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Art Dubai Modern: History in the making

Art Dubai Modern is the fair’s gallery section presenting museum-quality works by 20th Century masters from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. Accompanying the gallery section is Art Dubai Modern Symposium which this year, under the title of ‘Cultural Hubs of Modernism’, attempts to map out the cultural shifts and trends instigated by modernity in four key cities in the Middle East and South Asia during the 20th century – Baghdad, Beirut, Dakar and Lahore – in a new 60-minute ‘masterclass’ format.


This year, Art Dubai Modern has been moved from the halls in Mina A’Salam to within the main gallery halls, alongside Art Dubai Contemporary, with an aim to contextulaise the historical narrative being played out across the booths.  Art Dubai introduces the 11 galleries that exhibit this year:

Krishen Khanna, Woodland Melody, 2016. Courtesy of Dhoomimal Gallery

New Delhi’s Dhoomimal Art Gallery began life as a stationary store in the 1930s and is the oldest gallery in India. Its founder Ram Babu Jain supported many local artists by providing them with materials at low cost or even free of charge. As a reciprocal gesture, his customers would repay him with their paintings. Quickly, Jain’s art collection built up and in 1936, established Dhoomimal – India’s first private gallery. Some of the biggest names in Indian Modernism have had long associations with the gallery: Francis Newton Souza, Jamini Roy, Krishen Khanna and Abdur Rahman Chugtai are just a few that Jain established relations with at the height of the modern era.


Nowadays, the gallery is somewhat of an institution across South Asia and makes its debut at Art Dubai Modern with a presentation that includes Souza and Khanna as well as Jagdish Swaminathan and Hari Ambadas Gade. The story of this gallery and the place it holds in the history of the entire region underlines the wider remit of Art Dubai Modern. This is not simply a gallery section of older works, it is a place where history is being documented and where audiences can be educated.

Ernesto Shikhani, Untitled, 1995 Courtesy of Perve Galeria

Indian modernism is further represented in New Delhi’s Sanchit Art, who bring works by MF Husain and Ganesh Pyne among many others. DAG Gallery (Mumbai, New Delhi and New York) whose collection spans the entire 20th century of Indian modernism presents a solo presentation of the textured works of Shanti Dave. Grovesnor Gallery, from London, who also has a longstanding relationship with many of South Asia’s modern masters exhibits a selection of works by Pakistani giant Syed Sadeqauin as well as living masters from the Middle East: Dia al-Azzawi and Charles Hossein Zenderoudi.


Many of the modernist artists from across the region are indeed still practicing and, in that sense, history is still being written. From Ramallah, a group presentation of key Palestinian artists at Gallery One speak of historic issues that are also still current. Here, the work of Kamal Boullata, who investigates the conditions of exile and displaced identity will be on show, as well as pieces by Jawad Al Malhi who draws inspiration from the refugee camp in which he lives. Saudi modernist Abdul Halim Radwi, was among the first wave of his countrymen to study abroad and to set up the modernist school in Saudi Arabia in the 1960s. Hafez Gallery brings his work and pieces by Mohammed Al Ghamdi, a Jeddah-based artist who is still practicing.

Tunis and Dubai-based Elmarsa Gallery, whose focus is across the North African region as well as internationally, shows Pierre Boucherle, a Tunisian artist and Georges Albert Cyr, a French artist who was a pioneer of modern art in Lebanon. Mark Hachem Gallery, with galleries in Beirut, Paris and NYC shows regional modernists Hussein Madi and Hamed Abdalla as well as Helen Khal and Argentinian sculptor Marino di Teana.


Perve Galeria from Lisbon presents a group of works from artists from Portuguese speaking countries. Works by Manuel Figueira, an artist from Cape Verde, will hang alongside four artists from Mozambique: Reinata Sadimba, a respected ceramist; the bold paintings of Ernesto Shikhani; Malangatana Valente Ngwenya, a distinctive social commentator; and Lizette Chirrime, who creates textile works.

Abdulhalim Radwi, Major’s Dance, 1989. Courtesy of Hafez Gallery & The Artist

The African continent is further represented by Tafeta, a London-based gallery specialising in 20th-century and contemporary artists of African descent. Among their group presentation are vital artist-members of the modernist movement from across Nigeria such as Bruce Onobrakpeya and Ben Osawe as well as key artists from the Mbari movement from the south east of the country.


Finally, from Egypt, Ubuntu Gallery brings a collection of artists that connect the rich and deep Egyptian history with the contemporary condition: Saif Wanly, Ragheb Ayad and Gazbia Serry are among the highlights here.

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