In Focus | Once Upon A Childhood / by Salama Nasib

Once Upon A Childhood marks the first official commissioned project post RCA and London. I was very ecstatic when I was approached by DCT (Department of Culture and Tourism) in Abu Dhabi to be part of the second edition of Emirati Traditional Games exhibition. Five UAE based artists were invited to interpret a folklore game in a contemporary manner, to be showcased in Al Ain’s Al Qattara Art Center. This edition of the exhibition highlighted five popular Emirati games including: Um Al Iyal (Salama Nasib), Khoosa Boosa (Eman Al Hashimi), Al Sagla (Afra Al Dhaheri), Adim Al Sira (Aya Riad) and Al Gaheef (Abdullah Al Mulla), and each of the artists was encouraged to propose an interactive piece of artwork. The aim of the exhibition is to preserve those traditional games with their chants for the generations to come, and showcase their resilience no matter how much technology may direct our everyday life.

Um Al Iyal (mother of the children) is a very popular game that I myself used to play a lot when I was a kid. It is also related to the notions of a mother protecting her children, which fell perfectly with my personal practice. The game consists of an attentive mother played by an older member of the children, where the rest of the children line up to take a cover behind her forming a train. Another child plays the role of a wolf eager to capture and hold the younger children. The game continues like this between attack and defense, where the wolf tries to capture a child but the mother keeps on protecting, until eventually the mother gets tired and everyone flees in every direction with the wolf in pursuit. There is a lovely song that accompanies the game which says:

“Knock, knock!

‘Who’s there?’ responds the mother.

‘I’m the wold, here to devour you all!’ replies the wolf.

‘And I’m the mother who’ll protect you all’, says the mother.”

For my piece I focused on two main aspects: the interactive part as well as the narrative behind the game. It came naturally to me to think of it as a comic story, especially that I am visiting this game after so many years apart. I decided to deal with it as a comic story brought to life, highlighting the pinnacle of the game itself. The idea of turning 2D drawings into 3D installation pieces was something that I always wanted to do (I somehow have done it with few of my other pieces before). I was very inspired looking at Hermès’ window displays which are super creative and fun to look at! A drawing of the scene was proposed and decided to turn that exact drawing from 2D to 3D.

My research involved looking at various window displays, making mock ups of the best material to use, deciding on THE white shade to paint the objects with, deciding on a support base that doesn’t look bulky,..etc. So many tests and decisions took place in between the week and a half that i had just to finish and deliver these pieces. It was very hectic for sure, but I did meet a lot of kind people and collaborated with talented suppliers who I am sure will go back to work with. Make Works website was very helpful indeed with that part so I would recommend finding suppliers there. I decided to go with 9mm MDF wood, manually cut in shapes using jigsaws, 9mm MDF base with soft round edges, two hallow plinths for two sculptures to stand on, a platform to hold all sculptures together, and all painted in JOTUN’s Skylight 1624. As for the details, the drawings were traced on illustrator where I spent 4 days just fixing every single line in there, to be screen-printed in two layers at the end. Told you it’s a bit extra for only a week and a half.

I had some issues with the team handling the vinyl print of the background image, so I worked with Brand in Style where they printed the right shade of color and they supervised the delivery to Al Ain and installing the vinyl themselves. Very reliable company so once again I would recommend them.

The end result? Yes I am happy. The more I look at it, the more I feel like not changing a thing on it. I may have liked to add few more pieces here and there, but I am super happy with it and was so glad to see younger audiences interacting with the game as it was meant to be. The exhibition will be on until July of 2019. Please make sure to visit Al Qattara Arts Center and check out the rest of the games.