Muhannad Shono on ecology, architecture and narrative imagination

Muhannad Shono on ecology, architecture and narrative imagination


February 29, 2024
Muhannad Shono on ecology, architecture and narrative imagination
Two responses to the Anthropocene and speculative generation
A Forgotten Place: Semi-permanent
Alserkal Avenue, Street 17, Al Quoz, Dubai, UAE
The Ground Day Breaks: February 18–May 20
ATHR Gallery Riyadh, JAX District H21, Al Diriyah Al Jadidah, Saudi Arabia
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Approximately 600 miles (960 kilometers) apart, concurrent installations by the artist Muhannad Shono simultaneously exploit and reveal the tension between the architectural logic of the human built environment and that of the natural landscape. Both works serve to confront the Anthropocene, a proposed geological epoch defined by the impact of human beings on earth’s geology, landscape and ecosystems, including, but not limited to, climate change. The Ground Day Breaks (2024), a solo exhibition curated by Nat Muller at ATHR Gallery Riyadh, and A Forgotten Place (2024), a generative public artwork at Alserkal Avenue in Dubai, both manifest the paradox between destruction and rebirth. With an experimental approach, Shono transforms and manipulates industrial byproducts, respectively reclaimed foundry sand and AC condensate, revealing a profound intertwining between material and conceptual practice. By cultivating ecologies from what is discarded, the artist proffers a personal and universal horizon of hope in times of great political, social, and environmental uncertainty.

A Forgotten Place, 2024, a site-specific, long-term installation, was developed from studying unexpected ecologies in the heavily developed urban environment of Dubai’s industrial—turned cultural—neighborhood of Alserkal Avenue. In a city of accelerated urban development, Shono is interested in the wild and unplanned natural environments that have sprung up. Part of A Feral Commons, the inaugural cycle of Alserkal Advisory’s Global Co-commission project, his installation is one of three works produced under the theme of climate change. The series was developed by curator Tairone Bastien to utilize public art as a vehicle for examining the often unrecognised co-dependency and open-ended collaborations between human and more-than-human beings. Shono’s intervention is irrigated by water condensate from 12 warehouse air conditioning units. The plants in this feral garden were encountered by the artist during multiple site visits around Al Quoz and identified by their medicinal and edible properties, as well as backstories of origin and indigeneity. The installation provides a vivid example of ecological stewardship and the profound connections between art and nature.

The titular piece of the exhibition The Ground Day Breaks, on view through 20 May 2024 at ATHR Gallery in Riyadh, is a large-scale architectural intervention formed from approximately 2,000 individual hand-crafted sculptures. Resembling an excavated archaeological site, the installation echoes the radiating flow of irrigation channels in agriculture. All works on show—sculptures, works on paper, and mixed media installations—are created from reclaimed black foundry sand, an exhausted industrial byproduct that carries with it the residue and latent trace of previous forms. Each artwork bears the trace of violence—the force of breaking, the artist’s hand, a wound dug into the earth, the shrouding of a body—as well as the potential of healing, regeneration and the creation of speculative futures. Produced at a seismic juncture in the region and the world at large, the exhibition captures a fragile and unsettling moment that is fraught with a sense of decay or destruction yet filled with promise. For all their ruination, the works exude a poetic beauty. In the face of the world’s ongoing despair and overlapping crises, even in a parched garden seeds and ideas can grow. ATHR Gallery Riyadh is the newest branch of Saudi Arabia’s acclaimed gallery.

Muhannad Shono’s forthcoming monograph Muhannad Shono. Works [2014-2024], edited by Nat Muller, will be published by Kehrer Verlag and launch in mid-2024. The monograph, designed by award-winning graphic designer Edwin van Gelder (Mainstudio), addresses the central drivers of Shono’s practice: myths, lines and regeneration – and features contributions by leading writers and thinkers: Hala Auji, Nat Muller, Todd Reisz and Alison Sperling.

Muhannad Shono (b. Riyadh, 1977) represented Saudi Arabia at the 59th Venice Biennale with The Teaching Tree (2022) and was recently appointed Contemporary Art Curator for the 2nd edition of the Islamic Arts Biennale, Jeddah (2025). He has participated in many global biennials and exhibited in group and solo shows across the region and internationally.

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February 29, 2024

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