By Anna Seaman
From left to right: Elise Atangana, (Photo: Eva Bartussek), Fernanda Brenner (Photo: Everton Ballardin) and Munira Al Sayegh.
It is due to the insufficiency of translation to impart nuance that the Arabic word bawwaba is simplified in English to mean gateway. The newest section of Art Dubai takes its title from this Arabic word to summarise its intention; opening doors upon different geographies and ways of presentation that are distinct from the Western canon. Élise Atangana, the curator selected to oversee Bawwaba, explains its title much more fluently. “It is a metaphor that could be understood as one place giving access to another, both physically and virtually,” she says.
In many ways, this is what Art Dubai has always offered. The city itself is pluralistic and galleries at the fair have historically shown a geographical diverse selection of art. However, Bawwaba is about fine-tuning that diversity. Atangana, a French Cameroonian curator, whose projects focus on the relationship between physical and virtual mobilities, and how contemporary living with its many layers of reality modifies our perception of space, has selected 10 solo projects to shed light on the fair’s multi-geographical focus of the Global South, a term that has developed within the art world to include Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Central and South Asia.
“I am delighted to curate the first edition of Bawwaba and look forward to working with artists who focus on critical thinking within the framework of the Global South,” Atangana says. “Mid-career and emerging artists will challenge their current practice and position to produce a broader plurality of critical voices through historical facts, social and economic issues, political frameworks, technology and spirituality.”
Atangana is one of three guest curators joining the fair’s 2019 edition. Each hailing from a different continent and equally bringing fresh perspective, their joint efforts will help to solidify Dubai’s position as an international meeting point for the wider region and underline its focus on new markets. Fernanda Brenner and Munira Al Sayegh will work together on producing the second iteration of Art Dubai’s Residents programme. Brenner is an independent curator based in São Paulo and has extensive experience in working on artist residencies. In 2012, she founded Pivô, a not-for-profit contemporary art space, which has enabled over 70 projects, including exhibitions, workshops and ongoing studio programmes, hosting over 250 artists from 20 different countries.
For the Residents programme, which has a special focus on Latin America for its forthcoming edition, Brenner will select 15 galleries who will in turn nominate specific artists to spend up to two months in the UAE producing art to populate their booths at the fair. The geographic focus for Residents results in further streamlining the visitors experience across all sections. It will, crucially, allow dialogue to take place between practices in the UAE and Latin America and may even highlight previously unseen parallels.
“Thinking about possible connections between the UAE and Latin America is exciting and challenging in itself,” says Brenner. “I believe that trying to build meaningful and – hopefully – long-lasting relationships through artists’ practice is an especially interesting task.”
Brenner will be working alongside Al Sayegh, an Emirati who formerly worked at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York as well as with New York University and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Al Sayegh, who was a co-curator of Art Dubai Projects in 2014, will act as a mentor and guide for the artists on the ground, maximizing their experience and helping them to navigate through their artistic processes.
Together the curators will aim to identify possible connections and conflicts between the two regions’ approach to art and therefore create a space for challenging work to be produced. “Initiatives that encourage dialogue and horizontal exchange in such complex times can only be a good thing,” says Brenner. Al Sayegh adds that “the Residents programme brings in a vital voice to the overall art fair, folding in and highlighting the nuances of the multitude of subcultures that exist in the UAE.”
Al Sayegh is also a mentor for the participating artists of Campus Art Dubai 7.0 who are also being offered the chance to exhibit their work at the fair. With these two programmes running in tandem, it will be an opportunity for genuinely new discourse to occur and for the visitors as well as the artists to enjoy enlightening encounters and discoveries.
“The idea across all our sections is to be able to interact; not just to see but to learn as well and so it makes sense to have all the exhibitions, talks, lectures and installations connected to the energy inside the gallery halls,” says Pablo Del Val, Art Dubai’s Artistic Director. “Bringing in dedicated curators for Bawwaba and Residents was a very conscious decision, as was the choice to work with Élise, Fernanda and Munira in particular,” he continues. “By inviting curators with such a wealth of experience in the areas we focus on, we are able to offer a much broader perspective on art and artistic production and offer visitors an even wider selection of artists, geographies and energies to discover.”