The biggest event in Dubai's visual-arts calendar comprises three major strands, including the region's first design-specific fair.
Between them, Sikka, Design Days and Art Dubai have Art Week covered
Sikka Art Fair
Al Bastakiya, March 15 to 25
Sikka, meaning “alleyway” in Arabic, is stretched across the warren of traditional houses and cobbled streets in Bastakiya, Dubai’s heritage quarter.
With the home-grown talent of the UAE as its focus, these windtower-topped houses play host to work by 25 locally based artists, commissioned by Sikka’s team comprising artists, curators and an architect.
The event is an initiative by the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (DCAA), and this year has become even more collaborative, working with organisations across the city to create a festival-like atmosphere that will run throughout Art Week. In addition to showcasing these commissioned artworks, there are a number of film screenings throughout, a selection of musical performances as well as a mini-souq selling locally produced crafts, cakes and other foodstuffs.
The performance element worked well in last year’s event, and for 2012, the DCAA has brought in The Fridge to curate an excellent line-up of UAE-based musicians.
With three courtyards given over to this across the next two weekends (March 15-17 and 22-25), there are nine performances taking place each night, with headliner acts including Dahab, a contemporary Arabic fusion band, and the drummer Roni Afif’s new electro-jazz outfit, Kromozom Beats.
The DCAA has also collaborated with the Dubai art space thejamjar to come up with an insightful education programme and events for children.
Sikka prides itself on its commission-based structure, meaning that none of the art on show has ever been seen before, all of it having been created specially for the event.
It’s also an opportunity to meet Deniz Uster, Magdi Mostafa and Faycal Baghriche, three artists who have spent the past three months living and working in Bastakiya, crafting pieces that they will exhibit for the first time at Art Dubai. They will also be opening up their studios during Art Week and inviting the curious in to see how they have responded to this side of the city.
Salem Belyouha, the DCAA’s projects and events director: “Sikka is a platform where you can see locally made film, visual art, music and performance all in one event. It’s also somewhere you can take children, with a family-friendly, fun atmosphere as you explore the area.”
Entrance to Sikka Art Fair is free.
Design Days Dubai
Downtown Dubai, March 18 to 21
The region’s first design-specific fair, Design Days Dubai will be looking to prove itself come opening day on March 18.
There are 22 exhibitors setting up shop in a 3,500-square-metre tent, in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa, presenting high-end contemporary furniture as well as vintage pieces from the past 100 years.
The line-up is stridently international: +Coletivo Amor De Madre is flying in from Sao Paulo, _Croft coming from Seoul (an excellent stable of Korean talent) and the Milanese stalwart Nilufar is also making an appearance, bringing key historical pieces from the history of design.
The event is something of a test-bed for a nascent regional hunger for design. While interest and patronage for contemporary art have escalated rapidly in the Gulf over the past five or six years, design has been left behind. Art Dubai (which started out as the Gulf Art Fair in 2007) has played a big part in the ascent of the city as an art hub, and the same team behind the fair has engineered an event that hopes to mirror a similar market-building exercise for limited-edition furniture.
But, beyond this, Design Days is shaping up to be a very worthwhile wander for the curious fair-goer. The regional participation is particularly interesting here, given that the Middle East has remained out of the design world’s focus for so long.
Beirut’s SMO Gallery gets our stamp of approval, as the Lebanese designers on its roster reveal a wealth of fresh, creative voices. Georges Mohasseb, for instance, started his own studio, Wood&, in 2007, but now also exhibits work in titanium and copper with SMO, including an industrial-looking armchair made from two galvanised steel heating tubes.
Getting people talking about design sits as high on the fair agenda as selling work. Public discussions taking place throughout the event should pique even the most casual interest – look out for the noted trend forecaster Li Edelkoort discussing “Bliss and spirituality in day-to-day life” (presumably via reconciling our lives with the objects around us) on March 19.
Cyril Zammit, the director: “Interactive design is at the heart of Design Days Dubai, and we have five such creations that respond to the movement of the viewers around it, by Dominic Harris, Mathieu Lehanneur and Random International. These objects, I think, will surprise everyone by the poetic dimension that they show is possible through design.”
Entrance to Design Days Dubai is Dh50 per person, free for students with ID.
Madinat Jumeirah, March 21 to 24
The premier date on the city’s cultural calendar has long since cast off the sobriquet of “emergent fair”. Art Dubai is now five years in and a four-day behemoth of art selling, buying and exploration.
It has firmly stamped itself on to the international art world’s map of fairs, and this year continues its long trajectory away from the standard mould. Art Dubai aims to be an institution in regional art, with a diverse portfolio of specially commissioned projects, performances and discussions in addition to a line-up of 74 galleries hailing from 31 countries.
With the Menasa region (Middle East, North Africa, South Asia) as the fair’s focus, the galleries present in the central hub of exhibitors offer a grand tour of contemporary art from this wider region. Want to see who’s who among the new names coming out of Tehran and Morocco, or understand new Indian art beyond its traditional Mumbai/Delhi heartland? This is the place.
The fair prides itself on delving into under-explored parts of the world, and concentrates this year on new art from Indonesia, with a special “marker” section devoted to five hot spaces from across that vast country with long-held cultural ties to the Middle East.
Art Dubai also attracts a number of the foremost art galleries in the West. A noted newcomer this year is the Pace Gallery, host to a roster of 20th-century and contemporary greats, including James Turrell, Jean Dubuffet and David Hockney.
Look out as well for booths from South Africa’s Goodman Gallery (whose artists include Ghada Amer and William Kentridge) and Ardnt in Berlin, which recently exhibited the unsettling series London Pictures by the art duo Gilbert and George.
There are more than 40 special projects taking place in addition to the fair, including the unveiling of works by three international artists who have been working in the Bastakiya heritage district of Dubai over the past three months.
The Global Art Forum has been a defining feature of Art Dubai since its inception, flying in thinkers and theorists, critics and commentators to discuss the nuances of art today and give the event some academic rigour.
This year, the London-based writer and curator Shumon Basar has taken the reins of the forum, blowing it up to six days beginning on March 18 in Doha before moving to Dubai on March 21. In addition to a string of discussions, Basar has commissioned performances, lectures and projects around the theme of the “Medium of Media” – exploring how events over the past 12 months in the Arab world have been covered and consumed via the media.
Antonia Carver, the director: “Art Dubai has such a wealth of interactive projects, tours, performances and talks this year: everything from children’s workshops with artist Yto Barrada and Zid Zid Kids that take you to the moon via Morocco, to legendary novelists Douglas ‘Generation X’ Coupland and Amin ‘Rock of Tanios’ Maalouf – plus another 50 artists, writers, journalists and curators – in conversation at the Global Art Forum. Also, don’t miss the five winners of the region’s most prestigious award, the Abraaj Capital Art Prize 2012.”
Entrance to Art Dubai is Dh50 per person.
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