The rush that was Art Dubai came to a close yesterday evening, and here is a recap of what went on in the various sections outside of the main halls.







As the Abraaj Group Art Collection grows, biennials, museums and artists continue to mutually benefit from the Middle East, North Africa and South East Asia’s cultural output. The five internationally lauded winners of the Abraaj Group Art Prize (AGAP) in collaboration with Guest Curator Nada Raza, will reveal their completed projects in special exhibition Garden and Spring at Art Dubai.

In a structure unique to the AGAP flagship patronage programme, the prize is awarded to project proposals, providing resources to manifest ambitious projects. In tandem with the emphasis on collaborations throughout Dubai Art Season 2014, the proposals were responded to by select literary figures: Nadeem Aslam, Githa Hariharan, Pankaj Mishra, Ruth Padel and Wiam El-Tamami’s, whose resulting prose is featured alongside the artworks. “The works demonstrate a commitment to the narrative genre,” says Raza. “The environment of the garden presents itself visually and thematically, allowing a momentary accord”. Though the ‘garden’ is reiterated throughout, each artist maintains his/her individualised aesthetic integrity. Canvas Daily discusses the show and its curatorial approach with Raza.

Katrina Kufer: Why the garden theme?
Nada Raza: The theme operates on multiple registers – it came through the works initially. The works are chosen by a jury, not by theme or any relation they might bear on each other. It was coincidental that some works referenced this natural yet cultivated space subtly or overtly; I went with that. Bagh O bahar is a text that I read a long time ago, its title is also a construction, an overlay. So I’ve used it like a canopy for the works. It also resonates because it brings in the nuance of the relationship of cultural production to power as a complex one. 

How was working with artist proposals in collaboration with contributing literary figures?
It’s an experiment. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Progressive Writers movement in South Asia and that the dialogue between artists/writers/thinkers in our region is now opaque. This was one way of replanting those seeds, to get people thinking about each other's work. To do this in a short time, being both curator and editor, was a lot to take on. I had great help, Nida Ghouse, Michael Salu have been brilliant to have on board. Savita Apte, Abraaj and the Art Dubai team are very supportive. Of course, I must thank the artists for letting me share their proposals with respondents at a nascent stage, and the writers for taking them on, that was very generous in a cultural environment where originality and authorship are prized. 

How significant is collaboration for Art Dubai, as well as regional creative production?
It’s essential. It’s funny, the hardest part is keeping it secret! What we do depends so much on dialogue/critique/debate, you constantly refer to peers. It helps raise the bar I feel. Working in the UK, I am always addressing a ‘universal’, ie mostly European audience. Here I had more freedom, without the self-consciousness of appearing exotic. It’s time we spoke to each other and paradoxically we can only manage that in English, but of course visuals can get around all that. The relationship between images and the words that serve them, especially in the art world, also informed this project. 

MARKER SECTION: A Region Without Boundaries: Central Asia and the Caucasus


Art Dubai’s annual Marker program focuses on a region through exhibitions, talks, research projects and commissioned artworks. 2014 brings Central Asia and the Caucasus under the curatorial eye of artist collective Slavs & Tartars.

Slavs & Tartars focus on areas “east of the former Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China”, and brings a region unduly stereotype-laden to a market with a latently innate understanding. Collaborating with five spaces selected for their “distinctly varied, specific context of arts infrastructure in the post-Soviet sphere”, they present works from the 1960’s-present through a “regime of portraiture” thematic.

Appropriating chaikhaneh (Eurasian version of a traditional salon) as an exhibition format for contemporary works, Marker explores the notion of self-definition, a ubiquitous subject of Central Asian creation, nationally, ethnically, intellectually or spiritually, and how these notions are “ritualized, interiorized, and hybridized beyond the brittle politics of identity”. Though five nations are brought together under regional categorization, it is important to note, says Irena Popiashvili (PGWP Founder/Director), that artists and viewers alike walk a fine line of the problematic post-Soviet generalization. Each country has its own cultural identity and individualized artistic output, i.e. “Azerbaijan [is] more controlled politically than Georgia. Since the USSR fell apart [we haven’t] redefined what it means to be an artist.” While indicative of varying speeds of arts development, an intriguing discourse is created by uprooting artworks from during/post the Soviet Realism artistic ideology and planting them collectively in Art Dubai, providing a new, yet familiar, context for the artworks to be exhibited and visually appreciated. The curators elaborate, “The context of the Gulf was compelling, having increasingly strong ties with the Caucasus and Central Asia in general. They share a relatively recent history of ‘nation building’, but perhaps most importantly, the Gulf has a compelling imperative to consider the role of these regions in the development of a pluralist, even modernist Islam. It can be argued that the Golden Age of Islam happened not only in the Gulf or Baghdad or Cairo but equally in [Central Asia].”

Though the visuals between the neighboring regions may not necessarily be shared, Popiashvili suggests the region is “a perfect ‘blank’ space where one can experiment” but as Liliya Galazova (NCCA) remarks, “contemporary artists of the Caucasus seek to be incorporated into the international artistic process, quickly reacting to changes in the world, not resorting to traditions, [but] borrowing to build bridges between the art of the East and West.” The region, “situated along the Silk Road, has always been a point of cultural integration”, highlights Suad Garayeva, specialist on Central Asian Art at Sotheby’s, who are holding a second exhibition on Central Asian Art. “It is very diverse, but was hidden behind the Iron Curtain. Focused international interest from Biennials to Documenta 13 to Sotheby’s indicates a growing interest, and these initiatives are important for a broader contextual approach to the contemporary art from the region without compartmentalizing it into a narrow niche.”

Identity in an ever-changing landscape is a universal question, revealing that artists needn’t leave their environments for big-city lights to produce important and collectively accessible artworks, they can stay right where they are, because those big-city lights will come to them.

ArtEast (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan)
Asia Art+ (Almaty, Kazakhstan)
North Caucasus Branch of the National Centre for Contemporary Art (NCCA) (Vladikavkaz, Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, Russia)
Popiashvili Gvaberidze Window Project (PGWP) (Tbilisi, Georgia)
YARAT Contemporary Art Organisation (Baku, Azerbaijian)

SIKKA: The satellite fair


Dubai’s Art Season’s satellite art fair SIKKA compliments the international melting-pot focus of Art Dubai and Design Days Dubai by realigning said focus to highlight what is happening in its host country: UAE talent. Khalil Abdulwahid, Manager of Visual Arts, Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (DCAA), said: “The breadth of artists selected for SIKKA Art Fair underlines Dubai Culture’s mandate to promote intercultural dialogue and artistic exchange. We are confident that this year’s line-up will provide visitors to the ‘Dubai Art Season’ vivid insights into the fast-evolving creative landscape of the region.” Providing a range of contextual art activities for its visitors, SIKKA offers an additional something that the other fairs cannot: contemporary art juxtaposed against historical culture by taking place in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood, revealing a more authentic “Dubai” in its apparent antithesis of “Dubai-ness”.

The DCAA announced Her Highness Sheikha Wafa Hasher Al Maktoum (Founder/Director of FN Designs) and Kayoko Iemura (Japanese Architect/Program Director) as co-curators of SIKKA 2014, along with Yusaku Imamura (Founding Director of Tokyo Wonder Site) as Art Advisor. They are brought together by a shared vision to expand the UAE arts scene through innovative and collaborative curatorial choices, exemplified this year by 19 site-specific multi-disciplinary installations from over 50 UAE-based emerging contemporary artists.

Mirrored by the 25 countries represented by the exhibited artists and their range of mediums from music performances to painting, the nature of a transient but culturally solid UAE allows for the emergence of fairs like SIKKA. Art Dubai and Design Days Dubai may be the “big kids” of Dubai’s Art Season, but SIKKA is right there with them, offering the verve of a cultural edge from what only the UAE can offer: the artistic cross-cultural discourse of the UAE-bred (if not born) in an environment synonymous with internationalism. 

A.i.R.: Artist-in-Residency Program



In its third year, A.i.R. (Artist-in-Residency) Dubai 2014 continues to support intercultural dialogue featuring five artists from the Middle East and Asia: Nadia Ayari, Sunoj D, Maitha Demithan, Sara Al Haddad and Maryam Al Qassimi with the guidance of Curator-in-Residence ?pek Ulusoy Akg