Under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Shamsa bint Hamdan Al Nahyan, The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award 2023 winning art installation, Shaheeq, has been revealed during this year’s Abu Dhabi Art fair.

Shaheeq was created by New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) graduate Vivi Zhu, a Chinese-born, award-winning documentary filmmaker, artist, and social entrepreneur; University of Sharjah graduate Hala El Abora, a Palestinian-Jordanian artist living and working in Dubai; and Majd Alloush, a Syrian artist who holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Sharjah and a master’s degree from NYUAD.

The installation is based around the UAE’s landscape and trees and aims to inspire viewers to acknowledge the environment and the importance of climate action. It was sculpted by the artists using rammed earth, an ancient, sustainable construction technique, which involves a mixture of rammed mangrove soil, sand, and clay. Shaheeq will be on display during Abu Dhabi Art until 26 November 2023, with a touring exhibition to follow at NYU Abu Dhabi, Um Al Emarat Park, and Jubail Mangrove Park, where it will eventually biodegrade back into the earth, leaving no trace of its existence.

In attendance were Her Excellency Huda Al Khamis Kanoo, Founder of ADMAF; Mariët Westermann, NYUAD Vice Chancellor; Maya Allison, NYUAD Art Gallery Chief Curator; Emily Doherty, Director of The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award 2023; Vladimir Yavacheff, Christo’s Director of Operations, and this year’s winning artists.

Her Excellency Huda Ibrahim Al Khamis Kanoo, Founder of ADMAF, said:  “More than a decade since its inception, the award has played a crucial role in nurturing the creative capabilities of young artists, both students and graduates from the UAE's art colleges. It highlights the role of artists in powering the cultural industries, as key contributors to the creative economy.

“With Abu Dhabi Art, one of the capital's prominent global art events, there is a broad imperative to transfer knowledge, overseen by academic experts in the arts. This process begins with conceptualising artistic works and extends to their execution and presentation to the public.

"The winning artwork for the 11th edition this year, Shaheeq by the talented graduates Majd Aloush and Hala El Abora from the University of Sharjah, and Vivi Zhu, a graduate of New York University Abu Dhabi, reflects our shared societal commitment to environmental awareness. It underscores the necessity of promoting environmentally friendly artistic practices, shedding light on the symbolism of the ghaf tree and its resilience in challenging natural conditions. The ghaf tree serves as a source of inspiration in the fight against climate change, during this time of the COP28 conference in the UAE, which will be attended by more than 198 countries."

Maya Allison, Executive Director of The NYUAD Art Gallery and the university’s Chief Curator, said: “Shaheeq reminds me of our intrinsic cohesiveness as a species, we aren’t separate from each other or nature. The artists’ collaboration with the environment highlights this generation’s concerns for climate change and the urgent need to imagine and manufacture a more sustainable future. The use of the mangrove trees, and the forest ecosystem that supports them encourages us to look for solutions within our own natural ecosystems. As we approach COP28, these themes assume ever greater relevance.”

Emily Doherty, Director of The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award, said: “Shaheeq is representative of maturing art education in the UAE. These artists, recent graduates and current students, won The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award 2023 because their concept showed an ability to think creatively and conscientiously, with sophisticated attention to detail and hands-on skill.

“Through their work, Vivi, Hala and Majd are not only finding ways to highlight immediate environmental concerns and seeking solutions, they are using ancient construction techniques and sculpting the piece with their own hands. We congratulate them on their innovative style and brilliant teamwork, and wish them every success as practising artists in the future.”

Held annually since 2013 in collaboration with The NYUAD Art Gallery, The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award serves as a launchpad for artists across the UAE, encouraging new artwork and offering winners insights into professional life as an artist, from commission to exhibition. The programme is open to UAE-based students and recent graduates.