Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

India, Pakistan and the Gulf: a relationship told through art

The Ishara Art Foundation is set to open in Dubai in March

Shilpa Gupta's work as displayed at the new Ishara Art Foundation. 
Shilpa Gupta's work as displayed at the new Ishara Art Foundation. 

A new non-profit foundation focusing on South Asian art will open in March in Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue.

The Ishara Art Foundation will host exhibitions of emerging and established South Asian artists, celebrating the long-standing ties between India and Pakistan and the Gulf.

The foundation is established by the Dubai entrepreneur Smita Prabhakar, a major collector of South Asian art. She has tapped Nada Raza, a well-respected curator formerly at Tate Modern, as artistic director.

Some of Zarina Hashmi's works for the Home is a Foreign Place exhibition. Ishara Art Foundation
Some of Zarina Hashmi's works for the Home is a Foreign Place exhibition. Ishara Art Foundation

“My desire for brilliant work by South Asian artists to be more widely recognised is at the heart of this project,” Prabhakar said in a statement. “I hope the UAE’s cosmopolitan audiences will appreciate and absorb these artists and their works through our permanent space and dedicated programme, allowing cultural voices to enrich our understanding of each other.”

Prabhakar’s art collection will form the backbone of the foundation, which will be spread out across two floors and operate like a kunsthalle with temporary exhibitions on rotation.

Work by Shilpa Gupta displayed at the Ishara Art Foundation.
Work by Shilpa Gupta displayed at the Ishara Art Foundation.

The inaugural show, Altered Inheritances: Home is a Foreign Place, pairs work by two Indian artists a generation apart: Zarina Hashmi, who worked across abstraction, minimalism and feminism, and Shilpa Gupta, a post-Conceptual artist who explores identity, the nation-state, and notions of the public sphere. Hashmi has also supplied the logo for Ishara: it is an ideogram for the word “aasman,” or sky, taken from the beautiful Home Is a Foreign Place (1999), an edition of which in the Ishara collection.

The foundation will be a substantial addition to the art landscape in Dubai, which is pivoting away from its traditional focus on commercial galleries towards non-profit endeavours, with Jameel Arts Centre, the Jean-Paul Najar Foundation, and the increased activities of Alserkal Avenue.

Inside the new Ishara Art Foundation in Dubai 
Inside the new Ishara Art Foundation in Dubai

Though South Asian artists and art professionals are integral to the Dubai art scene, this is the first non-profit centre giving a specific platform to this history of exchange. Indeed the idea of Dubai as a global hub is implicit in the foundation’s title, as the word “ishara” — meaning a gesture — exists across a range of languages in the Gulf/South Asian region: Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, Persian and Swahili.

The word itself “Ishara” might be familiar to followers of Dubai shows: it was also used last year for the title of a show by UAE Unlimited at Concrete in Alserkal Avenue, which explored the idea of communication in the Gulf — a remit that is now being broadened further.


Read more:

Pakistan and the UAE: Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi will curate the next Lahore Biennale

Exhibitions: a brush with history with Bhupen Khakhar

Abraaj Art Prize announces curator Nada Raza


Updated: January 19, 2019 12:38 PM