I often think that F.T. Marinetti and Raja’a Khalid would have gotten along. I first met Khalid while editing THE STATE, a Dubai-based journal of postcolonial futurities; she wrote a cogent essay about the enduring conflict between Hindi and Urdu. I remember thinking her outfit was so acutely precise, a scalpellike quality that I would later discover underwrites her multivalent practice. Marinetti died in 1944 but I feel like I – we both – know him intimately, having grown up in a city that embodies the Italian Futurist dream of speed, hypermasculinity and progress with a touch of fash.
The Arabian Gulf on the extreme, ultraluxurious promontory of the centuries? It’s all terribly seductive. Most Gulf artists are content to work as sentient entrepôts – if Geneva pioneered the city-as-freeport, Dubai perfected it – repackaging the region to take it to market, often with a kitschy, self-orientalising wink. Khalid jettisons this state-approved vaporware to instead consider Gulfi material culture via its packaging. Threads and treads register temperature, from the red-wefted technical fabric of Solaro (2016), invented to protect white British soldiers in the hotter reaches of the empire, and flame-airbrushed protein powder; to the iridescent car paint-coated panels of High Noon and Santa Barbara (both 2016), and the car covers of uberBLUE, uberNEON and uberNEON II (all 2017) made from high-performance fabrics like dri-FIT and cool mesh. Plasticised palms, silky Salukis, convalescing falcons and oud-scented olfactory marketing sprinkle on local flavour – Khalid seems to work much like a molecular gastronomist – as if cut with maltodextrin.
And Khalid is not concerned with the future so much as the accelerated timbre of the Gulf contemporary, and the carefully constructed scaffolding that holds it up. Conspicuous consumption, athleisure, crypto-religiosity and weaponised heritage are unpicked with particular attention to post-Western class and gender construction, as in the remarkable Change Your Life (2017), which feature swole, neon-clad men training in a Mecca-green gym where masculinity meets soft power in a perfect ouroboros. This isn’t B2B so much as E2E or expat-2-expat, a world built for the mercenary neoliberal jetsam of a dying West. You’ll know them by their calling cards: HAVE BRAIN, WILL TRAVEL (WILL TRAVEL, 2017).
Raja’a Khalid is an artist based in Dubai. Recent solo exhibitions include FASTEST WITH THE MOSTEST at Tashkeel and Change Your Life at Alserkal Avenue (both Dubai, 2017). In 2018 her work was shown as part of ANTI, the 6th Athens Biennale, and she also presented Palace gossip, a performed reading that included a hooded gyrfalcon, at Grey Noise, Dubai
Rahel Aima is a writer and editor from Dubai, currently based in Brooklyn
From the January and February 2019 issue of ArtReview, in association with K11 Art Foundation