Idris Khan: Monument and Memory
Residing right across Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – the UAE capital’s most prominent landmark, Wahat Al Karama pays tribute to those who gave their lives in support of their country’s sovereignty, dignity and freedom. Following a competition held in early 2016, British-born Idris Khan was selected as the chosen designer of both the Memorial and the Pavilion of Honor. It contains 20,000 cubic meters of concrete, over 5,000 tonnes of steel and over 120km of cables. Khan explains his thoughts for the commission and the larger conceptual intention for the country.
A: How did you begin to design for such a monumental and responsive piece?
IK: I was sent the brief by my NY gallery Sean Kelly in December last year. I’m not particularly interested in the competition nature of public art as I believe that something good will come out of showing faith in one artist. However, I thought it was such an interesting project and one that allowed me to be ambitious. We were given obvious site restrictions but really only one that mattered. “Don’t go above 30 meters in height.”
At first, I suddenly turned into a landscape architect, thinking that I had to create something different to my current work. I had just started to move more seriously into making three-dimensional work; I’ve been working with an engineer to help me understand the possibilities and form and scale, and started making large clay models of a sweeping canopy that covered the park. So I peeled back and sketched very simple charcoal lines that represented support, each vertical line supporting the next at different angles. I then started to imagine these lines as enormous tablets.
After the presentation to the judging panel, I knew I had made a good impression. I think they could feel the emotion in my voice of how much I believed in the project, and I hope I delivered everything I said I was going to that day. I am not sure it was expected, but I knew how much my work lends itself to making a memorial. I used so much energy in conveying why my sculpture should be the winning design. I guess it worked, because now we are looking at something that will be remembered for generations. It gives me great pride to have been able to create this work. Given that I only won the award in March this year I think everyone who worked on this project deserves so much credit. It is a phenomenal effort. The memorial was made internationally. The aluminium was cast and painted in Australia and China, the steel in the UAE. The glass for the sculpture in the pavilion was made in Germany. The amount of project managing, and the attention to detail on the monument has been amazing. To bring this project together in eight months was astonishing.
Image: Installation view of Idris Khan’s UAE monument. Courtesy of the artist.