Under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Shamsa bint Hamdan Al Nahyan, NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), in partnership with Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation (ADMAF), has announced the winners of the 11th edition of The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award 2023.

The winning artists are NYUAD graduate Vivi Zhu, a Chinese-born award-winning documentary filmmaker, artist and social entrepreneur whose interest lies in discovering and telling microcosmic stories that reflect bigger social-political pictures; University of Sharjah graduate Hala El Abora, a Palestinian Jordanian artist living and working in Dubai, whose practice is driven by the concept of non-ephemerality, permanence, and the desperate need to preserve; and Majd Alloush, a Syrian artist who holds a BFA from the University of Sharjah, and whose work spans multiple disciplines including printmaking, sculpture, photography, moving image, installation and performance.

Their submission, titled Shaheeq, borrows wisdom from the mangrove trees around the UAE landscape and hopes to inspire the viewer to acknowledge and maintain the solutions already activated in our environment, and to illuminate a philosophy towards metaphysical grief caused by the climate crisis.

Her Excellency Huda I. Alkhamis-Kanoo, Founder of the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation, said: “We are pleased to partner with NYU Abu Dhabi on the 11th edition of the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award, under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Shamsa bint Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Nahyan, to empower the next generation of young visionary artists in the UAE to realize their dreams and ambitions. In line with ADMAF’s mission to nurture creativity and innovation among the nation’s youth, the award provides a platform for rising talents to exhibit their work for the public to reflect upon and enjoy in the spirit of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s inspiring legacy.

“This year’s winning submission Shaheeq by NYUAD graduate Vivi Zhu, University of Sharjah graduate Hala El Abora, and current NYUAD graduate student Majd Alloush pays tribute to the UAE’s mangrove ecosystems while encouraging an appreciation for the natural solutions they offer in the face of growing climate concerns. As the UAE prepares to host COP28 later this year, the special project highlights ADMAF’s efforts to raise environmental awareness by addressing climate change through creative artistic expression.”

Maya Allison, Executive Director of The NYUAD Art Gallery and the university’s Chief Curator, said: “I am inspired by the talent of young artists in the UAE, as with the winning proposal for Shaheeq. The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award was established to support the next generation of creative practitioners in the UAE, whose voices must be heard, and stories told. There is no story bigger for this generation than climate change and the need to imagine a more sustainable future. The winning artists’ use of the mangrove trees, and the forest ecosystem that supports them, brilliantly connects a symbol of natural harmony and renewal with the potential for sustainable living.”

Emily Doherty, The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award Director, said: “The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award is eleven years old in 2023, making it one of the longest running art awards in the country and certainly unique in its championing of emerging artists in the region. Our winners this year - Majd, Vivi and Hala - now embark on an eight month production period, supported by both The NYUAD Gallery team and the artists' mentor, Dale Hudson, to realize their work. Shaheeq is a particularly exciting proposition for us, embodying the evolution of The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award towards the production of increasingly considered and mature work by participants dedicated to careers as professional artists. Our sincere congratulations to them.”

The winning team behind Shaheeq have already enjoyed recognition and exposure for their creative careers. Zhu has exhibited at the Shanghai Biennale and in Dubai and El Abora’s work has been shown at exhibitions in the US, Canada, and Sharjah. Meanwhile, Alloush is currently pursuing his MFA in Art and Media at NYUAD.

The winners of the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award 2023 have been awarded AED36,700 to complete their installation with the guidance of experts including the Award’s Director Emily Doherty, The NYUAD Art Gallery team and NYUAD’s faculty.

Dale Hudson, NYUAD Associate Teaching Professor of Film and New Media and the students’ mentor, said: “Vivi, Hala, and Majd demonstrate how students and artists are leading discussions on how local and place-based knowledge are urgently needed as alternatives to disinformation that has circulated globally for decades. Everyday usage of ‘climate change,’ a term engineered by Frank Luntz to discredit global warming, indicates the severity of the crisis.

“Luntz may want to retract the term today, but the damage has already been done. Art like the winning proposal for the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award can communicate how sustainability policies are insufficient as a response when the consequences of human activity have long been recognized as irreversible and disproportionately affects the most vulnerable, so we have a special responsibility at NYUAD and in UAE. There are other ways of thinking and being, and Shaheeq will help orient humans to as much.”

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