Saturday 21 March 2015

Art Dubai 2015… How Artistic Expression Drives Economy

By Tajudeen Sowole (just back from Dubai, UAE)

The strength of private partnership energy that drives art and culture has been exposed at the ninth edition of Art Dubai just as art from Africa expanded its scope. Like the phenomenon growth that Dubai represents as a 21st century model city, Art Dubai exudes a classic example of how to build the art and culture sector into contemporary economy as important contents in business and tour travels.

Global Art Forum co-director, Sultan Sooud Al Qassem (left); Artistic Director at Art Dubai, Antonia Carver; and a partner at The Abraaj Group, Fred Sicre, during the preview

With the 2015 edition, which held few days ago at its traditional venue, Medinat Jumeirah, U.A.E, Art Dubai asserted its status as one of the world’s fastest growing global art spaces.

During the preview, held inside a hall full of representatives from media organisations across the world, Fred Sicre, Partner at The Abraaj Group, stated that the innovation of the private sector and support of the UAE government have been the main engine of Art Dubai. The Abraaj group is Art Dubai’s major partner. Sicre said Art Dubai has been one of the major projects of The Abraaj Group. In fact, he boasted that “we have shown that the private sector has a role to play in arts and culture.” He added that as much as government should be commended for supporting art and culture, the private sector “has a bigger responsibility in innovation.”

Started in 2007 with focus on art from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa, Art Dubai, currently under the artistic direction of Antonia Carver, has grown into a global gathering with contents from nearly all the continents around the world. The 2015 edition confirmed its global status with over 90 galleries and more than 500 artists from 40 countries. Organized by Dubai Culture and Arts Authority with sponsorship from Emaar and Julius Baer, Art Dubai appears to have shown the lead, perhaps, in how to define art patronage in the art and culture space that has been dominated by the west for over a century. “This year, it is more global,” Carver assured during the preview.

For example, the Art Dubai Modern, which started last year, focuses on the works of artists who, in the view of the organisers, have “proved influential in the twentieth century, particularly through the vibrant modern period of the 1940s to 1980s.” The 2015 edition featured masters from across Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. There were 15 galleries for the Modern section, mounted on the ground floor of the Medinat Jumeirah building. Among the galleries at the immediate entrance of the Art Dubai Modern was Mydrim Gallery, from Lagos, Nigeria, which showed the works of Dr Bruce Onobrakpeya, a master printmaker. At the extreme end of the space were the works of Cape Verdian master, Manuel Figueira showed under Perve Galeria, Lisbon, Portugal Other artists from Africa in the same space included Moroccans Mohamed Melehi b. 1936 and Mohamed Hamidi b. 1941 represented by Loft Art Gallery, Casablanca; 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; Aref El Rayess, The Park Gallery, London. Debuted last year, Art Dubai Modern, according to the organisers, is exclusively partnered with Mashreq Private Banking.
However, the higher volume of visitors traffic generated by the Art Dubai 2015  seen at the Contemporary sections and during the Collectors’ Circle Evening – suggested a possible challenge of managing crowd, perhaps in the next two or three editions. With as many as 72 galleries in the Contemporary space, though spread through two halls, the global spread of the contents appeared to have attracted much visitors, particularly moving through lobby of the Medinat Jumeirah.  

Inside the halls that housed the galleries some of the contents were as diverse and as connectings across culture. For example, inside Art 21, a Lagos-based representative of Nigerian sculptor, Olu Amoda nad Benenoise painter, Gérard Quenum, an Arabic interpretation was found for a piece of work. Amoda’s metal series, Sunflower, a round-shaped depiction of blossoming plant “attracted” one of the visitors who thought that the “spoons used” in the lacing of the work “means so much in Arabic,” Caline Chagoury, director at Art 21 disclosed.  “this exactly what Amoda always want to for his work; people should have other interpretation different from his.”

Congo DR photographer, Smmy Baloji, represented by Galerie Imane Fares showed portraits of native communities, perhaps in what could be argued as unpleasant tones, particularly in contemporary context. Photographs of African natives in half nudes, captured in their natural habitation would have been critiqued in strong terms were the works shot or presented by a non-Africa. But Baloji, in this context, merely revisits history and event of over a century ago when the Belgiams were on expedition to Katanga. And quite interesting, he matts the black and white archival pictures onto the colour paintings of landscape by Belgian artist, Léon DardenneIn.

From Ivorian photographer, François-Xavier Gbré’s miniaturised works of original large sizes, there was some kind of novelty in collapsing the large format of some of his works into small pieces. The works were shown alongside that of Yéanzi at Galeries Cecile Fakhoury. For anyone who might have seen Gbre’s large format sizes of photographs of architecture ruins, particularly during his solo exhibition titled Abroad, held at Art 21, Lagos, the miniaturized sizes would be less appreciated. Indeed, for a big event such as Art Dubai, it was an irony that Gbre stunted his works to such a small scale.

Curated by Luiza Teixeira de Freitas, Marker 2015 focused to Latin America’s  “historical and contemporary connections between the region and the Arab world.” The exhibition has been described as “is the largest showcase of Latin American art in the Gulf to date.” At the 2013 edition of Art Dubai, the Marker section 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 focused on Latin America and that region’s relationship with the Arab world.
The intellectual context within which art is appreciated was never lost at Art Dubai events as its regular feature Global Art Forum, once again lived up to its expectation. The 2015 edition of the discussion programme had participants talked about the technology and its impact on the world of art and culture.

Co-directed by Turi Munthe and Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, with Shumon Basar as Director-at-Large, had 50 local and international contributors from the worlds of art, tech, literature, philosophy, and media participated.

The Abraaj Group Art Prize, which is one of the key events of Art Dubai continued to promote excellence in art as Yto Barrada won the 2015 edition. Three artists that were shortlisted got a cash prize and represented in a group exhibition at Art Dubai 2015, said The Abraaj Group Art Prize 2015 Guest Curator, Omar Kholeif.  Started a year after Art Dubai made its debut in 2007, The Abraaj group Art Prize was designed to expose less represented artists. “After the application and jury process, four artists were shortlisted for the prize and Barrada won the $100,000 commission prize.”

Nigeria master printmaker, Dr Bruce Onobrakpeya (right) and a visitor to Mydrim Gallery stand during the opening of Art Dubai 2015

Sheikha Manal Little Artist Workshop was another talent sub-event of Art Dubai. Organized under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. the programme was described as “artist-conceived projects for children, a partnership between Art Dubai and The Cultural Office, returns for the third year at Art Dubai.”

Other events included Art Dubai Projects, a programme of residencies and new commissions curated in 2015 by Lara Khaldi. It featured A.i.R Dubai residency programme, a partnership between Dubai Culture & Arts Authority, Tashkeel, Delfina Foundation and Art Dubai, returns to Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood and grows to include an extended educational outreach programme.

Also, 2015 marked the launch of Art Dubai Commissions, featuring site-specific works by midcareer regional and international artists Art Dubai Projects commissions artists to create new, site-specific works, exhibited at Art Dubai and Al Serkal Avenue. 

Campus Art Dubai’s Core class took on producing Art Dubai Radio, with a week-long programme of sound, music and talks, live at the fair. Campus Art Dubai (CAD), held in partnership with Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (Dubai Culture) and supported by Dubai Design District (d3), launched its third season in October 2014. The Campus Art Dubai provided seminars, workshops, critiques and one-on-one mentorship for artists, curators, writers and cultural enthusiasts based in the UAE, with all tuition provided free-of-charge.

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