For all cultures and nationalities here in the UAE, the Holy Month of Ramadan is a time to enter into the spirit of giving. And the art world is no different.
Sumayyah Al Suwaidi, an Emirati artist, curator and boutique owner, has gathered the work of almost 30 artists for her annual Ramadan Art Bazaar that opens in Abu Dhabi’s Ghaf Gallery this weekend. The show is made up of photography, traditional paintings and digital pieces and the price for any one piece is capped at Dh4,000, which translates in some cases to as much as a 90 per cent discount.
“Ramadan is the month of giving,” says Al Suwaidi, “and this reflects the intentions of the resident artists here in Abu Dhabi. They all want to spread awareness about art and how important it is for people to appreciate it and have it in their surroundings.”
This is the sixth year that Al Suwaidi has hosted the bazaar but the first year that she has put out an open call for submissions. “Every Ramadan I get new artists asking how they can participate,” she explains. “But it was always only by invitation because I wanted to ensure the quality of the art. However, this year I opened it to everyone.”
By accepting only art that is above a certain standard and then curating the show with her expert eye, Al Suwaidi acts as an invaluable filter which helps both the artists and the prospective buyers, says Jalal Luqman, one of the artists in the show. “The Ramadan Art Bazaar is a great initiative because it gives opportunity to people who have not exhibited before – but what is even better for them is to get their work scrutinised by Sumayyah.
“If it is accepted to be up to par then this is an important step forward for the artist. Also, the new buyers and collectors who visit the show can buy confidently, knowing that Sumayyah has already seen and approved the work.”
Luqman, who has two digital paintings in the show (Mother… Oh Mother and Alone But Surrounded), is a well-established artist and was the first Emirati digital painter. His work usually sells for up to 10 times more than these prices so it is a great opportunity for new buyers to start a collection.
“At every exhibition that I have participated in or visited, the people who buy are collectors, sheikhs or people with serious cash,” says Al Suwaidi. “Common people like me or you don’t get to buy because the art is very expensive. That’s why I came up with this concept in the first place. I was thinking that if brands like Dior and Gucci can have sales once a year on their luxury products, then why can’t the artists have a sale, too?”
The show features artists from many countries, including India’s Ram Nath, Britain’s Jennifer Simon and Karima Bakheet from France. Prominent UAE artists include Mattar Bin Lahej, who owns Marsam Mattar, a gallery in Dubai; Khalil Abdulwahid, who is also the visual arts manager at Dubai Culture and Arts Authority; and Hamdan Al Shamsi, from Al Ain.
Simon, who is participating for the fourth year, says that every year she puts in a variety of work from old pieces to new pieces and prints and they always sell. “It really works,” she says of the initiative, “and if they sell, Sumayyah swaps them with new works and they keep on selling.
“You mix with a lot of Emirati people, more so than at other times of the year,” she adds. “I think that’s because it is Ramadan.”
Simon also plans to give all those who buy one of her works a second print of a different work for free.
In the second week of the sale, Al Suwaidi is planning an open iftar with Ali Al Saloom, a cultural commentator who writes the Ask Ali column in The National.
“We will all sit on the floor and eat together and then after the prayers we’ll sit and talk and I’ll explain why I’m doing the exhibition and the artists can also explain their work,” explains Al Suwaidi. “We have done it before and it is a lot of fun and it really brings people together.”
However, she concludes that the main focus of the show is to give a boost to the art community that is impossible without some give and take. “How will we get new people who are interested in knowing more about art if they don’t start buying and collecting?” she asks. “It is our job as artists to support them in buying art because if the community starts buying original art then they will start appreciating it more and hopefully, they will never go back to buying the pieces they get from furniture stores.”
The Ramadan Art Bazaar runs from Thursday until August 7 at Ghaf Gallery, Abu Dhabi
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