Hassan Sharif is widely regarded as a pioneer of conceptual art in the Middle East. In his four-decade-long artistic career, he made a vital contribution to experimental practice in the region through performances, installations, drawings, paintings and assemblages that employed ordinary objects as the primary medium.
After graduating from the Byam Shaw School of Art (now Central Saint Martins) in 1984, Sharif returned to the UAE and staged the first pieces of performance art in the country. He also presented the earliest exhibitions of contemporary art in the Emirates. This nascent but evolving practice was underpinned by an educational impulse, which led him to translate English-language art historical texts into Arabic in order to challenge the local audience to engage with contemporary art discourses.
In this late work, Combs (2016), Sharif assembles many brightly coloured plastic combs at irregular angles in order to create a haphazard visual rhythm in the form of a hanging tapestry. Emblematic of Sharif’s later work, in which repetition of everyday materials is often used, Combs presents Sharif’s interest in visual accumulation and systematic production, calculation and geometric permutation. For the artist, Combs exemplifies the use of logic that he saw reflected in the mass production of consumer goods. As Sharif explains, ‘the number of teeth, the distance between them, their length and thickness, all seem to be well calculated, and they have been so for thousands of years.’ Restating the geometric precision of the combs, the artist organises them in a painstaking gridded pattern by following a calculated mathematical model of his own invention.