Toronto specializing in contemporary photography

Philip Cheung

Philip Cheung
The Edge

January 12 – February 4, 2017
Circuit Gallery @ Prefix ICA
401 Richmond Street West, Suite 124
Toronto, ON, M5V 3A8

Opening Reception: Friday, January 13, 6-9 p.m.
Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11 AM – 5 PM

Circuit Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of ten large-scale photographs by Philip Cheung from The Edge, a new project that follows the 1300 km coastline of the United Arab Emirates looking at the region’s rapid development and transformation.

As Cheung explains:

The United Arab Emirates is a country in a state of constant geopolitical change. Once an obscure Gulf nation, the UAE has, in just 40 years, emerged from the desert sands. Substantial economic growth resulting from the discovery of major oil and gas reserves off the coast of Abu Dhabi have transformed the formerly semi-nomadic Bedouin society into a thriving localized culture, anchored in international business, tourism, and luxury.

Significant urban and industrial development has attracted migrant workers, business people, consumers, and tourists from all around the world. Expatriates now make up 85 percent of the population in the major urban centers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. As a result, the cultural identity of the Emirates as a whole is evolving through a constant influx of foreign influences.

The Edge is a continuation of Cheung’s successful project Desert Dreams which offered a modern portrait of the Emirates and its negotiation of a relationship between traditional culture and lifestyle and the new cosmopolitan aspirations afforded by massive wealth, intense urbanization, and economic development. With this new work Cheung turns his attention to the landscape and to the varied activities taking place along the coast. In these photographs he’s looking at the expression of these changes and ambitions through the built environment, architecture, infrastructure, and indeed the use of space—the spaces various people occupy, from local Emirati’s to Western expats and migrant labourers, and the distance between co-existing and contrasting worlds.

As Leo Hsu astutely writes, in his essay accompanying the exhibition,

Cheung’s photographs are powerful because, beyond surveying, or describing, they suggest the seeming necessity of the present moment, which in his graceful compositions feels both inevitable and eternal. At the same time, they underscore the moment’s contingency—the feeling that the cultural features on display, functions of power, economics and globalization, look so specific, when seen in the context of the landscape that has made this wealth and power possible. Where nature cannot but look as it does, the built environment betrays human ambition in the way that it assumes its specific forms. The success of Cheung’s photographs is its evocation of the tension between these two imperatives.


Philip Cheung is a Canadian artist, based in Los Angeles and Toronto, with a significant background and experience in various forms of photography. In recent years, he has decidedly moved towards a contemporary practice focused on research and exploration of issues of citizenship, capital, labour and industrialization through a layered approach of natural and urban landscapes and portraiture.

Cheung’s work has been exhibited in galleries, museums and festivals across North America and Europe, including The National Portrait Gallery (London, UK), the Lumix Festival (Hanover, DE) and the Flash Forward Festival (Toronto, CA), and has appeared in features and reviews in The British Journal of Photography, CNN, Boston Review and TIME, among others. Clients include The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian Weekend Magazine, Stern, The Independent Magazine, The New York Times, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and Wallpaper*.

Cheung was named one of PDN’s 30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch and has been awarded research and production grants by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council and Toronto Arts Council. In 2016 he was selected for the Canadian Forces Artist Program by the Directorate History and Heritage to continue a series that examines military culture in Canada’s post-Afghanistan military. Cheung has also been recognized by the Magenta Foundation, Communication Arts, Photo District News and American Photo. His work is held in the collection of Akkasah, Center for Photography at NYU Abu Dhabi, and has appeared in features and reviews in The British Journal of Photography, CNN, Boston Review and TIME among others.

Artist Page: Philip Cheung

Leo Hsu is a writer, researcher and photographer based in Toronto. He is a regular contributor to Fraction Magazine and holds a PhD in Anthropology and Certificate in Culture and Media from New York University.

Works Exhibited


The Edge

(See additional works from the larger project)

Artist Statement


My work has been evolving through a documentary practice into a perspective interested in topologies united by the disparity of their geological features and use, while searching for a nuanced perspective on contemporary issues. The Edge (2014 – 2016) is a series of photographs representing the dynamic between landscapes and activity along the coastline of the United Arab Emirates. This project is part of a longer trajectory involving interiors and exteriors in the Middle East, where I first began to make documentary photographs.

The cultural and social identity of the UAE is particularly tied to its coastline, which played a deciding role in the development of the nation. The coastline provides an income resource and a connection between the Emirates and the rest of the world; first through shipping trade and fishing, and currently through the exploration of the oil industry and coast-based tourism. This changing relationship between the traditional and contemporary use of these waterways creates the space that I explore.

Since the discovery of oil off the coast of Abu Dhabi over 50 years ago, the UAE’s 1,300km coastline, along with its cities and towns, has undergone considerable changes. Nestled in a pocket of financial security, it is growing diverse in form and function, with industry, tourism, and recreation shifting the scale and rhythm of the natural and the built environment. The landscape of the Emirates is aesthetically influenced by decades of substantial development, migratory movement, and lifestyles of the people who build, support and engineer the country.

The Edge seeks to survey the way the coastal landscape reflects present day socioeconomic realities of the Emirates, and hopes to shorten the visual and ideological distance between the West and the Middle East.

Availability & Pricing

Current prices range from $800 – $3,000 depending on size, and increase as the edition sells.
Please contact the gallery for more information, including current availability and pricing.

Request Info