x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Continental shift as art focuses on Africa

"Middle Eastern art has its place and always will, but now it's reached a level that many people just can't afford," Dubai Showcase Gallery's director says.

A depiction of Harare by the Zimbabwean artist Daryl Nero. Courtesy Daryl Nero / Showcase Gallery
A depiction of Harare by the Zimbabwean artist Daryl Nero. Courtesy Daryl Nero / Showcase Gallery

Taste Binds the Tribe

"No one lives in a white box with a grey floor," says the Showcase Gallery director Sharon Harvey, as we admire a marvellously restudded and restored Omani chest. "I just feel that a good piece of furniture in the gallery stimulates one's curiosity, it gives the space some personality and warmth."

Despite this, Harvey says she's been criticised in the past for exhibiting Showcase's extraordinary array of antiques alongside art. "Of course, there are artists who say they don't want anything else shown with it, and that's fine. But we live in coloured homes with furniture, and 99 per cent of the time, people are buying art because they want to put it in their living room."

Showcase Gallery relocated from its headquarters on Jumeirah Beach Road earlier this year. It is one of Dubai's art scene stalwarts, as it has provided framing for some of the region's leading artists when their work has passed through Dubai on its way to international recognition.

But while the space has exhibited art in the past, the move to Alserkal also signalled a directional sea change. Harvey outlines for The National an ambitious calendar of shows over the next six months, all of which have some connection to the emerging art scene in southern Africa.

"Middle Eastern art still has its place and always will, but now it's reached a level that many people just can't afford," she explains. "People look at a work and say, 'If I pay Dh100,000 for that, where is it going to go from here?'

"But African art is still way down there [in terms of price], and has to be the next thing."

Harvey has collaborated with the curator Bren Brophy who heads up the Durban-based KZNSA, a non-profit institution that works closely with major artists in South Africa and its surrounding countries. Together, they've assembled a list of names to inject into Dubai's art scene.

"For a serious investor, you only have to look at the CVs of these artists and the collections they're in to know how important they are," says Brophy.

Post-Ramadan, the gallery will host works by Andrew Verster - a firmly established painter living in Durban who creates stirring portraits adorned with angels, iconography and invented alphabets, all enacted with a tattooist's eye for bodily composition. The space is given over to photographs of Angola by Francesca Galliani during October, and Isaac Nkosinathi Khanyile - a senior lecturer in the fine art department at the Durban University of Technology - will fill the gallery with his large-scale sculptural installations in November.

As a taste of things to come, Harvey currently presents works by Daryl Nero from Zimbabwe and the late Isaac Sithole from Mozambique, who died earlier this year.

Along one wall, we see Nero's bread-and-butter - the paintings of architectural grandeur around Harare, people passing by on bicycles, a sort of standing heat holding fast in the air. But it's his portraits that are far more daring; scratchy bodies etched in repetitive lines, and a wonderfully emotive portrait of Nero's deceased friend.

Sithole, on the other hand, begins with a woodcarved tableau and uses this to print directly onto paper. According to Brophy, the manner in which he prints usually means that only one image per cut can be created, giving these works a further aura of virtuosity.

Throbbing colours abound as images of almost spiritual pastoral grandeur meet inner-city football pitches and the horizon. It's exuberant work and an insight into one of Africa's influential but sadly departed artists.

Continues until August 7, then the gallery will close and reopen on August 21. Sharon Harvey has also opened up the upstairs of the gallery as a respite from the summer sun - peruse her books and a few pieces of art and antiques from her collection.

Crossroads #7 - A Journey through the Masai Mara

The British-born photographer Charlotte Simpson runs a creative photography agency in Dubai snapping celebrities, CEOs and designers in the city. To push her own work outside the office, however, she headed to the Masai Mara in Kenya last year and returned with some rather epic representations of this unforgiving environment. A mixture of reflections on the attuned lifestyle of those who carve out a life in the Mara and the animals that they're faced with each day are currently being presented at the Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi on Yas Island.

Swiss Art Gate, the company hosting Simpson's work, describes her trip to the Mara as her "artistic turning point". Indeed, there's lots of imaginative inflections gone into these works, and a personality sought out in the landscape. She attempts this with the animals as well; noting the elephants "high-fiving" with their trunks in the Serengeti and the visceral movement that is captured about lions when photographed at astonishingly close range.

Continues at Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi's Light Box gallery throughout Ramadan, until September 10.

* Showcase Gallery is located at Unit 35, Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz, Dubai, 04 379 0940, www.showcasegallery.com, Saturday- Thursday, 10am-6pm.

* Light Box gallery is located at Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi, Yas Island, 02 656 0000, www.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com, open daily 10am-10pm.