Art Dubai kicked off at Madinat Jumeirah on Wednesday, with more than 90 galleries showcasing a diverse cast of more than 500 artists representing over 80 nationalities.
Now in its 13th edition, this year’s fair is one of the most international to date, helmed by a relative newcomer to the region, Chloe Vaitsou, who had previously worked as Head of Audience Development for Frieze Fairs in London.
The UAE fair, revamped in 2017 under long-time artistic director Pablo del Val, this year includes a promising new gallery section called Bawwaba (meaning “gateway” in Arabic), which platforms projects on or about Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. Of the more interesting projects in this section is by Addis Ababa-based artist Wanja Kimani, a video work entitled It’s Not You It’s Me (2018), which interrogates experiences of diaspora and her longing for familiarity in unfamiliar territory.
Curated by Munira Al Sayegh, the UAE Now section at this year’s fair investigates the country’s independent local artist-run platforms. Highlights include Bait15 (founded in late 2017 by Afra Al Dhaheri, Hashel Al Lamki, and Maitha Abdalla), a collective run studio and exhibition space located in a residential neighborhood of downtown Abu Dhabi; in addition to the Banat Collective, a creative community that works to address the lack of non-profit, artist-run spaces in the UAE, especially with respect to those that discuss intersectionality, feminism, gender and identity politics from a MENA perspective.
The mainstays of the fair—the Art Dubai Contemporary and Modern sections—have been scaled down this year presumably to focus on quality over quantity. This year’s highlights, however, include Ayyam Gallery’s booth dedicated to the pioneering master of abstraction and dedicated Palestinian activist, Samia Halaby, who earlier in the week gave an inspiring talk at Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi’s residence on the need to move away from academic discourses in art, advancing a cause for art’s wider social responsibility. Touching also on the theme of Palestinian diaspora, Zawyeh, an independent visual arts gallery founded in Ramallah, Palestine, in 2013, presents two thought provoking artists Aissa Deebi and Samah Shihadi. Over at Dastan Basement’s booth, an assortment of emerging Iranian art and experimental art projects are on view including notable works by Mohammad Hossein Gholamzadeh, Amin Montazeri, Bahareh Navabi, Nima Zaare Nahandi and Mamali Shafahi. The Jeddah-based gallery ATHR, founded by Hamza Serafi and Mohammed Hafiz, gives voice to Saudi artists with a focus on promoting intercultural narratives connected to international circuits and developments in contemporary art the world over.
Now in its second iteration, twelve artists have also been invited to form a residency program in the context of the fair. This year, the focus was on Latin American artists and galleries. The artists were given temporary studio spaces in the UAE at the Dubai Design District and Tashkeel in Dubai and Bait15 and Warehouse421 in Abu Dhabi. Laura Lima, represented at the fair by a Gentil Carioca Gallery from Rio de Janeiro, developed a project while on residency that explores boundaries between illusion and fiction.
Rounding out the events and highlights from this year’s fair is the Sheikha Manal Little Artists Program, an educational initiative open to children. While an ambitious commission by the esteemed Brazilian artist collective, OPAVIVARÁ!, gives viewers a chance to interact with a site-specific work in the heart of the fair on Fort Island, which proposes an intervention into urban space by virtue of recreating a beach-like environment where members of the public can lounge and relax.
Art Dubai continues through March 23 at Madinat Jumeirah.