Art Dubai 2018 offers a tour through a cornucopia of creativity, variety… and concrete

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Updated 21 March 2018
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Art Dubai 2018 offers a tour through a cornucopia of creativity, variety… and concrete

Fair director Myrna Ayad was not joking when she said this 12th edition of Art Dubai has a jam-packed program. It is the biggest in terms of sheer numbers, with 105 galleries from 48 countries participating. This ensures a truly global representation, with an impressive roster of galleries — established and emerging — from around the world. This year’s Art Dubai also marks the debut for four countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Iceland and Kazakhstan.

The diversity extends to the variety of art too, ranging from works by established masters dating back to the 1920s on display at Art Dubai Modern, to avant-garde installations in the contemporary section.



In fact, traditional canvases seemed to be the exception rather than the rule in this cornucopia of creativity, with a range of materials being used in unexpected ways to produce art — from reclaimed steel, acrylic, ceramic and brass inlay in concrete, to textile, polyamide, and of course digital media.

It is practically impossible to pick favorites from the numerous pieces, as everyone interprets and appreciates each one differently, but there is a distinct focus on art from Africa, South Asia, and of course the Middle East. Particularly worth checking out is the Hafez Gallery from Jeddah, which has brought noteworthy pieces from artists such as Abdulsattar Al-Mussa and Thuraya Al-Baqsami to the fair.

As artistic director Pablo del Val advises, start with the Modern section, then work your way through the contemporary gallery halls, but most importantly, come with an open mind. “Leave any prejudgment out and follow your heart and brain. That’s when it will really come alive,” he said.

Having built up a reputation as a fair for discovery, where many new and emerging artists are given a platform, this year Art Dubai has introduced a Residents program that invited 11 artists from around the world to spend a few weeks in the UAE, in collaboration with three art spaces — Tashkeel, in5 and Warehouse 421 — to create a body of work inspired by their time in the country.



According to Saudi artist Faris Al-Osaimi, it was a challenging but rewarding experience. “It was really difficult at first working outside my own studio, but I learnt a lot working with the other artists, including experimenting with different techniques,” he said.

Another artist who participated in the Residents program, Tato Akhalkatsishvili, aims to tackle the bilateralism of human beings and the environment with his large oils on canvas. “I created a series titled ‘Is your body a heaven,’ in which I explore living organisms and objects of nature in abstract ways,” he said.

His is the sort of work that is likely to appeal to a new generation of collectors who, as most art experts agree, are more adventurous in their choices, and buy art that they like to hang on their walls rather than simply collecting big names for collecting’s sake.



In a clear bid to make art less elitist and more engaging with the greater community, Art Dubai’s programing this year includes a rich mix, ranging from the TV show-style activation at The Room, Good Morning GCC, to taking on the omnipresent subject of artificial intelligence with Global Art Forum’s “I am not a robot” theme.

The Global Art Forum — with its thought-provoking curation of talks by Shumon Basar, Noah Raford from the Dubai Future Foundation, and Marlies Wirth, curator of digital culture at the MAK, Vienna — may have left us with more questions than answers, but that was kind of the point.

The art collective GCC leverages the popularity of people outside the art world — think TV stars such as Suliman Al-Qassar — and delves into the aesthetics, politics and practices of Gulf culture within the immersive format of a daytime talk show, with segments covering cookery, fashion, holistic wellbeing and happiness, in a green screen-inspired set.

The interactive performances, which involve audience members getting to try the food being cooked, “have a universal appeal outside the context of art audiences,” said Barak Al-Zaid, a member of the collective.

Ayad is understandably excited about this innovative feature of the fair. “It’s always exciting to commission an artist to create something, but to tell them to take over a space and transform it with performance, with gastronomy… I think it’s brilliant that we can offer such a platform.”



Also providing a platform were the fair’s key partners. Emirati artist and designer Jawaher Al-Khayyal was commissioned by Piaget to create the interactive installation “Summer muse,” inspired by the “Sunny side of life” high-jewelry collection.

“It’s a seat that twirls, with reflective light off a brass rim that casts a shimmering shadow and gives a magical effect,” said Al-Khayyal. “The movement is inspired by the natural movement of feathers, leaves and water.”

Swiss-Egyptian artist Karim Noureldin’s creation was a site-specific installation for the Julius Baer lounge, titled “From pen to thread, Des.” The abstract textile installations, one of which is an ambitious 40 square meters in size, have been hand-woven in India. “I’ve done something that I felt would transmit some kind of serenity, a visual object that conveys calm,” said the artist.

The Sheikha Manal Little Artists Program sees Japanese-Australian artist Hiromi Tango working with children in her project Healing Garden, which features local plants and flowers.

Showing just how far Art Dubai has come since its inception, this year’s edition marked the 10th anniversary of the annual Abraaj Group Art Prize (AGAP). The winner of this year’s prize, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, is pushing boundaries — both contextually and in terms of the technology employed — in his audio-visual installation exploring divisiveness between nations and people.



This year, AGAP also announced its partnership with Art Jameel, wherein their full collection of the past 10 years will be given on long-term loan to the Jameel Arts Center, set to open in Dubai later this year.

Another exciting collaboration birthed at this year’s iteration of the fair was one with the ambitious Misk Art Institute from Saudi Arabia. A highlight of this partnership is “That feverish leap into the fierceness of life.”

It is a non-selling exhibition that shows, perhaps for the first time, the panorama of modern art in the Arab world by showcasing five Modernist art schools or movements that emerged between the 1940s and 1980s from five Arab cities: Baghdad, Cairo, Casablanca, Khartoum and Riyadh. The intriguing nomenclature of the exhibition owes its origin to a manifesto of the Baghdad group of modern art, and is meant to represent the role of art in social change.



The Misk partnership also saw the regional premier of a virtual reality film on contemporary art in Saudi Arabia, “Reframe Saudi”; exclusive sessions in the Modern Art symposium; and limited-edition publications.

Nada Al-Tuwaijri, head of communications at the Misk Art Institute, said: “A very important aspect of the art world is building connections. Art Dubai is considered a hub, so this is an excellent networking opportunity for us as a very young organization, a push for building key relationships in the future.”

She sums up the spirit of the fair aptly which, while very much a space for commercial art activity, is more importantly a global meeting point, a place for people to converge and converse.


Iraq says goodbye to its beloved archaeologist Al-Gailani

Updated 21 January 2019
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Iraq says goodbye to its beloved archaeologist Al-Gailani

  • Al-Gailani was one of Iraq’s first women to excavate the country’s archaeological heritage
  • After the US-led invasion, Al-Gailani continued to travel to Iraq, determined to rescue its heritage even as the country convulsed with war

BAGHDAD: Iraq on Monday mourned the loss of Lamia Al-Gailani, a beloved archaeologist who helped rebuild the Baghdad museum after it was looted following the 2003 US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.
Al-Gailani, who died in Amman, Jordan, on Friday at the age of 80, was one of Iraq’s first women to excavate the country’s archaeological heritage.
Relatives, colleagues, and cultural officials on Monday gathered at Baghdad’s National Museum, the country’s leading museum, to pay their respects before moving her remains to the Qadiriyyah mosque for prayers and later interment.
A devotee of her country’s heritage, Al-Gailani lent her expertise to restore relics stolen from the museum for its reopening in 2015. She also championed a new antiquities museum for the city of Basra, which opened in 2016.
“She was very keen to communicate on the popular level and make archaeology accessible to ordinary people,” said her daughter, Noorah Al-Gailani, who curates the Islamic civilizations collection at the Glasgow Museum in Scotland.
“It is a big loss, the passing of Dr. Lamia Al-Gailaini, who played a great role in the field of archaeology, even before 2003,” said the deputy minister of culture, Qais Hussein Rashid.
The restored collection at the National Museum included hundreds of cylinder seals, the subject of Al-Gailani’s 1977 dissertation at the University of London. These were engraved surfaces used to print cuneiform impressions and pictographic lore onto documents and surfaces in ancient Mesopotamia, now present-day Iraq.
Still, thousands of artefacts remain missing from the museum’s collection, and Al-Gailani bore the grief of watching her country’s rich heritage suffer unfathomable levels of looting and destruction in the years after Saddam’s ouster.
“I wish it was a nightmare and I could wake up,” she told the BBC in 2015, when Daesh militants bulldozed relics at the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud near present-day Mosul.
Born in Baghdad in 1938, Al-Gailani studied at the University of Cambridge in Britain before finding work as a curator at the National Museum in 1960. It was her first job in archaeology, her daughter said.
She returned to Britain in 1970 to pursue advanced studies, and she made her home there. Still, she kept returning to her native country, connecting foreign academics with an Iraqi archaeological community that was struggling under the isolation of Saddam Hussein’s autocratic rule and the UN sanctions against him.
In 1999, she published “The First Arabs,” in Arabic, with the Iraqi archaeologist Salim Al-Alusi, on the earliest traces of Arab culture in Mesopotamia, in the 6th through 9th centuries.
She would bring copies of the book with her to Baghdad and sell them through a vendor on Mutanabbi Street, the literary heart of the capital, according to her daughter.
After the US-led invasion, Al-Gailani continued to travel to Iraq, determined to rescue its heritage even as the country convulsed with war.
At the time of her death, she was working with the Basra Museum to curate a new exhibit set to open in March, said Qahtan Al-Abeed, the museum director.
“She hand-picked the cylinder seals to display at the museum,” said Al-Abeed.