What happens when performance art is placed in ... say, Abu Dhabi? Does performance art travel as a migrant, or as a vagrant? Performance seems the most universal, geography-free, imperialist-free way for art making: as it is basically about an individual artist bringing his immediate community together. Sure, it can deal with greater societal debates such as gender and feminism, but its power lies fundamentally in reaching universal human emotions. These were my thoughts right before meeting with Mohammed Alblooshi, referred to Auden, a young Emirati art student at NYU Abu Dhabi. A courageous aspiring artist who focuses his practices on performance art and fashion design, rooted in his Emirati identity and dreaming of international fame.

Sophie Arni: Can you tell me how you came to specialize in performance art?

Auden: I think what really sparked my interest was seeing the performance 'Honey' by Julie Tolentino, presented at NYU Abu Dhabi in spring 2014. It was the first performance art act I ever saw. I always thought that art was the purest form of expression. I think performance art is a gateway to one's inner space. It is my inner space that I'm exposing to viewers, but it is also their inner space that is revealed to them if the performance 'works'. I chose this medium because it is the only one I found that would capture my entire body, my entire soul.

S.A.: Your body is your medium.

Auden: Exactly. Performance goes against materiality, it goes against objects.

S.A.: How did you come to choose art, actually? Were you always a visual person, or someone who would draw during school classes?

Auden: I view art as the most powerful act of political stance. Sure, the Western perception of 'art' is prevalent today. But I hope that people see my work as coming from the individual and reaching the universal. To answer your question though, yes, my art classes were my favourite in high school.

S.A.: (laugh) Right, so tell me about your first work. It all started from there. Scrub, 2015.

Auden: 'Scrub' was really my first performance art piece. I wore a kundura, the traditional dress for Emirati men, and scrubbed the floor of my university for 21 hours. I actually shaved half of my hair for it.

S.A.: How come?

Auden: I see many construction workers with shaved heads. I saw it as being half-naked, less protected and more vulnerable.

'Scrub' questions the hierarchical structure of the UAE's society. Your passport affects where and which conditions you live here. This is not just true in this country however but the whole world today. Nationality affects what job you will hold.

S.A.: Right, you're pointing to the stereotype that Emiratis don't clean floors.

Auden: That's what I wanted to portray in this performance. As an Emirati, I always hear "You are blessed". Blessed of what? My nationality? My fellow Emiratis might be used to these comments, but having lived the majority of my life in the UK, this comment really shocked me.

S.A.: It's true that the in-betweeners always have the most relevant cultural observations.

Auden: It's not just observations. In terms of taking action, I think a lot of people 'feel bad' about we treat and view the value of labor here. But there aren't many to ready to do something about it. I hope Scrub will elevate the role for education and art for social change.

S.A.: I actually had a question about the UAE and performance art. Practically speaking, there is a great deal of censorship in this country. Some things are allowed and some are just, not. How do you deal with these constraints, that artists in London or NYC don't have to deal with?

Auden: That's a concern, but I work with these limits. Ultimately, the UAE is my home country and I never want to disrespect it. It has done a lot not just for my family but for me, and I don't want to disobey the rules. But that's the beauty of art: it's interpretative. There are many ways to raise key issues without being blunt about them. The most important is to raise them and open the floor to questions.

In terms of constraints on my work, for example, I chose to do 'Scrub' on the premises of my university to stay safe from legal issues and questionable looks.

S.A.: I agree with the power of art to raise issues to the surface in subtle ways. Perhaps the most successful artworks are the most subtle. Tell me about your other work, Dahlia, also from 2015.

Auden: 'Dahlia' is about the exploration of trauma.

S.A.: Before you begin, how do you define "trauma"?

Auden: Trauma is an experience after which makes impossible to keep living your life the same way. This work is actually not about trauma itself, but the presets I was given to deal with trauma and the dead weight that trauma leaves behind.

The religion and family values you grow up in affect how to deal with trauma. Being a Muslim, I learned the value of discipline to go through and past pain and suffering. Islam, like many other religion, is a story of submission to God.

S.A.: In Dahlia, you submitted your body to be written on.

Auden: The performance took place on three sessions over three days. I made three sculptures to accompany the performance. The first represented my father, the second my mother, and the third, the child.

S.A.: A triangle. I see it created a safe familial space for you to expose your most inner emotions. Do you still think about gender roles in such circumstances or do you past these societal thoughts to go on the more personal, and perhaps metaphysical level?

Auden: I think gender roles are the vitrines of the most inner emotions. They start from being highly personal and metaphysical to become a societal problem. Crying, being sad, dwelling, nostalgia is generally more associated with femininity. The "man up", "get over it", self-respect strength is more masculine. I tried to capture that with Dahlia.

S.A.: Lovely. And lastly, what do you think in terms of your chosen medium in relations to Abu Dhabi supporting local artists through their foundation-sponsored initiatives? Do you think performance art is well-represented in the Emirati art scene?

Auden: I think performance is still a niche here in the UAE. It is not offered as widely in universities' art programs, and maybe more importantly, it's yet to be acknowledged as a worthy art form. It's not commercial either. But I hope to see this change.

My ultimate goal is to create a performance art institute in the Middle East later in my career. I truly believe in education and its potential for unlocking talent and societal change.

Sophie Arni, February 2016, Abu Dhabi.
All of the images are reproductions and installation views of Auden's work. Courtesy of the artist.
No reproductions allowed.
For captions, please contact a member of GAD's team. Copyright Global Art Daily, 2016.