Founded in 2006, Ayyam Gallery is a leading arts organisation that manages the careers of diverse established and emerging artists. A blue-chip art space in Dubai, a series of collaborative projects in the United States, Europe, Africa and Asia, and a multinational non-profit arts programme have furthered the gallery’s mandate of expanding the parameters of international art.
Maya, you have recently taken over Ayyam, a family-run gallery, after completing your studies in architecture in the United States. Could you tell what you’re planning for the gallery?
I haven’t taken over. My brother Ead, who’s the managing partner, and I work very closely. My plan for Ayyam is the same as my father’s initial plan for Ayyam, which is to represent and globalise the talent in the MENA region. Artists from the Middle East had to immigrate to produce art and build a career in the arts, not being able to break the barriers and restraints for the longest time. As Huguette Caland said at the beginning of her career, “I left because I wanted a career,” a Lebanese national who felt the need to leave to pursue her passion. Ayyam’s goal was and still is to offer artists opportunities and a platform to exhibit and work in the Middle East whilst trying to expand as well.
Could you tell us about the first exhibition you worked on at Ayyam gallery?
The first exhibition I worked on was Sama Alshaibi’s Staging the Imagined, which just ended. This exhibition is an embodiment of what Ayyam strives to do. Alshaibi has been living in the United States for most of her life and still looks to exhibit in the Middle East. She is attached to her roots and Arabic identity, and she trusts Ayyam to share it in our area. The concept of the exhibition can also tie into what Ayyam stands for. Questioning and appropriating the depiction of Middle Eastern women during the Orientalist period, Alshaibi is drawing the relationship between contemporary art and art history. The photographer is also highlighting the relationship between the East and the West, and its history through art.
Looking back at the gallery’s history, what is the thing that makes you most proud?
I am proudest of the shift Ayyam created in Middle Eastern art, trying to break barriers and spread talent, offering a platform that was not available in the past. Ayyam was avant-garde in its approach, and it continues to believe in the Middle East whilst the past 12 years left us with nothing but heartbreak and despair. Our gallery sheds light on this generation’s expression through something beautiful. When people walk through our doors at Alserkal, and someone mentions we were the first to open in what has today become a Middle Eastern art hub, it brings me pure joy.
Why did you choose the name Ayyam for your gallery?
My father named Ayyam Gallery after me when he founded it in 2006, Ayyam is Maya in reverse with an additional “y.” It’s funny how things go full circle and that 12 years later I am working with the family, it’s been talked about since then believe it or not. More importantly, Ayyam means days in Arabic. It is expressing the long-lasting characteristic of art, something that is everything but ephemeral. Ayyam’s name resonates with how artists’ works were, are and will always be a part of their life story that will never fade away.
How would you define the identity of your gallery?
Ayyam Gallery is a family. My father founded it when I was just nine years old, and so I’ve witnessed it through my life stages and its own. I’ve seen it blooming on good and bad days. Like all families, Ayyam, its team and its artists share similar roots and values, share related life stories – we share the same heartaches. Before anything else, Ayyam was and still is a mission. Ayyam’s goal is to find, believe, cultivate and share art that is so profound in meaning yet under-represented compared to Western Art.
Could you tell us about the roster of artists you represent?
Ayyam Gallery is a contemporary art gallery focusing on this region’s diaspora, and so are its artists. We work with about 15 artists full time, who are all at different paths, yet have a lot in common sharing similar roots. Some artists are highly established and have exhibited around the globe, whilst others are still emerging, which offers us great variety. To witness the artists’ stories through their production is the most beautiful opportunity anyone could have.
Which photograph from 2019 best represents your gallery and activity?
Ayyam’s activity is synonymous to its artists’ presence. Whether it be the presence of Rula Halawani’s works at the Venice Biennale this year, Samia Halaby’s activism and dynamism in every aspect of her life, Sadik Alfraji’s presence throughout the most prominent and global art festivals, biennales and institutions or Sama Alshaibi’s new body of work and the research and time she devoted to it. These energies are felt through their art and always represent Ayyam wherever their path may take them.
Could you tell us about your programme for 2020?
We do not want to spoil the element of surprise, but we are excited to exhibit works by artists who have not displayed in a while, with some beautiful and new body of work. We have a big photography show coming up in March and much more. Safwan Dahoul is preparing for a project in 2020 as well. Enjoy this sneak peek of his new body of work. Stay tuned!
Feature Caption: Sama Alshaibi’s Staging the Imagined, 2019, Installation shot at Ayyam Gallery by Sama Alshaibi. Courtesy of Ayyam Gallery.
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS, SHOW & TELL #51