x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Autumn is no season of decay for Dubai's art scene

With several exhibitions opening on Al Serkal Avenue in Dubai tomorrow, we offer a roundup of some of what viewers can expect to see.

Two swallows, charcoal drawings, by Qiujie is being displayed at Middle East Middle Kingdom exhibition at Etemad Gallery. Courtesy Image Nation
Two swallows, charcoal drawings, by Qiujie is being displayed at Middle East Middle Kingdom exhibition at Etemad Gallery. Courtesy Image Nation

The summer is, finally, behind us. That means the temperature drops, people return and, most importantly, the galleries tear down their dusty summer shows to prepare for a new season of challenging exhibitions. To give this year something of a grand opening, the galleries in Dubai’s Al Serkal Avenue – a hub of converted warehouses – have decided to launch their new exhibitions simultaneously. The event sees eight new shows open, some with new talent well worth keeping an eye on.


Grey Ash - Green Art Gallery

It's a fitting time to host a Syrian artist who can paint disorder, and Ahmed Moualla does this very well. His monochrome scenes show impressionistic bodies wrangling together in a great sea of steely grey and white.

They have a Bosch-like busy-ness to them, and out of the chaos, flags rise to some unnamed cause. Behind them, we see shadowy onlookers who huddle together, creating a disturbing backdrop to the carnage. Moualla has exhibited internationally before, with major shows in New York and London.

As violence in Syria seems to be unrelenting, these new works are being shown at just the right time. Yet whether fighting, dancing or fading to black, Moualla's crowds show a constant churning of restless people, regardless of place, ideology and time.

Until November 10.


High Tension - Carbon 12

This year, Erwin Olaf bagged the top prize for the arts in his native Netherlands: the Johannes Vermeer Award. This solo show offers a satisfying peer into Olaf's world - a place of clean lines, lonely hotel rooms and simmering grief.

He combines studio-based photography with outlandish locations that create a sort of exaggerated, cinematic vision of reality. A very classical portrait of a sitting woman, head down, shielding a full glass from view is next to another showing a woman leaning coquettishly against the wall, while a man stands upright, looking away. We're invited to conjure our own narratives from these photographs. Olaf simply offers us the composite parts: the atmosphere, the lights and a generous portion of tension.

Until November 10.


Vs. Him - Lawrie Shabibi

A bride and her suited suitor are separated by a goat. Said goat stands atop a kaffiyeh scarf, the potent symbol of the Palestinian freedom struggle. Maybe it's the friction in the air that's given the goat its bemused expression, as Sama Alshaibi - the artist behind this occasionally quite humorous collection of photographs - offers a worried look to her groom.

In these images, the Palestinian-Iraqi artist explores the nuances of masculinity in the popular culture of the Middle East. In another, dressed as a boxer, we see the artist tossing in the towel - another kaffiyeh. Despite moments of humour, Alshaibi isn't looking to pull punches.

Until October 20.


Indelible Marks - Gallery IVDE

New additions to IVDE's stable, the Essop brothers are from Cape Town and this show of 20 works offers up a decent survey of their recent output.

Recently part of a huge group exhibition of South African photography at London's Victoria and Albert museum, Hasan and Husain compose scenes that reflect on the East in a western context. The brothers digitally enhance the images so that they play the part of every character in the assembled theatrics. Caustic scenes, often cut through with a winking humour, typify the work of this very much rising duo.

Until October 20.


Broadcast - Satellite

Vivek Premachandran wants to tackle the Arab Spring. He needs something that says intrigue, tactics, and that politics is all a big game. Cue the mighty chess board - a well-worn symbol for how the world really works. He's decided, however, to put all the pawns on one side and the king and his entourage on the other. Then, one can imagine, he'll invite us in for a rather fruitless game.

James Clar welcomes Dubai-based artist Premachandran into his studio-cum-gallery, to tell us what he reckons happened in Tahrir Square.

One night only performance with the installation remaining until September 22.


Middle East Middle Kingdom - Etemad Gallery

The recently opened Etemad Gallery offers a broad sweep of Chinese art's other side - the people you might have heard less about, but should know more.

Beyond the boom-era of Chinese art, there's an interesting generation of more astute, less flashy and less cynical artists that Etemad's show represents well. Highlights certainly include Han Bing, usually a performance artist who here presents his photographs showing the rural folk who have been left behind in China's economic acceleration. Look out as well for the Gao Brothers, who are happy to have a visual pop at the hallowed Mao Tse-tung, which has drawn them a hefty bit of ire from the authorities.

The show comprises 25 works from seven artists. Certainly worth a look.

Until November 12.


Questions of Conditioning - Mojo Gallery

Works by Jordanian-British artist Julia Ibbini heave an onslaught of colour into Mojo Gallery's ever-present white cube. Colour fields and roller-coaster tracks merge in these riotous expressions of life as it's lived, which the gallery describes as snapshots "attempting to capture the fragility, complexity and vibrancy of the human condition".

Decide for yourself, but there's definitely something refreshingly energised about these effusive canvases.

Until October 20.


Auction previews - Ayyam Gallery

The Syrian art outfit Ayyam Gallery has two big auctions coming up in October in its Al Serkal space: The Dubai Sale and a huge auction of antiques and art from the Islamic world.

Getting into antiques is a bold new move for the gallery, and it will be presenting selections from both auctions from today. The antique pieces have been drawn specifically from the Ottoman Levant between the 18th and 19th centuries. Viewers can expect lots of stunning craftsmanship, dark wood, inlaid mother of pearl and fine examples of high-period Ottoman calligraphy in the selections of Qurans.

On the other side of the gallery is a selection from the Dubai Sale.

While the gallery has been quite tight-lipped about what's going into the preview show, the auction does have some excellent photography by Rania Matar and several Ayyam staples such as Mohannad Orabi, with brand new works.

Until October 16.