Sunday 1 March 2015

Pulse of Africa’s modernity, contemporaneity at Art Dubai 2015

By Tajudeen Sowole
As the resilience of modern art continues to boost economic value of art appreciation across the world, a Nigerian master printmaker, Bruce Onobrakpeya and 12 other artists from Africa are experimenting the continent’s modern and contemporary contents at Art Dubai, holding from March 18 to 21, 2015 at Jumeirah, UAE. The 2015 edition, according to the organisers, features nearly 90 art galleries from about 40 countries across the world, which is considered a record for the nine-year-old art fair.
Mixed media work Small Sunflower by Olu Amoda showing under Art Twenty One at Art Dubai 2015, UAE.

Onobrakpeya, 83, showing under Mydrim Gallery, Lagos; Moroccans Mohamed Melehi b. 1936 and Mohamed Hamidi b. 1941 represented by Loft Art Gallery, Casablanca; and a Cape Verdian master, Manuel Figueira showing under Perve Galeria, Lisbon, are the four artists from the modernist African era in a gathering of about 17 others from across the world under the Art Dubai Modern. But as resilient as modernism appears to be on the primary and secondary art market across the world, contemporary art dominates Art Dubai 2015, with over 70 galleries from a total of 90.

At the contemporary end, Art Twenty, Lagos will show the works of Nigerian sculptor Olu Amoda and Beninoise artist, Gérard Quenum in contemporary context.  A Vienna, Austria-based gallery, Galerie Krinzinger, is showing the work of contemporary content by Nigerian, Jude Anogwih, from works produced during his residency in Europe.

Ivorian photographer, François-Xavier Gbré who, in early January closed his solo exhibition titled Abroad at Art Twenty One in Lagos joins his countryman, Yéanzi at Galeries Cecile Fakhoury in the contemporary circle; Sammy Baloji, represented by Galerie Imane Fares; and Cameroonian, Pascale Marthine Tayou, at Galeria Continua are all showing in the contemporary space of the yearly event. Quite interesting, most of the art galleries from Africa are showing at Art Dubai for the first time.

Artists and galleries from Africa would not walk alnoe during the 2015 Art Dubai; perhaps quite a number of art connoisseurs and enthusiasts from the region are expected at the event. Among the specially invited of such guests is one of Nigeria’s leading, Mr Sammy Olagbaju, who is a member of the Collectors’ Circle at Art Dubai. The Lagos-based art patron is the founder of Sammy Olagbaju Art Foundation.

African artists are increasingly visible at the Art Dubai fair in recent editions. Recall that the Marker of Art Dubai in 2013 was dedicated to art from West Africa and had artists feature under the curator, Bisi Silva. Exhibited artists included Ghanaian master, Ablade Glover, Soly Cisse (Senegal), Abdoulaye Konate (Mali), and Boris Nzebo (Cameroun) in what the orgnisers of Art Dubai described as exploring “the nature of evolving cities in West Africa and the way in which this change impacts society.” Designed as five artspaces, works of the artists have been selected from Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA, Lagos, Nigeria); Espace doual'art (Douala, Cameroon); Maison Carpe Diem (Segou, Mali); Nubuke Foundation (Accra, Ghana); and Raw Material Company (Dakar, Senegal).  For the 2015 edition, Marker focuses on Latin America and that region’s relationship with the Arab world.

The Art Dubai Modern is created to showcase art from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia under the presentation of what the organisers describe as "regionally and internationally based galleries." The works are scaled within the modern masters "from the twentieth century (up to the year 2000)." 

Artists from other regions showing in Art Dubai Modern include Shafic Abboud, Agial Art Gallery, Beirut; Shahid Sajjad ArtChowk, Karachi; Gouider Triki / Hatim Elmekki
Elmarsa, Tunis / Dubai; Mohsen Vaziri Moghadam
Gallery Etemad, Tehran; Mahmoud Hammad
Green Art Gallery, Dubai; Shafic Abboud / Abdallah Benanteur Galerie Claude Lemand, Paris; Farid Belkahia
Le Violon Bleu, Tunis; Dia Azzawi / Marwan 
Meem Gallery, Dubai; Ernesto Shikhany / Manuel Figueira
Perve Galeria, Lisbon; Jamil Molaeb
Galerie Janine Rubeiz, Beirut; Kourosh Shishegaran
Shirin Gallery, Tehran / New York; and Aref El Rayess
The Park Gallery, London. Sponsored by Mashreq Private Banking, Art Dubai Modern was launched last year.

The process for participation involves submission of proposals by galleries for booth exhibitions of "artists whose work has proven highly influential during the twentieth century and on later generations of artists."  The exhibits further go into specific focus "on a particular period or thematic within an artist’s practice."

Applications and proposals from interested galleries are reviewed by an Advisory Committee, selected from curators and art historians across the world who have "particular interest in modernist practices of the Middle East, Africa and Asia."
  Applicant galleries' curatorial strength, according to the organisers, determines the final lists of exhibitors based on "exhibition programme and the gallery’s submitted proposal."

Unilever, Haubourdin, France, Tracks series (2012)
by Ivorian photographer, François-Xavier Gbré
Courtesy:  the artist and Galerie Cécile Fakhoury - Abidjan

Communications and Marketing Manager at Art Dubai, Jessica Mason disclosed that the 2015 edition would have the contemporary as the largest hall with 71 galleries showing mostly new work by artists from across the world.
Truly proving its strength as one of the fastest growing art fairs in the world, Art Dubai, according to Fair Director, Antonia Carver interrogates diversity and quality, attracting "the broadest line-up of influential and dynamic galleries,” from across the world. “Each March, the fair – and the UAE in general – becomes a hub for art professionals and enthusiasts, and all those interested in a vision of the art world that is resolutely global.”

The Art Dubai Modern has its Advisory Committee selected from across the creative strata of the world, in such names as Savita Apte, art historian specialising in modern and contemporary South Asian art and chair of The Abraaj Group Art Prize; Catherine David, renowned curator with an extensive experience in the Middle East, whose exhibitions include Documenta X, and is currently Deputy Director of the Musée National d’Art Moderne; Silva, a renowned curator and founder/director of Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos (CCA, Lagos, specialising in modern and contemporary African art); Kristine Khouri, researcher and a writer based in Beirut and co-founder of the History of Arab Modernity in the Visual Arts Study Group; Nada Shabout, art historian specialising in modern Arab and Iraqi art and Consulting Director of Research at Mathaf, Arab Museum of Modern Art.

With a focus on how technology shapes art, the yearly Global Art Forum segment of Art Dubai takes off from Kuwait, in March 14-15 and continues at its regular venue, Mina A’Salam, Madinat Jumeirah, venue of Art Dubai from March 18-20. The theme of the 2015 Global Art Forum, according to a press statement is Technologies, and their Impact on the World of Art, Culture and Beyond. The gathering also features a workshop on digitising archives.

Participants expected include 50 local and international contributors under the co- directorship of Turi Munthe and Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi with Shumon Basar as Director-at-Large.
 The forum, it is gathered, “debates how technologies have transformed not only the way we work, but how we think, interact, learn and create.”

Also, it is expected to “shed light on how the Middle East region’s culture is being influenced by the streams of communication innovations that have appeared in the past few decades,” said Al Qassemi, Global Art Forum Co-director.

Basar noted, “Perhaps nothing makes our lives feel better and worse at the same time than technology.”  The director at large argued that while humans theoretically ‘invent’ technology, the reality is “technology ‘re- invents’ us humans constantly, in ways we aren’t aware of.”

Munthe noted: “Tech used to lag human: for all of history, we have imagined things that couldn’t be built. That may have inverted: we may not be able to conceive of what already exists. Most symposia that tackle the theme of technology believe in technology. We know it exists. We just don’t worship it.”

Launched in 2007 by Art Dubai, the Global Art Forum is presented by the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (Dubai Culture) with the support of Dubai Design District. The Kuwaiti leg of the event is supported by The Tamdeen Group and takes place at Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, in association with Sultan Gallery and Nuqat. It is accompanied by special exhibitions and events across the city.
The Forum’s diverse talks and presentations in Kuwait and Dubai include: a debate on the online art market, with directors from leading art dotcoms brought together for the first time; ways in which virtual museums in the Arab world and Latin America are reaching diasporic publics; conversations with artists working at the forefront of new technologies; a look back at the first communication technologies in the Gulf, from newspapers to radio and cinema; a panel that asks whether we have ‘Too Much Artificial Intelligence.’
Line-up of speakers include forefront of new developments in technology such as Jawbone founder, Alexander Asseily; M3/Relativity design director, Christopher Bevans; Google Cultural Project director, Amit Sood; and digital education innovator Ayesha Khanna. Artists, writers and curators include Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Amar Bakshi, James Bridle, Manal Al Dowayan, Cécile B. Evans, Omar Kholeif, Dan O'Hara, The Otolith Group and Troy Therrien.

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