DUBAI: The world’s first robot artist, Ai-Da, was among the many attractions at a top Middle Eastern cultural event taking place in the UAE.
The 11th edition of Abu Dhabi Art, which runs until Nov. 23 at the capital’s Manarat Al-Saadiyat creative hub, boasts 50 leading regional and international galleries exhibiting more than 300 works of art by emerging and established talent.
Among a range of other activities taking place at the event are workshops, master classes (one of which will be led by Ai-Da), public talks and discussions looking into topical issues such as cultural identity, artistic talent from China, the rise of the Pacific region as a hotspot of contemporary art, and the multidimensionality of Islamic art.
Spread across the two main gallery halls, innovation, thought, and concept is explored through various artistic mediums.
From Dubai, Ayyam Gallery has a solo presentation of vibrant works by the French-Tunisian calligraffiti artist eL Seed, who combines “the beauty of Arabic calligraphy with the roughness of graffiti.”
Meanwhile, the Lawrie Shabibi Gallery was showcasing paintings from the late 1950s onwards by Moroccan modernist Mohamed Melehi, known for his signature, retro-cool wave images.
Another popular exhibit was from Cuadro Fine Art Gallery, which showed Emirati artist Nasir Nasrallah’s bright neon artwork, reading in Arabic, “Visit me every year 365 times.”
From the wider region, Lebanese gallery owner and curator Salah Barakat of Agial Art Gallery introduced visitors to geometrical, steel sculptures by Anachar Basbous.
Jeddah’s Hafez Gallery was making its fourth appearance at the fair, bringing together a display of works by nearly 12 multidisciplinary artists from Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Egypt.
Hailing from Tunisia, Elmarsa Gallery displayed figurative paintings bursting with expression and color, by the 20th century Algerian artist Baya Mahieddine, who was highly regarded by the likes of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.
Beyond the gallery sections, the Abu Dhabi Art team had set up a number of special exhibitions. “New Horizons” looked into conceptual works created by Chinese and Indian artists, while “Gateway: Fragments, Yesterday and Today” explored archaeological artifacts of ceramics and musical instruments on loan from the Al Ain Museum.
Alongside the historical items were works by contemporary artists, which exhibition curator Paolo Colombo said were aimed at examining “the ways in which everyday objects have survived long after the lives of individuals who shaped them, and how they have entered the language of a number of contemporary artists.”
Curated by Dr. Omar Kholeif – who was recently appointed senior curator of the Sharjah Art Foundation – the handpicked “Focus: Drawing, Tracing, Mapping” section was dedicated to understanding the medium of drawing in profound depth.
Kholeif said: “Here, drawing is not the simple act of applying graphite to paper, but rather, drawing is performance and social sculpture, as much as it is about the study, diagramming and impression of a portrayal. Here, drawings reveal hidden histories and contour realities. Drawing becomes a means to see the unseen.”
Among the eight participating galleries in the section was the Saudi Athr Gallery, with a solo booth of serene drawings of circles by the Saudi-Palestinian artist Dana Awartani. Created especially for the fair, the gallery said the works symbolized “acts of meditation and moments of contemplation as part of her (Awartani’s) daily rigor of being an artist, a method she frequently adopts to quiet the mind.”
A fair newcomer was the recently founded Al-Burda Endowment initiative, led by the country’s Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development. For this presentation – on display at Manarat Al-Saadiyat until Feb. 8, 2020 – a group of 10 artists from around the world were chosen to create pieces that celebrated Islamic art with a contemporary touch. Through this experimental exhibition, visitors were treated to a memorable viewing experience, encountering fabric installations to virtual reality.
UAE social enterprise, 81 Designs, forged an artistic dialogue between eL Seed and Palestinian women artisans from Lebanon’s Ain Al-Hilweh refugee camp. Inspired by eL Seed, the women have reproduced some of his calligraphic artworks through a time-honored tradition of cross-stitch embroidery.
“The message we want to get across is that art brings happiness to people, especially the underprivileged,” 81 Designs’ co-founder Nesrine Maalouf told Arab News. “We would like to empower women and make them feel that they are contributing to the livelihood and the household.”