While founder of The Mine Sanaz Askari brought something a little different to Dubai this summer with an exhibition of street art, Ayyam Gallery is celebrating its 10-year anniversary with a stunningly ambitious group show

Between the Lines – The Mine
May 11 to June 8

Ever since its launch in 2014, The Mine has chosen to forge its own, off-beat path in the cultural landscape of Dubai and it is fitting that this spring it hosted the first major showcase of street art in the city. Founder Sanaz Askari felt Dubai needed to be introduced to the genre gradually, as it was so different from the contemporary art available at the galleries in town. She started arranging urban group shows with a geographic focus: American, Spanish, French and Iranian.
With French-Tunisian artist eL Seed having recently opened a studio in Alserkal Avenue, and his calligraffiti practice becoming more widely appreciated, 2016 was the right time to display a wider range of work by artists associated with street art. Askari approached famed French urban art aficionado Rom Levy to curate an exhibition of new work by artists who he has shown on his popular website streetartnews.

Between the Lines attempted to bridge the two worlds of contemporary art and urban art. All the works on show were specifically commissioned and produced on canvas or wood, rather than directly on the wall, but collectively they presented an alternative history of urban art. The thematic connection between the pieces focused on the simplest element of artistic production, the line.

Sitting comfortably alongside work by eL Seed, RETNA’s So You Wanted To Run was surprisingly the only other work on display that was made up exclusively of text. RETNA, who hails from Los Angeles, has created his own highly distinctive script from a hybrid of global typography including Egyptian hieroglyphs, Arabic calligraphy and Native American alphabets. Artists from the west coast of the U.S. were strongly represented in the show. The warm colours Andrew Faris, Kenton Parker and Jenny Sharaf use in their abstract creations fitted well with the hot climate of Dubai.

Paul Insect and Word to Mother are both based in London. Their contributions were figurative and bore the closest relationship to fine art: insects verging on pop and Word to Mother expressionism. Andrew Schoultz’s work was worthy of a closer look, his swirling circles apparently inspired by 15th century German maps and Indian miniature paintings.
BAST is the Brooklyn Banksy — no one is quite sure of his identity. His collage Kite was perhaps an enigmatic self-portrait. As a snapshot of current urban art, Between the Lines was a useful survey and an example of the way in which The Mine is doing something a bit different in Dubai.

10:52 – Ayyam Gallery, Alserkal Avenue
June 1 to October 29

Most galleries plan group shows over the quieter summer months. Few are as ambitious as 10:52, an exhibition taking over all of Ayyam Gallery’s two spaces in Alserkal Avenue, which surprises in its diversity and depth. 10:52 neatly displays one work by each of the fifty-two artists who have had a solo exhibition in one of Ayyam’s galleries worldwide in the past decade, since they opened their first space in Damascus. Featuring 42 male and ten female artists, 30 from Syria and 22 from elsewhere in the region, it is a vast showcase of important, recent art production.

Syrian artists have been at the forefront of Arab expressionist painting. Superb examples of abstraction span from the late Moustafa Fathi’s mixed-media work (the oldest piece in the show, dating from 1988), through to Tammam Azzam’s Laundry Series and Thier Helal’s Four Seasons. All have deliberate and unusual ways of applying material to canvas, be it impressions from woodblock stamps, or found objects, such as clothes pegs or sand. They also reflect their country’s recent turmoil.

This is more explicit in emotive family portraits from Mohannad Orabi and satirical character studies by Kais Salman, and even more so in the ghoulish portrait by Rima Salamoun and Youssef Abdelke’s still life of a skull. Displayed alongside Helal’s brightly coloured composition, Sadik Alfraji’s giant, hunched figure reaching in vain for a single, black flower is very moving.
Other clever moments in the show come through the placing of Fadi Yazigi’s King Che in front of Oussama Diab’s Oil Game, Asaad Arabi’s Memories of the Sixties and Ammar Abd Rabbo’s photograph of Queen Elisabeth II. Photography, new media and sculpture play a secondary role to painting, but important inclusions by Nadim Karam, Khaled Jarrar and Sama Alshaibi remind us of some brilliant shows the gallery has held so far.

by Laura Egerton

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Urban Art Issue #37, on pages 20-22.