How Saudi artist Sarah Brahim combines dance with visual art

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DUBAI: Saudi artist Sarah Brahim is making waves with her multidisciplinary collaborative work — ahead of her showing at the Lyon Biennale in September, the Riyadh-based choreographer, dancer and artist discussed her contemporary art.

Brahim, 30, has studied dance since she was just three years old, an education that she says was a fundamental preparation for her career as visual artist.

“My background in dance allowed me to study the body in space, the body in motion and experiences of the body — how the body fits into architecture, into music and into silence,” she explained. “All of these experiences prepared me for my current modality of expression. My practice now is both experimental and research-based. I tend to find something that is powerful or strong or really important and then work with it within whatever medium is best fit to express it.”

Brahim, who calls herself a performance and visual artist, studied, choreographed, performed, and taught jazz, contemporary, ballet, and tap dance. She attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance and in 2016 she graduated from the London Contemporary Dance School with a bachelor’s degree in contemporary dance. 

Since then, she has collaborated with professional performers across the US, Europe and the Middle East, exploring various themes through her performances, film and installation work.

The artist has explored themes of loss, identity, borders, veiling, migration, the experiences of women of color and those of individuals living a transnational existence. Brahim has shown her work around the world, including in Italy, Saudi Arabia, the US, and the UK.

In her most recent work, “Soft Machines/Far Away Engines” in 2021, commissioned for the first Diriyah Contemporary Biennale in Riyadh, screens showed individuals interacting with each other, moving, intertwining and embracing. Small gestures, says the artist, are “amplified through repetition and layering, conjuring up multi-faceted images of beauty.”

The way Brahim worked with the technological framework that brought her work to the viewer, in addition to her sensitivity to how the body is used to present ideas, thoughts and emotion, revealed a singular vision of a world that is both intimately and ethereally interconnected.

In September, Brahim will show the same work at the Lyon Biennale, taking place from Sept. 14 until Dec. 31, which was originally slated to open in 2021. The pandemic-postponed edition, curated this year by duo Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, who have long worked with artists from the Arab world, tackles the idea of fragility.

“The installation will be changed slightly to be site-specific to the factory I am working in in Lyon,” Brahim told Arabian Weekly. “I am working to make certain elements of the piece more immersive through sound and visuals and for the overall experience. I want guests to feel that they are inside the performance that is being projected.”

Brahim is also showing 10 works in cyanotype print on cotton from her series “Who We Are Out of the Dark,” which she began in 2020 and is ongoing. Her dreamy, abstract and suggestive series explores the concept of generational grief through the idea of epigenetics, the study of how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way one’s genes work.


Part of the “Who We Are Out of the Dark” series. (Supplied)

“The works reflect different symbols for grief,’ she said. “Because I wasn’t finding symbols that resonated with the grief I was experiencing and I thought to research and make new symbols and externalize them so that I could better understand my pain and the subject with more depth.”

Brahim’s cyanotypes will be displayed at different museums in Lyon.





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