it into your work?
I think my work in general deals with all three of these themes. What I have in the show is specifically about the landscape in Bahrain which has disappeared over time. It is a place that is very dear to me, so this aspect of time and memory was really tied to this place, which is this territory. I really wanted to present this work not only as a way to make it known that these places are disappearing, but also that their memories are disappearing. They actually mean so much to people, especially in Bahrain, and the older generation in Bahrain.
Who are you going to give your prize to?
Honestly, it can only be my parents.
Do you live in Bahrain?
No, I live in Abu Dhabi but I was born and raised in Bahrain. Bahrain is home to me, and I left in 2018 to come to the UAE, where I’ve been more or less ever since. But back then, art was never really an option, it wasn’t really a career that was spoken about or taken seriously. It’s really only now that I think I’m able to be in a position where I show people that this is actually something you can take quite seriously and approach it in a way that is really meaningful can make a change.
In the UAE, do you feel there are opportunities for artists? How do you feel about the art scene in the UAE now?
I think there are so many opportunities, and to an extent they’re almost endless because even me, as someone who approaches every year looking for opportunities where I can apply for grants, applies for exhibitions. I think we’ve reached a point where a lot is available, but support needs to happens across the board. It means offering support to those who have created a substantial body of work but really also supporting people who are younger. That is what we really see in this exhibition. There are a lot of younger artists who are showing up. This is also one of the reasons we wanted to split up the prize money. We really believe that the prize could go a much longer way if all of us can share it.
What do you dream to see in the art scene in Bahrain?
My dream is to have Bahrain be a part of the conversation when it comes to the art scene. There is maybe a lack of exposure and maybe a lack of funding. I hope that with what I create I can offer something back to Bahrain. I also want to give a platform to whoever needs it.
I’m getting on a flight to Bahrain on Sunday and I have a show there and that is the next step. And I am always excited about the next project.
Artworks from all Richard Mille Art Prize shortlisted artists are currently on display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi Art Here 2021 exhibition until March 27, 2022. For more information about Art Here 2021 exhibition and The Richard Mille Art Prize, please visit www.louvreabudhabi.ae.