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Around the UAE

Each spring for over a decade, the many creative scenes across the Emirates have come together during the week of Art Dubai to offer audiences a dazzling array of special events and exhibitions in galleries and public spaces. 2021 is no exception. By adapting and innovating the ways we can view art both in person and virtually, the UAE art community has proved its resilience. The new Art Dubai app downloadable here offers visitors a wealth of information and inspiration. From family-focused activities to cutting-edge, dynamic programming and activations in venues across the UAE and online, there is plenty to fill your calendars and to remind us just what makes the UAE artistic sector so distinctive.


With cultural organisations across the world forced to close for indefinite amounts of time due to the pandemic, the exhibitions that have been able to go ahead in the UAE are particularly noteworthy.


Activities kick off with Galleries Night at Alserkal Avenue on 22 March, when several galleries open significant exhibitions, such as Charbel-joseph H. Boutros: The Work and Its Periphery at Grey Noise, a group exhibition Out of Place at Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, Asma M’Naouar’s first solo exhibition in Dubai, Horizons at Elmarsa Gallery and Boundary Space, Ishmael Randall Weeks’s Middle Eastern debut at Lawrie Shabibi.


Abu-Dhabi based artist Simrin Mehra Agarwal presents new large-scale work in her solo exhibition Hortus Arcanus at 1×1 Art Gallery. Abyss at Ayyam Gallery showcases a recent body of work by Sharjah-based, Syrian artist Thaier Helal. Odysseus at The Third Line explores works in a new series by photographer Tarek Al-Ghoussein which document islands off the coast of Abu Dhabi where he resides. Zawyeh Gallery has recently opened in the avenue and presents In Pursuit of Utopia by Nabil Anani.


Alserkal Art Week runs until 27 March, with Alserkal Arts Foundation presenting an expanded open studio with lecture performances from Spring Residents Wilf Speller and the Young Girl Reading Group and a talks series at Concrete. They will also unveil their 2021 Yard commission by Tania Ursomarzo and a series of guest projects such as the UAE National Pavilion, showcasing Wetland curated by Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto in advance of their exhibition at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice in May.


Exhibitions at Ishara Art Foundation (Growing Like a Tree curated by Sohrab Hura) and Gulf Photo Plus (Tanya Habjouqa’s The Sacred Space Oddity) will collaborate on a series of guided tours and presentations. Wisdom Warehouse, Happy Studio and jamjar offer a range of creative activities for families.


Elsewhere, Art Dubai participating galleries have ambitious exhibitions in their spaces, such as Deus ex femina at Akka Project, who specialise in representing emerging African artists and The Lebanon Works by Dia Al-Azzawi at Meem Gallery. Salwa Zeidan Gallery’s exhibition Where to go from here asks a range of Abu-Dhabi based artists to respond to the current moment.


It is not surprising that several major exhibitions in cultural institutions across the Emirates focus on our increasing reliance on the digital landscape. Age of You: a kaleidoscopic exploration of the extreme self at the Jameel Arts Centre tackles this head on, a timely exhibition with more than 70 contributions from artists, designers, filmmakers, musicians and creative technologists curated by Shumon Basar, Douglas Coupland and Hans Ulrich Obrist. There are several other captivating displays on view at the art centre on Jaddaf Waterfront, such as the solo exhibition Do You Remember What You Are Burning from artist Hiwa K including an interactive large-scale commission; their latest Artist’s Garden by Namrata Neog and Sunoj D and Hassan Khan’s Composition for a Public Park. They also have plenty to engage on their website, such as a new digital piece The Sky Oscillates Between Eternity and Its Immediate Consequences by Nadim Choufi and the illustrated novel 17-year Cicada by Sarnath Banerjee.


There are several examples of exhibitions which are intended to be viewed online. NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery’s not in, of, along, or relating to a line curated by Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Maya Allison is a fascinating journey through digital creations by nine artists and art collectives presented in a non-linear, virtual path. Hyphenated Spaces: “The Cup and The Saucer” Reinterpreted takes the physical exhibition by artist Hashel Al Lamki curated by Munira Al Sayegh at Warehouse421 and adapts it for an online audience.


A highlight of a trip to Abu Dhabi is the major new exhibition Abstraction and Calligraphy – Towards a Universal Language at Louvre Abu Dhabi, a showcase of 101 artworks from 16 partner institutional collections including Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and the Centre Pompidou, Paris. They have a range of activities targeted at families, including workshops and even a kids app. Both the Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah Art Museum have new exhibitions available to visit in person and online, with related activities for children. At the Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi three new exhibitions open concurrently with Art Dubai, including a retrospective of Mohammed Chabaa. Sharjah Art Museum hosts an important exhibition Lasting Impressions: Baya Mahieddine with 70 works by the leading Algerian modernist.


Sharjah Art Foundation’s spring programme is as engaging as ever. Visitors to Sharjah can explore important exhibitions including Exquisite Corpse, the first in-depth presentation of the work of Rayanne Tabet including several new commissions; Black Pocket, a major survey of the work of Zarina Bhimji; Tarek Atoui’s Cycles in 11 and its related music residency programme and Unsettled Objects, a special exhibition featuring major new acquisitions from the foundation’s collection. Each exhibition has a learning programme for children and families.


There are several significant showcases of Emirati and UAE-based artists during Art Dubai this year. At Maraya Arts Centre, Sharjah leading filmmaker, poet and visual artist Nujoom Alghanem presents a body of work she has been building since 2016 in Malamih – Faces, Phantoms, Expressions.


The 9th annual Ras Al-Khaimah Fine Arts Festival runs until 3 April, with a theme of hope. It includes more than 130 artworks by artists from 49 countries, many based in the emirate and wider Gulf region.


At Tashkeel in Nad Al Sheba, Hamdan Buti Al Shamsi presents his first solo exhibition Kn_bkhair. Including pieces stemming from ideas developed around the notion of the self through the 2020 Critical Practice Programme, he worked under the mentorship of artist Hind bin Demaithan Al Qemzi.


Demaithan Al Qemzi presents a video installation in the group exhibition Second Life at Total Arts in the Courtyard in Al Quoz, where her design studio Hamzat Wasl is located. Bringing together artworks that explore the act of repurposing objects, Second Life includes works in a variety of materials by artists such as the ceramicist Michael Rice, photographs by Dianne Mehanna, delicate sculptures by Yasmin Sinai, and a site-specific installation by Shaqayeq Arabi.


In Al Fahidi Historic Neighborhood, Dubai’s Creekside heritage district, XVA Gallery presents the exhibition Silent Confabulations by Huma Dhoaib and a pop-up with new initiative, Born Free Ceramics.


Other creative spaces across the city have interesting exhibitions, such as A Memory of Places at Fann A Porter in the Workshop, Jumeirah which includes work by six Egyptian artists and This lark sips at every pond: women as artist and muse curated by Sarah Daher at Maisan15 in Al Barsha.


Exhibits of student work are often places to see new treads in the visual arts. DIDI (Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation) presents Makers of Change: Design at DIDI in 22 projects, a selection of work displaying the power of creativity and innovation as agents of social change. ZUUSS (Zayed University Urban Satellite Space) in its new location at the Foundry by EMAAR, Downtown Dubai, brings a group show, responding to the idea A Matter of Space.


Foundry is a new, hybrid art space, with new exhibitions this spring by Adil Aubekerov with Tse Art Gallery from Kazakhstan, Harif Guzman, Kapil Bimekhar and RexChouk, and launches its studio programme with Enforce One (Gary Yong) and Karim Tamerji.


Presentations elsewhere focus on leading street artists, such as the The World of Banksy – The Immersive Experience by Vardar Entertainment and Future Mosaic, Shepard Fairey’s first solo exhibition in the Middle East at Opera Gallery, DIFC.


DIFC, now the home of the 14th edition of Art Dubai, has several well-established art galleries.  Tabari Artspace (which opens an exhibition by the Kuwaiti surrealist painter Alymamah Rashed) and Andalulova Gallery (with a solo exhibition Plastic diary of changes by Saule Suleimenova), the Farjam Foundation (with an exhibition featuring works by 13 Emirati artists) and Sotheby’s Auction House. Newer spaces also present interesting programming, such as Van de Goudenberg (hosting a solo exhibition by Greek artist and sculptor Ioannis Kadras), Legacy Art (with an open-access workshop Tree of Life) and ICD Brookfield Place, which presents an architectural data sculpture installation, DATAMONOLITH_AI.


Outside spaces at Dubai Design District (d3) will be taken over by The Elephant in the Room, a project by the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation that will appeal to families.


Do please visit the websites of galleries and organisations to plan your visit, as many have specific booking requirements and follow the latest guidelines provided by the UAE Government as regards COVID-19 regulations.

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