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

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Updated 21 March 2018

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.


Maleficent, Angelina Jolie’s misunderstood sorceress, returns

‘People aren’t born hard and aggressive,’ says Jolie. ‘Something happens and you don’t feel safe.’ (Supplied)
Updated 21 October 2019

Maleficent, Angelina Jolie’s misunderstood sorceress, returns

LOS ANGELES: No one is born the villain. Not Lucifer in Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, not Arthur Fleck in Todd Philips’ recent release “Joker,” and certainly not Maleficent, whom Angelina Jolie brought to life in 2014. Unlike “Joker,” however, “Maleficent,” a reimagining of Disney’s classic “Sleeping Beauty” (1959), was an open-hearted film, showing not only how the world can harden the pure of heart, but also how love can soften it once more.

“We think of her as evil and dark, and we asked why, and went deeper,” says Jolie of the character. “Most women — most people — aren’t born with a certain hardness and aggression; something happens in your life where you lose trust, you don’t feel safe, and you start to fight and you protect yourself in a different way.”

“Maleficent” shows not only how the world can harden the pure of heart, but also how love can soften it once more. (Supplied)

In “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” the sequel set six years later, Maleficent hardly lives up to that title, but rumor would have it otherwise. The story of the ‘sleeping beauty’ Aurora (Elle Fanning) has spread across the land, painting Maleficent as the villain, rather than the one whose love saved her. Now, as Aurora plans to marry Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson), Maleficent must meet the neighboring Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), who wishes to destroy Maleficent and her magical world.

“When you see a leader like (Ingrith), who is so angry, so hostile, and who believes that the only way to survive is to destroy the other… we make it very clear in this film that she’s afraid, she’s weak and she’s ignorant. That’s why she’s behaving that way and that’s why she’s wrong,” Jolie says. “It’s not political, it’s not trying to be, but if you’re happy about the way the film ends, and it feels right, I think that heads you in the right direction, and for children it gives a nice guide.”

In the film, Maleficent must meet the neighboring Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), who wishes to destroy Maleficent and her magical world. (Supplied)

While the film features a lot of violent spectacle, the inner conflict of the lead characters themselves is whether they are strong enough to resist becoming violent, rather than the inverse.

“That’s something that isn’t portrayed a lot on screen — a lot of princesses grew up and they said, ‘Well, we’re going to make her a strong princess, and we’re going to make her tough, so we’re going to make her fight!’ Is that what being a strong woman means? We’re going to have to have a sword and armor on and fight? Aurora can do that in a different way, in a pink dress. It’s beautiful that she keeps her softness and vulnerabilities as her strengths,” says Fanning.

Redefining the ‘strong woman’ character is not just about redefining strength, for Jolie. It’s about lifting women up without pushing men down.

Harris Dickinson plays Prince Phillip in Disney's live-action “Maleficent.” (Supplied)

“We show diverse types of women, but we have extraordinary men in the film,” she says. “I really want to press that point, because I think so often when a story is told of a ‘strong woman’ she has to beat the man, or she has to be like the man, or she has to somehow not need the man. We both very much need and love and learn from the men. I think that’s also an important message for young girls — to find their own power, but to learn from and respect the men around them.”

For Maleficent, those men include Conall and Borra (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ed Skrein respectively), both of whom are of the same race as her, cast out from the rest of the world. The two play out the conflict at the center of the film — whether the only path to peace is conflict, or whether diplomacy and goodwill can help.

Elle Fanning plays Aurora in “Maleficent.” (Supplied)

Ejiofor, who was nominated for an Academy Award for 2013’s “12 Years a Slave” says he was captivated by the film’s themes.

“It was an interesting conversation about leadership — what self-sacrifice means in terms of leadership — and has a real engagement with optimism and positivity in terms of leadership and what is beneficial to most people, and what part leadership plays in that. I felt there was something very rich in the script,” he says.

Even Prince Philip was built to break stereotypes and challenge perspectives, according to Dickinson.

Angelina Jolie brought Maleficent to life in 2014. (Supplied)

“I saw him as this young man trying to figure out how to find his voice and challenge the perspectives of his parents and rule in a more inclusive way,” he says. “(Director Joachim Rønning) and I spoke about him as not just the archetype of a Disney prince who comes along and saves the day.”

While Skrein’s Borra at first seems to be the cliched hawkish brute, he too turns out to be more openminded than he appears.

“The love and understanding of Conall’s message really resonated more, and we do see Borra go on a real arc or journey of his moral stance,” Skrein says. “I think that comes from Conall and that’s why we have to try and preach empathy and peace over violence as much as we can.”