Artist’s Garden (featuring Sunoj D and Namrata Neog at Jameel Arts Centre – Dubai, United Arab Emirates)

Two years
Installation, sculpture, public programmes, workshops and symposium
Sunoj D and Namrata Neog’s intervention begins with the prompt of how to “think like a forest”. Attempting to see through the UAE landscape, this work asks what kinds of negotiations, relationships and hierarchies emerge and submerge if we imagine the desert to be a forest?
Art gardens and plants, and their place in our day-to-day imagination, are central to the architecture and curatorial mandate of the Jameel Arts Centre. The centre was designed as a series of boxes punctuated by seven courtyards that feed natural light into all floors, and bring flora into the heart of the galleries. Each courtyard represents a distinct desert environment – within – depth research and sourcing of the plants. The courtyards are spaces for contemplation, designed to allow room for thought between the galleries and works. Alongside the seven courtyards is an Artist’s Garden, imagined as a space for artists to create, cultivate and experiment, via an annual commissions programme. Artists are invited to use the space in a way that compliments their practice, keeping in mind the local environment and the sustainable ethos of the Centre as a whole. The artist may draw on their interest in nature, flora, the meaning and symbolism of plants, ecology, anthropology, or opt to pick up on the inspiration of the Dubai Creek or surrounding environment. The Artist’s Garden commissions are researched based projects and spread over 1-2 years depending on the scope of the project. Collaborative in nature, the garden aims to open up conversations around existing complexities and entanglements that shape environmental concerns and practices on both a local, regional and international scale. Artist’s Garden 2020: Desert is a Forest  The garden, as envisioned at the Jameel Arts Centre, in a way translates this idea, exploring the biodiversity within the UAE landscape, and the interconnectedness of the goat, the human, the plant and the natural mineral deposits that form in the desert. The garden includes a selection of plants, indigenous to the UAE that are/were traditionally consumed both by humans and goats or used for medicinal purposes. Most of the plants selected for the garden grow naturally in the wilderness, often mistaken as weeds, and in areas where goats graze. Over the years, some plant species have increased in numbers due to the domestication of the goat, resulting in farmers and goat herders growing a larger quantity of plants to feed the goats, and other plants have become scarcer as animal grazing increased and environmental conditions shifted. The Artist’s Garden is also inhabited by mineral deposits or ‘mineral licks’, which often form on the surface of stones or pools of water, becoming spaces that attract animals, plants and humans for their essential mineral nutrients. A garden of complex entanglements, Desert is a Forest examines the politics of food, domestication, relationships between humans and non-humans, and the way we see and interpret the environment, while also telling the unique history of the UAE’s plant ecology and nutritional habits. Currently, a specially developed menu, Abundance in the Desert, by BOCA restaurant, Dubai, inspired by Desert is a Forest, features some of the garden plants used as ingredients in an innovative, sustainable approach to fine dining. Lakshmi Nivas Lakshmi Nivas is an interdisciplinary space in Parudur, Kerala, India, founded by Namrata Neog and Sunoj D in 2018. Lakshmi Nivas’ projects mainly emerge as interventions through the philosophy of how to think like a forest. These collaborative interventions tend to be artistic and anthropological, and involve conservation and experiments in food. Sunoj D (lives and works in Parudur, Kerala) is a contemporary visual artist. He graduated in painting from Chitra Kala Parishad, Bangalore and with a post-graduate degree in Printmaking from Bangalore University. His works are a reflection on the politics and fluidity of meanings in materials, stemming from a critical engagement with the landscape and the myriad relations that shape it. His selected solo exhibitions include: Today—Yesterday’s Future Tense, Zilberman Gallery (Istanbul, 2018); Romanticized Objects From Drunken Nights, Exhibit 320 (New Delhi, 2016); A Forgotten Carpentry Lesson and a Love Song, Gallery SKE (Bangalore, 2013); Between Land and Sky, Grosvenor Vadehra (London, 2009). He was part of Vent des forêts (France, 2017); Nakivubo Food Forest Project (Uganda, 2015); Whorled Explorations, Kochi-Muziris Biennale (2014); A.i.R Dubai (2014); Natural History Museum (London, 2012); When you watch them grow…, National Museum of Natural History (New Delhi, 2012); and A.i.R Gasworks (London, 2012). Sunoj was awarded the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, 2019. Namrata Neog (lives and works in Parudur, Kerala) is trained in history, archaeology and anthropology from Delhi University, India and Cardiff University, UK. Her work revolves around inquisitions of human/non-human negotiations in the landscape and the politics of seeing. She was the recipient of the Cyril Fox Award, Cardiff University, which supported her archaeological/anthropological research work in Serbia, 2013-14. She was previously a researcher at the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre at the Museum of London (2013); the Institute for Archaeology (London, 2012-15) and the National Museum (Belgrade, 2013-14). Some of her published works include the co-edited book See-Saw-Scene (Ministry of Culture, India, 2017); Speak Up! Social Awakening in India (Germany, 2013); and a contribution to Himalayan Bridge (India, 2015).
Artist’s Garden Symposium February 11-12, 2022 The Symposium invites botanists, artists, anthropologists and historians to discuss and reflect on the multifaceted and interdisciplinary web of relations, influences and current work happening at the intersection of community-based cultural practices and environmentalism. Taking the UAE ecology and the Artist’s Garden project at Jameel Arts Centre, Desert is a Forest, as a starting point, this two-day symposium looks at native ecosystems and the global biodiversity crisis to examine our relationship to the landscape, interconnectedness of humans and non-humans, and how we can take part in interspecies politics. Full programme and guest speakers to be announced on soon.