Artistic Unity: Art in the UAE: Interview with Grey Noise’s Umer Butt

This article appeared in The Artistic Unity Issue #67 which was dedicated to the art scene in the UAE in which we unravel the threads of unity by exploring the perspectives of various stakeholders within the UAE’s art community. Through insightful interviews with galleries, art institutions, and auction houses, a vivid mosaic emerged, depicting how unity has been woven into the fabric of the art scene.

Can you share your journey into bringing art to the UAE? How did it start, what inspired you to do so and what were the challenges?

I was trained as an artist. Grey Noise was born with this desire to nurture artistic vision, to approach art practice with sensitivity and collaboration. I have lived in the UAE for most of my life, hence it was only fitting to put forth the dialogue with this country. Grey Noise Dubai is an artist-led initiative and it had its turbulent moments, but later I embarked on this journey with my business partner, Hetal Pawani, who has been the backbone of this project. We are both committed to make well researched presentations which echo our sensibilities in parallel with the artists we represent. We are exhibition makers and are committed to continue this mission with developing new visual knowledge and create a sort of artistic archive which only in time will reflect on this slow yet beautiful journey.

Ehsan ul Haq and Iqra Tanveer, The Truth of the Matter, 2012, installation view at Grey Noise Dubai, Launch show. Courtesy of the artists and Grey Noise Dubai.
Ehsan ul Haq and Iqra Tanveer, The Truth of the Matter, 2012, installation view at Grey Noise Dubai, Launch show. Courtesy of the artists and Grey Noise Dubai.

Which artists were the primary focus of your efforts? Did your choice change over time?

We are keen to keep our programme open for chance and error. Not defining a particular geographic focus in our represented artists was key for us. Changes are always welcome, and we keep evolving with every failure and success on the way. This is how we believe life works.

Could you outline the key elements of your gallery programme and how it evolved?

We represent a non-linear and predominantly an Abstract programme. The context of why a work should be exhibited in Dubai is central to our working method. Conceptual artistic practice, both in its medium and thinking, is fuel for our artists. They somewhere meet in their aesthetic sensibilities, if you make an overview of what we show in the five annual exhibitions that we install. The evolution is constant and encouraged.

Caline Aoun, Concrete Layers, 2015 installation view at Grey Noise Dubai. Courtesy of the artists and Grey Noise Dubai.
Caline Aoun, Concrete Layers, 2015 installation view at Grey Noise Dubai. Courtesy of the artists and Grey Noise Dubai.

In what ways has this endeavour played a role in nurturing the art scene in the UAE?

It’s a tough question to answer. I guess we will be able to tell in the next 20-odd years or so. We have shifted grounds a bit, if we may say so. Maybe one can ask our viewers, they might be able to answer this without any bias.

Can you provide an overview of the current state of the art scene in the UAE?

Exciting and upcoming.

What are your expectations regarding the evolution of the art scene in the UAE over the next two decades?

Only time will tell. We are optimistic though.

Shreyas Karle, Shiftingthe Centre Table, 2022, installation view at Grey Noise Dubai. Courtesy of the artists and Grey Noise Dubai.
Shreyas Karle, Shifting the Centre Table, 2022, installation view at Grey Noise Dubai. Courtesy of the artists and Grey Noise Dubai.

About Umer Butt

Umer Butt, an artist at heart and founder of Grey Noise, has navigated the UAE’s art landscape with a commitment to nurture artistic vision and foster collaboration.

Umer Butt. photo by Rafi Karahkash.
Umer Butt. photo by Rafi Karahkash.

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