Art Dubai, vibrant, credible and one of Dubai’s most popular fixtures on the capital’s art calendar returns for its eighth edition.

Sun Mar 16,2014

A conversation with Festival Director: Antonia Carver

There’s something for everyone at this year’s Art Dubai, now in its eighth year, the Festival has truly confirmed its position as the leading contemporary art fair for the Middle East & South Asia.

From March 19th through to the 22nd, hundreds of artists and galleries from around the world will descend upon Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai.

This year promises to be a packed event including commissioned projects and performances, artists' and curators' residencies, educational workshops, the unveiling of works by the winners of the annual Abraaj Group Art Prize and the critically acclaimed Global Art Forum.

At the helm is Fair Director Antonia Carver who not only manages one of the biggest art fairs in the Middle East but also sits on the programming committee for Dubai International Film Festival helping to select the very best films from the Arab world to bring to UAE audiences every December.

We caught up with Antonia to find out what we can expect from this year’s showcase of art that really does originate from all corners of the globe.

What can we expect to see at Art Dubai this year?

Art Dubai 2014 is going to be a very exciting edition. Expect to see a lot of history this year! For the first time, we’ll have a new section of the fair dedicated to modern art from the twentieth century – showcasing master artists from South Asia and the Middle East including Nabil Nahas, M.F. Husain, Ardeshir Mohasses and many more. And the Global Art Forum, titled ‘Meanwhile…History’ creates an imagined timeline of turning points in history—significant decades, years or days that shifted an understanding of the world. Marker 2014 focuses on Central Asia and the Caucasus, a region with historical connections to the Middle East including the golden age of Islam.

Gallery: Lawrie Shabibiq
Title: Eclypse
Artist: Nabil Nahas
Date: 1978
Medium: Acrylic on canvas
Courtesy: Courtesy Lawrie Shabibi and the artist


Gallery: Aicon Gallery
Title: Durga Series
Artist: M.F. Husain
Date: 1976
Medium: Acrylic on canvas
Courtesy: Courtesy of Aicon Gallery

You’re now in your 8th year, how has the art scene developed in the region and what trends have you witnessed?

The rapid growth of arts scene in the region is something that Art Dubai reflects and actively encourages. In 2007, the first year of the fair, we had around 40 galleries and 8000 visitors. In 2013, we hosted 75 galleries and welcomed over 25,000 visitors, from the local community plus the art world.

The arts scenes in the UAE have exploded over the past decades – in Dubai, the commercial art centre for the GCC and beyond, we’ve gone from a handful of galleries to over 40, and many of the Dubai galleries have now become fixtures on the international art scene – something we’ve been proud to witness.  

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a kind of ecology develop in the region – with the biennials, galleries, artists, not-for-profit spaces in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon; and the coming grand museums in Abu Dhabi and Doha.

Gallery : Albareh Art Gallery
Title : Love and Kindness
Artist : Nasser Al yousif
Date : 1997
Medium : Linocut
Courtesy : Albareh Art Gallery

How important are collaborations like the new partnership with DIFF and Sharjah Art to the growing art scene in the region?

‘Moving Images’ epitomises the shared expertise and combined resources of the three partnering organisations in the field of art and cinema. The programme aims to increase access to the understanding of artists’ films; support artists and filmmakers from the Arab world through new opportunities; and debate existing and future models for funding and distribution through the UAE and beyond.

This collaboration is a long-term initiative that includes screenings and talks, as well as the sharing of expertise and ideas. It marks the first such initiative in the Arab world, dedicated to artists’ films and filmmakers’ art.
At the fair itself, we’re showcasing three filmmakers/artists each of whom has a really innovative approach, ranging from a silent film by Taus Mackhacheva about wedding halls in Dagestan, the international premiere of Shezad Dawood’s new film, and a screening of John Akomfrah’s acclaimed documentary about the life and impact of Stuart Hall. There are also discussions with the artists, so it’s a great opportunity to get to know them and their work. The two ‘art films’ screen on a loop at Art Dubai, at Madinat Jumeirah, while Akomfrah’s film will show at the Sharjah’s Mirage City Cinema on March 22, the closing event of Art Dubai, hosted by Sharjah Art Foundation.

There are also films and videos showing at many of the gallery booths in the fair – this year we have 85 galleries from 34 countries, showing around 500 artists, so something for everyone!

What else will be going on around the UAE during Art week – any recommendations?

There are great shows at Maraya and Barjeel Foundation in Sharjah, plus around 6 major exhibitions at Sharjah Art Foundation, so our neighbor is definitely worth a visit, while in Dubai, this is the time so many galleries put on their best shows… Slavs and Tatars, who are curating this year’s Marker programme at Art Dubai, also have a solo show of their own work at The Third Line. Be sure to see all the gallery openings in Al Serkal Avenue including Fahd Burki at Grey Noise; Samia Halaby at Ayyam; Kamrooz Aram at Green Art Gallery; and Andre Butzer at Carbon 12. And in DIFC, head to Cuadro for the exhibitions of Manal AlDowayan and Faig Ahmed.
Are there any international artists that will be coming into town for the event?

So many! Very well-known artists such as Danh Vo, Tala Madani, Otobong Nkanga, Julie Mehretu and of course the winners of The Abraaj Group Art Prize --Abbas Akhavan, Kamrooz Aram, Bouchra Khalili, Basim Magdy and Anup Mathew Thomas.

Can you share any “ones to watch” exciting emerging artists names from the UAE with us?

Definitely keep an eye out for Art Dubai Projects artists Sara Al Haddad, Maitha Demithan and Maryam Al Qassimi – all from the UAE and making incredible site-specific projects at Art Dubai this year. Take the stairs up from Madinat Jumeirah to see Modern in the Mina A’Salam, and you’ll step through Sara’s installation of embroidered plastic yarn; don’t forget to look up at the giant bukhoor sculptures at Madinat Jumeirah, and see them brought to life by Maryam; and Maitha will be inviting fair visitors to scan part of themselves, and become part of a portrait of the fair audience….

Last year’s fair had a focus on Africa, what will it be this year?

Marker 2014 turns its focus to Central Asia and the Caucasus, and it will be curated- for the first time- by artists; the collective Slavs and Tatars. Exploring that region, unearthing the most dynamic galleries, artspaces and artists, there will be a lot to discover both in terms of new artists from far-flung lands, and artists that made history, and whose work will be seen alongside top contemporary artists from around the world.
What are you most looking forward to this year?

There are so many things to look forward to this year. There’s Art Dubai (of course!), then the Gulf Film Festival in April, and on to DIFF in December….

The Gulf Film Festival takes place shortly after Art Dubai, how do you think cultural events like these benefit our local community?

Events like the GFF and Art Dubai are crucial – not only are they showcasing great creativity but they are also the places where we see art from our own communities, and so gain a picture of UAE society and an understanding of our place within it. 

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