Another first in the capital’s art scene
Although numbers are unclear, Abu Dhabi still has approximately one-tenth of the number of galleries of Dubai has and a dearth of initiatives for both emerging and established talent, leaving many asking how a city can build such establishments without having a grass-roots scene.
That’s where Salwa Zeidan comes in. Zeidan is a Lebanese artist, sculptor and curator, who founded the first gallery in Abu Dhabi in 1994 and now, almost 20 years later, is leading the way again. Next week, she will reopen the space that bears her name at The Collection, St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, just metres away from the construction site of the Louvre Abu Dhabi and its soon-to-be-cohorts the Zayed National Museum and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.
“When I opened in 1994, there was nothing in Abu Dhabi at all, with the exception of the Cultural Foundation, but it wasn’t hosting regular exhibitions,” recalls Zeidan. “I was the first gallery ever in the city and even now, I am really surprised, but, there are still very few galleries here.”
Zeidan opened the original gallery in the centre of the city and in the first year she hosted the first solo show for the now well-known Mohammed Kazem.
“He was around 20 years old at the time and Sheikh Saif bin Zayed opened the show,” says Zeidan. “Nobody had heard of him back then.”
Hassan Sharif, who was Kazem’s mentor and who is considered to be the father of the contemporary art movement in the UAE, was also regularly exhibited at Zeidan’s gallery. In fact, it is Sharif whom she credits as the inspiration for opening the gallery in the first place.
“I was curating exhibitions in hotels and other places as well as having poetry and art evenings at my home and in the end Hassan suggested that I open the gallery,” she says.
The 30-year friendship is very much alive and informs Zeidan’s decisions today. Plus, a selection of Sharif’s paintings will take pride of place in the new gallery.
Flying House 15 and 17 depict a cartoon-like car entering and then exiting the contoured road that Sharif has painted with his trademark thick brushstrokes. They are from an entire series that the artist created of cars – reflecting his documentation of the explosion of urban growth in Dubai.
The other works Zeidan has selected for New Beginnings, the opening show in her Saadiyat Island space, include ink drawings by Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, who like Sharif has been a part of the art scene for many years and has a distinctive style, and an installation by Hussain Sharif – Hassan Sharif’s brother.
“Hussain is so talented, but he has cut all the cords between himself and the world and he doesn’t want to talk to people or interact with anyone, but that doesn’t mean that he is not alive; he communicates through his art,” says Zeidan. “I want to bring his work out and show it to the world.”
Fatema Al Mazrouie, another Emirati, is also represented with a series of drums that she has painted and decorated with a collage of images as a tribute to the singer Asmahan and an unusually abstract Reza Derakshani painting hangs on the back wall, enticing in visitors. There is also a smattering of works from international artists such as the Switzerland-based Dean Williams and the Syrian poet Adonis.
But the space is not only for established and familiar names, Zeidan emphasises.
“This space is new and I have many new ideas to bring in to the programme of the gallery as well as new artists. With these new talents, I really want to make a difference. I want to help artists and nurture them.”
Positioning herself on Saadiyat Island will strengthen her relationship with these new artists, she says, and it is also a vital move for her own progression as gallerist, pioneer and leading figure in the UAE’s art scene.
“It is really important to have a space on Saadiyat as this is going to be the art centre of the region,” she says. “As for Abu Dhabi, yes it is a very difficult market, where there are not enough collectors and people prefer to go to Dubai to buy art, but it has become my home. I love this place. I can’t imagine doing this anywhere else. I am satisfied here.”
• Salwa Zeidan Gallery opens with New Beginnings on November 21 at The Collection, St Regis Saadiyat Island. Call 02 666 9656 or visit www.salwazeidangallery.com
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