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Must-See Exhibitions and Events during Art Dubai Week

by Laura Egerton

In Plain Sight. Image Courtesy of Olivier Souffrant and Zidoun-Bossuyt Gallery.

The arts scene in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is undergoing a transformation, diversifying and maturing at a compelling rate. With Art Dubai Week around the corner (25 February-3 March), cultural spaces across the country are seizing the moment to show why the UAE is such a relevant and exciting place to be.  

Cultural Initiatives and Institutions around the UAE

The UAE has many opportunities for homegrown artists to gain support. Tashkeel Critical Practice Programme in Dubai is one such initiative, and its latest practitioner Ji-Hye Kim presents her first solo exhibition Summits of Solitude: Narratives in Nature at FN Designs in Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue (6 February-9 March). In Abu Dhabi, 421’s Winter Programme Entanglements includes a group exhibition Network Culture (11 February-28 April) resulting from the Homebound Residency Programme, and Hana El-Sagini: Counting Fingers (11 February-28 April), a major solo exhibition from a participant in their Artistic Development Programme.

Network Culture. Image Courtesy of 421 and BaRiya.

Nearby, NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery celebrates its ten-year anniversary with an experimental exhibition In Real Time (22 February-9 June), that will change and grow over the course of three months, with performers adding work, and curators adding artists, which so far includes Rana Begum, Haleh Redjaian, Moza Almatrooshi, Gözde Ilkin, Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, Hesam Rahmanian, Chafa Ghaddar and Cristiana de Marchi. Alserkal Avenue is bringing in Zoé Whitley as a guest curator for its Majlis Talks. Inspired by the Persian scholar and poet Rumi, sessions will include artists such as Vikram Divecha, Dima Srouji, Asma Belhamar and the filmmaker Awam Amkpa. 

Sometimes exhibitions encapsulate a current mood—Ishara Art Foundation’s Sheher, Prakriti, Devi (until 1 June) seems to do just that. With a title taken from the Hindustani terms for ‘city’, ‘nature’ and ‘deity’, artist-cum-curator Gauri Gill presents a unique lens on urban spaces. 

Sheher, Prakriti, Devi. Image courtesy of Ishara Art Foundation.

Dubai Gallery Shows 

Year upon year, galleries are propping up around the city, many of them joining the roster of participating exhibitors at Art Dubai.  These include spaces with a local focus such as Aisha Alabbar Gallery, which is showing a solo booth of works by the Emirati artist Alia Hussain Lootah; and debuts by NIKA Project Space and 37XDUBAI; alongside mega-galleries like Gallerie Continua, which has spaces across three continents. Galleries are also tapping into their roster to foster connections with institutional shows—for example, Gallery Isabelle (returning after a hiatus, with a rebrand) will feature a booth of works by Vikram Divecha, who opens a major retrospective Short Circuits (until 16 June) at Dubai’s Jameel Arts Centre and is also part of the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale 2024 (20 February-24 May) in Saudi Arabia. 

Dubai galleries also open some of their best shows of the year in their own spaces during Art Dubai Week. Green Art Gallery hosts its second solo of the Brazilian artist Ana Mazzei, titled How to Disappear (27 February-20 April). Grey Noise gallery gives Iqra Tanveer her third solo, Lament of a tree (27 February-20 April). Lawrie Shabibi presents market favourite Mandy El-Sayegh’s Middle Eastern solo show debut with A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose (22 February-4 April) curated by the gallery’s long-time collaborator Sara Raza, and featuring the artist’s signature, large-scale, collaged paintings, immersive installations and a performance. Tabari Artspace opens Battlegrounds (23 February-18 April), its first exhibition of Aya Haidar’s work, which explores narratives of globalisation, labour, displacement and domesticity through re-using objects and traditional craft. Tabari Artspace’s booth in Art Dubai’s Contemporary section will show a group of female artists from the region, while its booth in the Digital section features Talal Al Najjar. 

Illuminating solo exhibitions with new work by male artists also feature heavily in programming across the UAE: Sharjah’s Maraya Arts Centre presents Khalid Al Banna and Faig Ahmed (17 February-1 August). At Alserkal Avenue, Ayyam Gallery shows Faisal Samra’s Immortal Moment – Coping with the Shock (27 February-15 April); Carbon 12 features André Butzer (8 February-30 March);  Elmarsa Gallery focuses on Rachid Koraichi (27 February-20 April); and Galleria Continua gives Moataz Nasr his first exhibition in Dubai (28-February-22 April). There are strong presentations of African artists too: Zidoun-Bossuyt Gallery have a solo show of Olivier Souffrant titled In Plain Sight (24 February-16 March); AKKA Project shows Cyrus Kabiru (24 February-15 March); and Efie Gallery hosts Elastic Visions (26 February-26 May), featuring ten artists from Africa and its diaspora, curated by Faridah Folawiyo. Foundry in Downtown Dubai launches four ambitious exhibitions this Dubai Art Week, including The Circle Was A Point (16 February-24 March), a deep dive into photography in the Barjeel Art Foundation collection, curated by Sama Alshaibi and Amir Hazim.

THE POWER OF THE ‘INVISIBLE’. Image Courtesy of Yara Sharif, Nasser Golzari and the Sharjah Architecture Triennial.

Art Along the Creek 

The 12th edition of the Sikka Art and Design Festival (24 February-3 March) will take place in the Al Shindagha Historic Neighbourhood alongside the Dubai Creek. The nearby Al Shindagha Museum, divided into 22 pavilions spread over 80 historic houses displaying aspects of Dubai’s cultural heritage, celebrates the Arab festival Mid-Sha’ban—Hag Al Leila, with a full programme of family-focused activities (23 February-3 March). Other recently opened sites of cultural significance in the Emirates include Sharjah’s House of Wisdom and Abu Dhabi’s Abrahamic Family House.

Further up the Dubai Creek is Jameel Arts Centre, with not only Divecha’s previously mentioned solo show but also the exhibitions Guest Relations (until 28 April) and Some seasons: Fereydoun Ave and the Laal Collection (until 23 March) as well as new commissions for the Artist Garden: Samur by Zheng Bo (4 February-1 December) and Playscape: I Dreamt of a City Everyone Calls Home by Theories of Imagination (until 2027). At Bayt Al Mamzar don’t miss Salasil Studio’s inaugural exhibition Crystal Clear with work by artists such as Mohammad Al Faraj, Dima Srouji, Sara Bokr, Rami Farook and Rand Abdul Jabbar (until 16 March). 

Sharjah’s Art Scene 

In nearby Sharjah, the second edition of the Sharjah Architecture Triennial (until 10 March 2024), curated by Tosin Oshinowo, spans six venues and sites across Sharjah City, such as Al Qasimiyah School and the old Al Jubail Vegetable Market. As well as the 16th edition of their annual March Meeting (1-3 March), Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF) has several note-worthy exhibitions on view: Lala Rukh: In the Round (24 February-16 June) is the first major international survey of the artist; To Be Free! (until 10 March) is a retrospective of the South African painter Gavin Jantjes; Henok Melkamzer: Telsem Symbols and Imagery (24 February-16 June) spills into Sharjah Art Museum and offers a rare look at the distinctive Ethiopian art form; a research-driven exhibition on the Casablanca Art School (24 February-16 June) can be found in Al Hamriyah; and a timely show of 60 artworks from the SAF’s collection by artists from Palestine and its neighbouring countries, titled In the eyes of our present, we hear Palestine (until 14 April).

Mohammed Chabâa graphic design studio at the Casablanca Art School, 1966. Photo: M.Melehi © M. Melehi archives/estate, Sharjah Art Foundation.

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