This fair is the culmination of a year-long visual arts programme, playing a pivotal role in the burgeoning art scene in the WANASA region. Welcoming 37 new and 55 returning galleries, this year’s edition spotlights diverse geographies, curated exhibitions, and commissions. The fair remains committed to embracing diverse curatorial perspectives, immersing itself in the community, and actively contributing to the art ecosystem in Abu Dhabi and the UAE. The 92 participating galleries have been divided into four Focus sectors with Maneli Keykavoussi representing Latin America, Essia Hamdi representing North Africa and West Asia, Chris Feng representing Hong Kong and Riccarda Mandrini representing International.
As the curator of the Hong Kong Focus sector at the Abu Dhabi Art Fair, you’re introducing Modern and Contemporary art from Hong Kong to the Middle East. What specific elements of Hong Kong’s artistic landscape do you believe will resonate with the diverse audience at the fair, and how does it reflect the city’s historical context and contemporary art scene?
Like the Middle East, Hong Kong and the East Asian region to which it belongs have their own long histories and cultures, and both have developed a unique contemporary art scene under the impact and influence of colonial history, Western modernity and globalization. Although the details are different, I think the audience in the Middle East will be able to feel the similar structural development trend of the blending of tradition and modernity, local and international, in the portraits of modern and contemporary art in Hong Kong Focus sector that we are going to present. Furthermore, artists in the same region all absorb information and experience the world in a common cultural environment, but the differences in individual opportunities and personalities have led to the development of each artist’s unique personal artistic outlook. This kind of specificity and individuality within commonality is also the most valuable thing in art, and I believe this is similar to the art development pattern in the Middle East region. Please come to Hong Kong Focus sector to chat with the representatives of the galleries of each project, they will be happy to provide the most professional and specific guides. Some of the participating artists will also be there in person.
Could you share some insights into the artists and galleries you’ve selected to represent Hong Kong at the fair? What are some of the standout artworks or themes that visitors can expect to encounter in the Hong Kong Focus sector?
On the one hand, Hong Kong art is connected with Chinese art traditions such as ink art, landscape painting and calligraphy, but on the other hand, it has its own unique character. For example, artist Luis Chan presented by Hanart TZ Gallery and Tsang Tsou-choi (Emperor of Kowloon) presented by Lucie Chang Fine Arts are legendary artists in the history of Hong Kong art, and the mediums they use for their creations have a strong spirit of traditional Chinese art. Some young Hong Kong artists are still using these media with Chinese artistic characteristics, while others have completely stepped out of the traditional perspective and, like young people in other parts of the world, have directly borrowed from and responded to the current era, paying attention to themes such as urban life, the Internet, and personal emotions. Many of the galleries participating in Hong Kong Focus have chosen to promote young artists, such as Rossi&Rossi, De Sarthe, THE SHOPHOUSE, Square Street, SC Gallery, etc., and the young artists they have brought to Hong Kong Focus are well worth paying attention to.
Your role extends beyond curating to supporting emerging artists. How does your work with the independent art review collective contribute to the growth and development of the local art community in Hong Kong, and what are your aspirations for the impact it can have on the art scene in the region?
In addition to curatorial work, I have also organized and launched a contemporary art critique platform called “Daoju”(which means “Island Gathering” in English), which focuses on the contemporary art scene in Hong Kong. As an independent non-profit project, it is the result of artists’ self-organization, giving support to local emerging artists who are most in need of attention and support, as well as providing opportunities for exchanges between artists of different backgrounds. The curatorial programme serves as an extension of art criticism when needed and also serves to provide more communication and discussion, as well as expand international exchange partners outside of Hong Kong. The work of art is difficult, but I believe that there are more choices in the way art is produced, and it requires all of us to utilize our imagination and mobility, and not to be bound by stereotypes. Let us care about the artists and their lives while we care about art. Art should go beyond art itself and become something bigger and more important to life and the society.
As the curator for the Latin America Focus section at the Abu Dhabi Art Fair, could you tell us about the unique elements and themes that will be highlighted in this section, offering attendees an insight into the rich artistic landscape of Latin America?
The tapestry of Modern and Contemporary Art in Latin America is rich, dense and diverse, and attracts you to a world that is reflective of the pace of industrialization, socio-political movements and people’s aspirations in countries in Mesoamerica, Central America, and South America. It is a modernity that has been in dialogue with modernism in Europe and the United States. Four galleries in this section offer Modern and Post War works from Mexico, Venezuela, Cuba, Peru, Lima, Uruguay, Colombia and Brazil, along with contemporary emerging artists. Two galleries offer works of younger emerging artists from Chile and Brazil.
We have an important selection of works of two protagonists of Concrete and Neo-Concrete movement in Brazil, Franz Weissman and Lygia Clark, who significantly marked the transition from Modern to Contemporary Art in Brazil, at Dan Galeria. There is a representation of Venezuelan Geometric Abstraction and Kinetic Art in the works of Jesus Rafael Soto, Carlos Cruz Diez and Gego, at La Cometa and Dan Galeria. There are a number of works of the Colombian artist, Fernando Botero, who passed away this year, at La Cometa and Casa Zirio. They touch on inflated parodies of Latin American Stereotypes and have been categorized as New Figuration/ Pop Art.
Pablo Goebel Fine Arts is showcasing a survey of Mexican and Latin American Art, with a dedicated booth for Diego Rivera, with eight works on paper, and Frida Kahlo, with two paintings and two drawings, accompanied by a selection of photographs of Frida as subject matter, as the cornerstone of the presentation. The legacy of Mexican painting is further enriched with the works of David Alfaro Siqueiros, one of the founding figures of Mexican Muralist art. We explore a departure from the initial figurative, social realism of muralist art in the works of Carlos Merida, taking refuge in the balanced use of colour, abstraction, and architecture, representing the generation of “La Ruptura” represented here in “Sequence of a Plastic Intention,” a mural originally commissioned for the auditorium of the Hotel Aristos in Mexico City in 1968. They further represent Mexican surrealism through a collection of works by two influential female figures of the movement, Leonora Carrington with two paintings, one drawing and a series of animal-human hybrid sculptures and toys and Remedios Varo with four drawings on paper and one small painting on cardboard, exploring the use of the occult, mysticism and magic.
Carrington and Remedios Varo’s work finds resonance in a series of drawings by Chilean Artist, Roberto Matta, a seminal figure in abstract expressionism and Surrealist art in the Americas and Europe, from 1943, originally given to André Breton and later inherited by his daughter Aube Elléouët-Breton, which were used as illustrations for the second edition of the magazine VVV (1942-1944). There are contemporary artists who work with textile, tapestry and weaving, creating structured forms that are abstract and at times geometric, such as the very established Colombian artist Olga de Amaral, or Josefina Conchae, a younger emerging artist from Chile, whose work is the subject of a solo presentation at Praxis, or in the works of Selva de Carvalho (name/ double/bodycreatedbyStephaniedeCarvalhoKlabin) who works with the body and mystical figures as part of a two-artist presentation by Karla Osario.
Another captivating theme within this section is the spotlight on artists in Latin America of African descent, delving into the history of migration: the fusion of Western Avant-Garde painting with African and Caribbean culture in the works of Wilfredo Lam, as well as the contemporary perspective of an artists like Matheus Marques Abu, who delves into concepts of ancestry, spirituality, and the African diaspora in Brazil, shedding light on Brazil’s colonial history.
With your background as a curator, what is the significance of bringing Latin American art to this Middle Eastern art fair? How do you see this exchange benefiting both the artists and the audience at the event?
I am not a curator, but have done occasional curating on themes that personally resonated with me. Having relocated to California, I felt a natural pull toward Mexico and Latin America as I sought something with similarities to my own culture in terms of warmth, human connection, and sensibility. What you experience as a natural feeling is a reflection of parallel shared histories, and socio-political and cultural contexts which then informs and shapes a sense of aesthetics, cultural practice, artistic expression and transference of meaning.
The idea of bringing Latin American art to Abu Dhabi was born from a discussion I had with Dyala Nusseibeh, the director of Abu Dhabi Art, during the previous year’s fair, in alignment with exploring the concept of multiple modernities, a term coined by the German sociologist Schmuel Eisenstadt, challenging the idea that there is a singular, universal path to modernity and being contemporary. The aim is also to foster respect and appreciation by facilitating cultural and artistic exchange, as sampled in this small presentation among countries of the Global South in Latin America and West Asia Over the past two decades, there has been a growing movement to expand the canons of Modern art to include artists from Latin America and the Arab world, North Africa, and Iran. Opening trajectories of art history to include multiple and diverse paths will be the dominating theme in collecting practices of institutions and historical writing in academia for the next two decades and has inspired this invitation by Dyala Nusseibeh.
To draw parallels between the artistic practices and expressions in both regions, one can refer to how artists have responded to colonial legacies and challenged these legacies by exploring concepts of identity, cultural hybridity and resistance; how they have tackled concepts of national identity; how artists have reflected on shared geopolitical conditions, military, political and financial disparities that have resulted in conflict, displacement, migrations and have shaped social and political movements in countries of Latin America and in West Asia, Southeast Asia and North Africa. Another theme that is very dominant in both regions is religion and how artists have responded to Christianity and indigenous spirituality in Latin America and Islamic culture which has in many ways influenced artistic expressions in West Asia.
In essence, this exchange serves as an introduction, creating a space where cultural and economic exchange can take place, allowing for the discovery of common ground and shared experiences. If this effort piques the curiosity of local academic circles to explore parallels between Iraqi and Mexican Muralist art or conduct in-depth comparative studies between Mexican Surrealism and Egyptian Surrealism, then it exceeds our expectations. I anticipate a warm reception, appreciation, and a deep understanding of geometric abstraction and its various manifestations, from Venezuelan Kinetic Art to the Neo-Concrete Movement in Brazil, in the Arab, Islamic, and Iranian world, as it is a shared aesthetics that is deeply rooted in Islamic art and the arabesques used in Islamic architecture.
Are there any challenges or unique opportunities you encountered while curating the Latin American focus section, and how did you address them?
The distance proved to be a significant hurdle. The extensive commute and shipment costs posed logistical challenges that would explain hindered intense engagement between the regions despite cultural similarities. There were some misunderstandings in terms of receptivity to figurative art in West Asia and the Arab world, and it was interesting for galleries to know that there is no such prohibition.
For many galleries this was the first time they were encountered with such a proposition, it was an introduction. Obviously, there is a huge appeal to come to Abu Dhabi because of the many cultural institutions and museums in Abu Dhabi and that Abu Dhabi Art Fair is a hub for to her museums and institutions in the region to be exposed to works from Latin America and I think there will be more interest to engage in future.
The other challenge was timing. Art Abu Dhabi is at the same time as Art Bogota in Colombia, and right before Art Basel Miami. Both are very important markets and cultural hubs for art from Latin America, and we are very grateful to have the galleries that are doing both, like Dan Galeria or two galleries that we have from Colombia. There are also export challenges for some specific art that is considered Cultural Heritage in Mexico, and exuberant customs fees in Brazil. Some were prohibitive and we found solutions for others.
My hope is to see more institutional exchange between the regions, to see also shows of Arab and Iranian art in Latin America. There is already a significant Arab diaspora in Brazil for example. There are many institutions and museums across the countries in Latin America and I believe that many shows and cultural exchanges would be possible. There are also a number of galleries with Latin American heritage who represent Arab artists, so I think the exchange can be explored in a more detailed, intrinsic, artist-to-artist setting.
As the curator for the International Focus section at the Abu Dhabi Art Fair, what can attendees expect in terms of global art perspectives and themes? Could you provide insights into the diversity of artists and artworks that will be featured in this section?
Before talking about the galleries and the artists’ work in this year’s edition of the fair, let me come back to the Abu Dhabi Art 2022 edition. Last year our commissioned artist was the established Italian artist Marinella Senatore. She was represented at the fair by her gallery Mazzoleni Art (Torin, London). Marinella has exhibited in many countries throughout her career, but never in the UAE.
During the fair days, the light installation We Rise by Lifting Others was installed at the front of the Manarat Al Saadiyat. It was a perfect work for the UAE, representing the sense of community the country has built over the years. Marinella’s work was totally successful. It was purchased by local and international art collectors, during the fair and the following months, after the fair.
What does this mean? Many things of course, but certainly that people are becoming more mature in terms of their understanding of art. In the case of Marinella’s work, it was eloquent.
I would like to add that last year, some of the galleries I invited to the fair have sold out; and for the others, sales were good, except for one. Abu Dhabi Art is an art fair and as curators, we have to consider sales as a fundamental element. This is a clear indication that the local and the international art collectors who attend the fair know international art or in any case they have a very good feeling about it.
Abu Dhabi Art 2023. The section I have organised for ADA 2023 is dedicated to Nature and Sustainability. I would like to underline that all the artists that the galleries are displaying at the 15th edition of the fair, just like last year, have never been represented at the fair before.
I have invited nine galleries from different countries. Most of them are showcasing contemporary art, with the exception of Kò Art Space, from Lagos, which after last year’s commitment will bring to ADA the seminal work of a modern Nigerian artist, Obiora Udechukwu (Nigeria, 1946) an artist who lived through the dramatic years of the Biafran War (1967-70), a period that will always mark his life and his memories.
Obiora’s work took inspiration from the Uli, a folk form of decoration inspired by nature (used for home and bodies), which he first encountered in the Zaria region. Starting from the Uli design he created a Natural Synthesis as a theory of merging indigenous art traditions with western traditions to create a new, modern art model. Udechukwu’s presence at this year’s fair is a way of writing a new chapter in the history of non-Western modern art. Abu Dhabi Art has a great merit in this regard, this is because the fair year after year the fair has introduced the work of some important Arab and Southeast modern artists, and in terms of art history this is an added value.
Gallery Addis Fine Art (Addis Ababa, London) is presenting the work of two female artists: Adiskidan Amabye, whose abstract wooden sculptures open a dialogue with the sculpture art history, and the black and white works of Sudanese artist Amel Basher are inspired “by the wisdom and strength of her female ancestors, particularly those who struggled and fought for their rights. She uses their stories both as a source of vitality for her creative process and as a point of comparison to the continued battle of the modern-day Sudanese women’s rights movement”.
Top gallerist Lia Rumma (Milan, Naples) is coming to ADA, with a selection of her top artists, such as Willam Kentridge, the German painter Thomas Ruff, and a selection of works and sculptures, that are part of the latest film and installation, I am the Hymns of the New Temple: Pompei by the Egyptian artist Wael Shawky.
ADN Gallery from Barcelona is showing a new series of paintings and drawings from the fresco series Géologie di Déluge, Abdelkader Benchamma, together with a selection of works by Bouchra Khalili, awarded recently with Sharjah Biennial 15 Prize.
Tunisian Gallerist Aicha Gorgi returns this year with a bigger booth, to display the ceramic sculptures by Sonia Kallel, the fine installation of Nahah Zarbout and a selection of works by Mohamed Amine Hamouda. Nature is the essential medium in Mohamed Amine Hamouda’s work. He has in a way a physical relationship with nature. From the trees, from the leaves of the trees, from the grass roots, he gets the basic elements of his artistic practice and work.
With your experience as a visiting professor and art critic, how do you see the role of international art exhibitions like this in fostering cross-cultural understanding and artistic dialogue? What are the key objectives you hope to achieve with this curation?
Art fairs are playing a fundamental role in fostering cross-cultural dialogue. At an art fair people have the opportunity to see the artworks of a huge number of artists.
They would have to visit several museums around the world to see only half of it. I will give you some examples. ADA gallery Mazzoleni Art (Turin, London) is showing two established Italian conceptual artists this year. The minimalist work of Andrea Francolino and the work of David Reimondo who began his career as a film and music clip director. He works with writing, using abstract signs. Francolino and Reimondo are some of the artists that Mazzoleni brings to the international art fair.
What does this mean? Firstly that he believes in Abu Dhabi Art, and with the presence of these artists, the galleries will give people the possibility of knowing the work of artists that are now part of some museum and private collections. This is a cultural exchange, in its own way, of course.
This year, South African artist Abdus Salaam is presenting a series of new works and sculptures he produced during his residency in New York, last summer for the fair.
In these works there is a layering of thoughts, of intentions, of impressions…again, in its own way, this is a cultural exchange. Last year the Nigerian artist Ngozi-Omeje Ezema attended the fair together with her gallerist Kavita Chellaram, Ko Art Space.
Ngozi came with her baby, which was just over a month old. She held her baby close to her breast for all the week; and this while she was installing her fine sculptural work in the hall of the MAS; during the workshop with the students. In another way these are examples of cultural exchange, perhaps more than that. I don’t know if I have answered your question. You also asked about the objective I hope to achieve. My wish was to bring to ADA good galleries and excellent artists. I can say we have good galleries and very good artists. Art fairs are very complex events to organise, and this is because we have to deal with the art market, with sales. We, as curators, can work well if the galleries sell, if they have good business.
If the galleries don’t sell, they don’t come back…that is a big gap for an art fair.
The art world is constantly evolving. In your opinion, what are some of the most exciting and innovative trends in contemporary art from around the world, and how will these trends be reflected in the International Focus section of the Abu Dhabi Art Fair?
Yes, it is true, the art world is constantly evolving, it is not evident to talk about innovative trends, but certainly digital art is a trend that is attracting a growing interest, especially from a young generation of art collectors. But in fact, digital art has its own channels, even in terms of art fairs. ADA has a section dedicated to it.
Rather than trend, I would like to come back to the concern of the art fair and to its specificity.
For example, the India Art Fair exhibits some of the best Indian art; the big western art fair, mainly exhibit top works of western art modern and contemporary, etc.. ADA has the privilege of exhibiting more and more the works of the international artists, along with some of the most important works of the modern andcontemporaryArabandSoutheastAsianartists. I mean that ADA is not focused in one sense, it is international in a whole sense…and surely this is a trend, that more than one art fairs aim to rich.