Alaa Edris investigates changing urban environments, folklore and symbols of gender and belief to reformulate and create new perspectives on architecture, myth and social history. Taking the role of an anthropologist, cartographer and sci-fi voyager, she approaches art as a means of identifying, shaping and articulating culture. She frames her observations of UAE life and landscape in the late 2010s through photography, film, installation and performance, highlighting or evoking sensations of the uncanny and feelings of discomfort embedded in the overly familiar.
The Black Boxes of Observational Activity (2019) is a site-specific installation of standing black boxes reminiscent of old photography equipment, the camera obscura and observation deck telescopes. Installed on the rooftop of Gallery 1 in Sharjah Art Foundation’s Al Mureijah Square, each box points to a historically significant part of Sharjah, including Bank Street and Khalid Port, both of which are areas of global commerce in close proximity to the emirate’s historic area. Instead of a lens, there is a screen embedded inside each box that can be seen through a small hole acting as a viewfinder. The screen displays a video recording of a location filmed in the recent past but manipulated with a futuristic sci-fi aesthetic. As the view on the screen within each black box and that which can be seen in real life are essentially the same, the work frames the present as the interface between past and future, an ever-evolving dialogue that positions the viewer as the central processor of change.