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Emii Alrai: The high dam

  • 7 Feb – 29 Nov 2020
  • 11am–4pm
  • Free, no booking required

The high dam was a solo exhibition by Leeds-based artist Emii Alrai.

Emii Alrai’s practice is informed by inherited nostalgia, geographical identity and postcolonial museum practices of collecting and displaying objects. Focusing on ancient mythologies from the Middle East alongside personal oral histories of Iraq, Alrai weaves together narratives by forging artefacts and visualising residues of cultural collision.

Often working at an epic scale, Alrai creates bold installations that recall the mode of museological displays, but which challenge accepted responses. Obviously fictional and fabricated, Alrai’s installations are beguiling and intriguing. They contain elements that are broken or unfinished, and hover between the formal polish of an imperial museum, archaeological digs or the residues of a performance. Alrai asks how we might consider the decolonisation of museums spaces and sculptural practice by presenting impostor ‘sculptural’ works drawn from other cultures and ancient societies.

For The high dam, Alrai created an ambitious new sculptural installation taking the form of a full-scale, five-metre long boat based on a bitumen-formed model found in an Ancient Akkadian gravesite. Bitumen boats were thought to be placed halfway down burial shafts, and are believed to have been used as ‘demon lures’, designed to trap and distract demons from pillaging grave goods buried beneath. This new sculpture acts as a display vessel, containing a series of objects such as clay pots and sculpted animal figures. By presenting sculptures as artefacts in a display resembling a museological diorama, Alrai’s work engages with themes of nostalgia and Western productions of cultural capital.

The high dam asks audiences to confront the history of the reconstruction of Middle Eastern artefacts and monuments in Western museums, while addressing ideas of identity, including the inherited and fragmented nostalgia between Britain and the Middle East.

Emii Alrai participated in The Tetley Artist Associate Programme (TAAP) in 2018-19, a year-long talent development programme for emerging artists generously supported by Tetley’s Beer.

Watch our interview with the artist

Emii Alrai: The high dam