A new future for art fairs? Highlights from Art Dubai’s first digital program

Art Dubai decided to showcase various aspects of its programming through curated online and digital experiences. (Supplied image: ‘Picasso in Palestine #3’)
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Updated 02 April 2020

A new future for art fairs? Highlights from Art Dubai’s first digital program

  • In lieu of a physical art fair this March, Art Dubai is showcasing more than 900 works online by approximately 90 participating galleries

DUBAI: Back in February as the rapid spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) threatened the global art calendar, Art Basel Hong Kong was the first to go. 

Day by day, the art world watched as fair by fair was either postponed or cancelled. Frieze New York, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, Milan’s Salone del Mobile, Art Paris and the list goes on. As of early March, Art Dubai originally planned to still stage a slimmed down program of events and talks for UAE-based galleries and arts organizations and the Residents section, which has had artists from the African continent working on specially commissioned artworks for that past six weeks. 

Most recently, after more stringent measures of precaution have been enforced in the UAE, Art Dubai decided to showcase various aspects of its programming through curated online and digital experiences. These include the second edition of its Online Catalogue comprising approximately 90 galleries from, primarily, the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia region, a live-broadcast condensed version of the Global Art Forum, titled “Do You Story? Newshour Special,” and Online Performances curated by Marina Fokidis.

Shaikha Al Mazrou, Untitled, 2019. (Courtesy of the artist and Lawrie Shabibi)

“Digital and online experiences are coming rapidly to the fore because of the unprecedented global situation,” Art Dubai’s Artistic Director Pablo del Val told Arab News. “This is the second year that Art Dubai has launched an online catalogue, and while it is an initiative we intended to continue, for now it is a way of keeping things online and adapting to the current situation to support our participating galleries, connecting them with visitors and clients while things are being shut down throughout the world.

“In these strange times, we have to adapt and cooperate,” said William Lawrie, co-founder of the Lawrie Shabibi art space in Dubai’s artsy Alserkal Avenue. “What Alserkal Avenue and its community has managed to do in almost no time has been incredible — to put all of these exhibitions online in 3D in time for the slated opening date. We are showing an expanded version of what we had planned for our presentation in Art Dubai, artists” responses to Op-Art. Our planned March gallery show — Peruvian/American sculptor Ishmael Randall Weeks — will come to the gallery in autumn.”

Tadesse Mesfin, Pillars of Life Grace III, 2020. (Courtesy: Eyerusalem Jiregna)

There’s doubt among many art world professionals that online viewing can replace the beauty of physical interaction with a work of art. “Nothing can compare to being physically in front of an artwork or conversing in person with art collectors,” said a gallerist from the Middle East on condition of anonymity. “But in times like this we need each other more than ever. Viewing works of art and performance digitally is a gift and a reprieve from the current state of world affairs.”

In the following list we’ve placed a spotlight on highlights from seven galleries from across the Middle East and Africa participating in the Online Catalogue of this year’s Art Dubai. For collectors eager to buy, you can browse works and filter through a range of criteria as well as place purchase enquiries directly with the galleries. 

Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai

Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, Untitled, 2019. (Courtesy of the artist and Lawrie Shabibi)

Dubai-based gallery Lawrie Shabibi features a group showing entitled “Upsurge”showcasing the diverse practices of a multi-generational group of artists, including works by Mohamed Melehi, Mona Saudi, Hamra Abbas, Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, Shaikha Al Mazrou and Vivien Zhang. The works on view explore notions of perception within abstract art, particularly in how form, contrast and color enhance one’s visual experience. 

Addis Fine Art, Addis Ababa and London

Tesfaye Urgessa, No Country for Young Men X, 2020. (Supplied)

For the gallery’s third participation at Art Dubai, Addis Fine Art is showing works by a group of prominent Ethiopian artists, including Tadesse Mesfin — known for his contemporary interpretations of female figures in elegant columnar depictions, included by local women and Egyptian sculptures — Addis Gezehagn, whose abstract cityscapes portray Addis Ababa in a range of colors and expressions, abstract sculptor Adiskidan Ambaye, Tesfaye Urgessa — revered for his figural abstraction and social commentary — and abstract painter Tizta Berhanu, currently participating in the Residents section.

Akka Project, Dubai and Venice 

The architect of the continents, 2020,  Goncalo Mabunda, Akka Project. (Supplied)

First time participant Akka Project, a gallery focusing on artwork from the African continent, showcases a group showing of work by artists from Mozambique, including Filipe Branquinho and Goncalo Mabunda. “Both artists explore the social condition of the people, not only in their own country but globally,” said the gallery’s director Lidija Khachatourian. “While Mabunda works with decommissioned weapons and scrap metal to create beauty from former objects of war, Branquinho analyzes the impact of the petrol market on everyday people in Mozambique and beyond.”  

Zawyeh, Ramallah

Zawyeh has painting ‘Picasso in Palestine #3.’ (Supplied)

Founded by Ziad Anani in 2013 and based in Ramallah, Palestine, Zawyeh’s mission is to promote contemporary and modern art by emerging and established Palestinian artists. A longtime participant at Art Dubai, this year the gallery showcases works by Palestinian artists Khaled Hourani, Slimane Mansour and Wafa Hourani, each exploring various ways to portray confinement, borders and connection in Palestine. 

The Third Line, Dubai

Hassan Hajjaj, Mashrou Leila, 2017. (Supplied)

The show goes on for The Third Line, one of Dubai’s oldest galleries, which presents revered Moroccan artist and designer Hassan Hajjaj”s solo exhibition online. He’s often referred to as the “Andy Warhol of Marrakech,” known for his iconic portraits made in his unique and dynamic pop-art photography style, incorporating everyday items such as Coca-Cola bottles, matchboxes and olive cans.

Athr Gallery, Jeddah

Saudi contemporary art gallery Athr is showing works of artist Sultan bin Fahad, Ayman Yossri Daydban, Muhannad Shono, Moath Alofi, Mohamed Monaiseer and Sarah Abu Abdallah. (Supplied)

Saudi contemporary art gallery Athr returns to the fair this year with a group showing of works by Saudi contemporary artists, including Sultan bin Fahad, Ayman Yossri Daydban, Muhannad Shono, Moath Alofi, Mohamed Monaiseer and Sarah Abu Abdallah. “I chose these works for their meditative qualities, others for their humor and their affordable prices (some being under $1,000),” said director Alia Fattouh. “In times like these, art can be a source of healing, one that allows us to think mindfully and to be with ourselves. Indeed, it now appears how important it is to surround ourselves with comforting and uplifting things and adorn our homes with inspiring works.” 

Dastan’s Basement, Tehran

Mohammadreza Yazdi, Ataraxia, 2018. (Supplied)

Known for his theatrical booths showcasing a mix of emerging and established works by Iranian artists, Hormoz Hematian returns his Tehran-based Dastan’s Basement to Dubai for its sixth showing with an online presentation of works. “These include Mohammadreza Yazdi’s kinetic sculptures, Fereydoun Ave’s most recent works from his ‘The Rostam Puzzle series,’ three abstract paintings by veteran artist Seroj Barseghian as well as works by younger generation artists such as Yousha Bashir and Maryam Eivazi,” said Hematian. “Amin Montazeri’s small elaborate illustrative drawings and Taba Fajrak and Shokoofeh Khoramroodi’s small paintings are showing alongside Navid Azimi Sajadi’s tiles and Mohammad Piryaee’s ceramic cubic sculptures.”

South Asian marriage websites under fire for color bias

Updated 12 July 2020

South Asian marriage websites under fire for color bias

DHAHRAN: An online backlash has forced the matrimonial website Shaadi.com to take down an ‘skin color’ filter which asked users to specify their skin color using descriptors such as fair, wheatish or dark. The filter on the popular site, which caters to the South Asian diaspora, was one of the parameters for matching prospective partners.

Meghan Nagpal, a Toronto-based graduate student, logged on to the website and was appalled to see the skin-color filter. “Why should I support such archaic view [in 2020]?” she told Arab News.

Nagpal cited further examples of implicit biases against skin color in the diaspora communities – women who are dark-skinned are never acknowledged as “beautiful” or how light-skinned South Asian women who are mistaken as Caucasian consider it a compliment.

“Such biases stem from a history of colonization and the mentality that ‘white is superior’,” she said.

When Nagpal emailed the website’s customer service team, she received the response that “this is what most parents require.” She shared her experience on a Facebook group, attracting the attention of Florida-based Roshni Patel and Dallas-based Hetal Lakhani. The former took to online activism by tweeting the company and the latter started an online petition.

Overnight, the petition garnered more 1,500 signatures and the site eventually removed the filter.

“Now is the time to re-evaluate what we consider beautiful. Colorism has significant consequences in our community, especially for women. People with darker skin experience greater prejudice, violence, bullying and social sanctions,” the petition reads. “The idea that fairer skin is ‘good’ and darker skin is ‘bad’ is completely irrational. Not only is it untrue, but it is an entirely socially constructed perception based in neo-colonialism and casteism, which has no place in the 21st century.”

Overnight, the petition garnered more 1,500 signatures and the site eventually removed the filter.

“When a user highlighted this, we were thankful and had the remnants removed immediately. We do not discriminate based on skin color and our member base is as diverse and pluralistic as the world,” a spokesperson said.

“If one company starts a movement like this, it can change minds and perceptions. This is a step in the right direction,” said Nagpal. Soon after, Shaadi.com’s competitor Jeevansathi.com also took down the skin filter from its website.

Colorism and bias in matrimony is only one issue; prejudices are deeply ingrained and widespread across society. Dr. Sarah Rasmi, a Dubai-based psychologist, highlights research and observations on how light skin is an advantage in society.

The website took down the skin filter following backlash.

“Dark skin tends to have lower socio-economic status and, in the US justice system, has been found to get harsher and more punitive sentences.

“These biases for fair as opposed to dark skin comes from colonial prejudices and the idea that historically, light skin has been associated with privilege, power and superiority,” she said.

However, in the wake of #BlackLivesMatter protests, change is underway.

Last month, Johnson & Johnson announced that it will be discontinuing its skin whitening creams in Asian and Middle Eastern markets, and earlier this month Hindustan Unilever Limited (Unilever’s Indian subsidiary) announced that it will remove the words ‘fair, white and light’ from its products and marketing. To promote an inclusive standard of beauty, it has also renamed its flagship Fair & Lovely product line to Glow & Lovely.

“Brands have to move away from these standards of beauty and be more inclusive so that people – regardless of their color, size, shape or gender – can find a role model that looks like them in the mass media,” said Dr. Rasmi.