Oasis of calm in shattered region, Dubai steps out as art hub

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The UAE is in a position to build on its openness and multicultural aspect to lead in the art scene. (Reuters)
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A piece of art called "Vanitas Table (peacock)" by Belgian artist Hans Op de Beeck is on display at Art Dubai, in Dubai, on March 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
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A woman examines a piece of art by Saudi artist Maha Malluh called "Food for Thought '15000'" at Art Dubai in Dubai on March 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
Updated 23 March 2018
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Oasis of calm in shattered region, Dubai steps out as art hub

DUBAI: As traditional centers of modern Arab art in Damascus and Baghdad have imploded amid disastrous wars, the sheeny city-state of Dubai has stepped into the vacuum as a major hub for art sales.
But at the annual Art Dubai fair this week, some Mideast artists among the scores of worldwide participants channeled in paint the chaos swirling around this bubble of calm luxury.
Tucked among the mostly apolitical photography, sculpture and installation art adorning the vast open-plan space, black-and-white paintings of war scenes in the Gaza Strip — devoid of people and any sharp detail — stand out.
“It’s like a monster, isn’t it?” says Palestinian artist Aissa Deebi, holding his arms menacingly above his head in the rough shape of a fireball from an Israeli war plan he painted exploding on top of building.
“I turned images from the TV into oil on canvas, which has its history in this tradition going back to Goya and Picasso,” he added, alluding to the latter’s iconic image of chaos brought on by a bloody air raid on the Spanish town of Guernica.
Myrna Ayad, Art Dubai’s director, said the event featuring artists from 48 countries does not seek to dwell on the region’s miseries, but noted that as Dubai’s star has risen in the art world the art on offer cannot flinch from harsh realities.
“The sad reality is that as Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus and even Cairo have suffered due to political and economic strife, the UAE is in a position to build on its openness and multicultural aspect to lead in the art scene.”
“Conflict and problems aren’t all there is to art in the Middle East and our exhibition celebrates modernists and visionaries from here and all over the world ... artists do make incredible historians and documentarians, though,” Ayad added.
While she refused to name precise target for sales in the three-day event, she noted that works were on offer for between a few hundred and a few hundred thousand dollars: “There’s something for every pocket!”
Ead Samawi knows that well. A partner from the Ayyam Gallery, he has sold most of their handful of war-themed canvases for between thirty and fifty thousand dollars each to clients ranging from the US to Lebanon, and insists profit and painful subjects can go together.
Arranged in a tense jumble of colorful shapes and splotches forming the rough shape of buildings and people, the work of Syrian artist Tammam Azzam evokes the broken cityscapes and refugee throngs from his homeland.
“It’s not commodifying, this is human life: There’s war and migration that happens all over. Artists have always had their distinct, creative way of presenting it that people have been attracted to,” Samawi said.


Traveling back thousands of years by reviving KSA's Al-Ula

Archaeological treasures in the northwestern region of the Kingdom are older than Saudi Arabia itself, and barely known to the world. (AFP)
Updated 22 September 2018
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Traveling back thousands of years by reviving KSA's Al-Ula

  • The RCU is joining forces with the Arab World Institute in Paris to produce a touring exhibition

JEDDAH: Bathing in the scorching sun of Saudi Arabia for the past 4,000 years and sitting among the sandy dunes of the northwestern region of the Kingdom, lie the country’s archaeological treasures. These treasures are even older than Saudi Arabia itself, and barely known to the world.
The area covers about 52 hectares of well-preserved land in which there are tombs handcrafted out of the rocks, relics from ancient civilizations such as the Greeks and the Romans, archaeological riches dating back 4,000 years and other priceless artifacts from the Ottoman Empire.
The somewhat forgotten land is going to be brought into the spotlight by the year 2020 as a historic collaboration takes place between Saudi Arabia and France.
France excels in the art of preserving history so it is the perfect alliance to meet the goals of making Al-Ula a tourist attraction.
Saudis are cooperating with France in preserving and promoting culture and archaeology.
The French consider this project so prestigious that Gerard Mestrallet, a special envoy of the president, has been appointed for Al-Ula. Both countries share a common approach to national heritage; that culture transcends all borders and should be accessible to all who seek to observe history.
The agreement was signed in the presence of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and French President Emmanuel Macron as well as Al-Ula governor, the special envoy to Al-Ula and France’s foreign minister. Against the walls of Paris’s Musee De Arts Decoratifs — a wing of the Louvre Palace — sit the illuminated sandstones for the French to experience a sliver of Saudi Arabia’s rich heritage. The Royal Commission of Al-Ula (RCU) has signed an agreement with Campus France, described as the leading international academic and vocational public institution in France, to train young Saudi women and men to become aspiring archaeologists.
The RCU is joining forces with the Arab World Institute in Paris to produce a touring exhibition. Public transport, hotels and restaurants are also part of the plan.
More than 2,100 people applied for traineeships: 200 young Saudi men and women will be trained by the most prestigious institutes in the world; part of the 1.2 million new tourist jobs are expected to be created under Vision 2030.
Cutting-edge technologies and methods such as aerial LiDAR (light detection and ranging), scanning and photos taken from light aircraft, helicopter and drones will also be used.