Contemporary art in the Emirates Featured

The thriving art scene in Dubai and Abu Dhabi includes institutional events and some innovative private galleries

by 21 September 2010

Art Dubai will be held from 16 to 19 March 2011, attracting galleries from all over the world, and, as last year, it will include a series of non-commercial exhibitions and interventions by curators, journalists and critics. The event will be held in various locations but principally Madinat Jumeirah. It will include the Abraaj Capital Art Prize, an annual prize granted to artists from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia (MENASA), who are required to submit proposals rather than completed works of art. It is the world's most generous art prize, with US$ 1 million in disbursements, and it has done a lot to put the Menasa area on the world art map. Winners of the 2011 edition will be announced soon, and, after working in secret, their work will be unveiled at Art Dubai in March.

Abu Dhabi is also present on the contemporary art show calendar with Art Abu Dhabi, which will run from 4 to 7 November 2010. The first edition last year was a success, bringing together an exclusive selection of high-level galleries and some innovative emerging galleries from all over the world. This year, the show will be different, in that it will be a curated art fair, reflecting the dramatically changing geography of today's art world.
Possibly the most important date on the UAE's artistic calendar is the Sharjah Art Biennial, with invited artists from the Gulf states, the Middle East and the rest of the world. The 10th Sharjah Biennial will take place from 16 March to 16 May 2011, curated by Suzanne Cotter and Rasha Salti.

The Emirates' private galleries continue in their work of promoting contemporary Middle Eastern art and artists. The Third Line (Al Quoz 3, Dubai, Tel. +9714 341 1367, open Sat-Thurs, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.) presents Hayv Kahraman (October 28-December 1, 2010), an artist who began from a calligraphic background, but later moved towards images with flat, patterned areas that contrast with expressionless faces. Her subject matter focuses on oppression, with regard to the ways that women are perceived in society. This will be her first solo exhibition in the UAE.
Later in the season, featured artists will include Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian (13 January-17 February 2011), an artist who uses ancient reverse-glass painting, mirror mosaic and Iranian design techniques to form an interesting combination of tradition and contemporary style. Farmanfarmaian's pieces are geometric kaleidoscopes of colour and light, creating very beautiful visual effects.

Laleh Khorramian (2 March-7 April 2011) works using film media, and she presents her latest time-lapse animated movie in which she explores the fractal qualities of her painterly landscapes. Her human tragi-comedies unfold in picturesque, abstract and deeply spatial settings. Susan Hefuna (13 April-12 May 2011) is an artist of German-Egyptian roots, and her work reflects her cross-cultural experience. She looks at the meaning and function of images, creating a dream-like space in which spectators can add their own shades of meaning to indicators of time and location.

As a final note, it is pleasant to be able to report that art in Dubai also has an important social function and can benefit disadvantaged people. Celebrated watchmaking and jewellery maison Van Cleef & Arpels took part in the 2010 Art Dubai fair, but also joined forces with Start, an association that helps children in the Middle East. The proceeds from the auction of a Charms watch, together with part of the profits from the sales made at the Art Dubai fair, were donated to supporting the work of the Start association. Van Cleef & Arpels have financed a season of art lessons for vulnerable children in Dubai, helping youngsters with autism and Down's Syndrome to develop alternative forms of expression and enjoy moments of real pleasure.