A showcase of Middle Eastern art in the Gulf

6 Min Read

By Heba Elkayal

It’s never been a more important time for art. As the region undergoes political upheaval and changes, we can look to artists too for commentary, thoughts and reactions to weigh in on our political realities. The case was true of Egyptian artists in the wake of the revolution. At Art Dubai, the yearly contemporary art fair which celebrates its sixth edition this year, that point is more relevant than ever to see what is being discussed by artists, gallerists and collectors in the wake of the Arab Spring and changes in social media.

With the art fair’s location being Dubai, and its roots being essentially Middle Eastern, Art Dubai brings together 75 art dealers and galleries. They are catering to cosmopolitan, eager local art lovers in addition to an international crowd of collectors. For most international audience, Art Dubai acts as an introduction to Middle Eastern art.

To measure the previous success of the fair purely in numbers and figures would be to miss the point. The success of Art Dubai since its first year was in the creation of a platform for key regional players comparable to other art fairs such as Art Basel.

The Gulf countries have been making great dramatic cultural strides. Take for instance the opening of Mathaf Modern, a museum for modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art that opened just a year ago in Doha, or the ongoing cultural activities and concerts in Dubai.

Global Art Forum

Also in its sixth year is Global Art Forum, a series of events running parallel to Art Dubai, featuring a number of presentations, workshops and talks on various elements of art pertaining to the region under the theme of “Media as Medium.”

Organized and to be led by London-based writer Shumon Basar, writers, curators, journalists and critics are discussing various elements of media and art and the confluence of the two in our world today.

“Alongside this historical moment in the Arab world has of course been a real shift in the way we engage with ‘the media’ — technologically, physically and even conceptually — news bulletins are everywhere, accessible in many different mediums,” Art Dubai director Antonia Carver told Daily News Egypt.

“And then in the art world, artists are relating to the subject of ‘medium’ in a very different way. The question of ‘what medium do you work in?’ has almost been usurped by the dominance of ideas, of practice, of positioning. It’s a theme that can be general enough for us to take in a breadth of speakers — from novelists Douglas Coupland and Amin Maalouf, to reporter Georgina Adam, to artists working across many media or none at all, to bloggers and filmmakers,” she explained.

“The format itself has been shaken up. This is something that’s a passion of Shumon’s, and we’re so excited to be presenting a two-city, multi-dimensional, media production about media,” she added.

“It’s one thing to plan stuff on paper and then another for those things to come alive,” Basar told DNE in the lead up to Global Art Forum. “This remains the beauty and potential of live events. Although in the new expanded format, there are also commissioned works and research (like two publications, a series of experimental Power Points, and an online Middle East News Archive), as well as an exhibition/resource space called the Forum-Forum. I’m excited about how these three dimensions of the Forum will create a fourth: the unexpected.”

One of Twitter’s most active and prolific users in the region, Emirati commentator Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, also founder of Barjeel Art Foundation, will be giving a talk on the role of social media during the Arab Spring. It’s precisely this spirit that Global Art Forum is seeking to capture in its six days of activities: intelligent and relevant discussions and debates about changes in art as a practice and as it pertains to the region today.

Over 50 assorted speakers are making presentations at Global Art Forum including Egyptian journalist Yasmin El Rashidi and Hans Ulrich Obrist, the director of international projects of London’s famed Serpentine Gallery.

Running for six days, Global Art Forum kicked off in Doha on March 18 and will move over to Dubai for Art Dubai, which starts on March 21. Projects commissioned for Global Art Forum will be presented and discussed and the various topics of discussion set on the table promises attendees a culturally and intellectually rich experience.

“You can only hope that people will be stimulated, provoked, and enjoy,” says Basar. “All straightforward stuff. But when done well, they can be quietly profound, in a way.”

Follow Daily News Egypt for our coverage of Global Art Forum and Art Dubai.


Global Art Forum in Doha.

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