x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The fourth Sikka Art Fair highlights UAE’s emerging artists

The fourth edition of Sikka Art Fair is underway, with 50 UAE-based artists from 25 countries taking part.

People enjoying the 2014 edition of Sikka at Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. Courtesy: Dubai Culture & Arts Authority
People enjoying the 2014 edition of Sikka at Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. Courtesy: Dubai Culture & Arts Authority

Before the sun had set over Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood on Saturday, hundreds of people were winding their ways through the alleyways between the wind towers and dipping in and out of the numerous houses populated with artistic voices.

Later, as the courtyards illuminated and the neon pink signs lit up, the strains of live music brought the place to life as the spirit of the event filled the streets.

This was the opening night of Sikka, a community art fair organised by Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture), which is a platform for UAE-based artists to show their work in the city’s Creekside Heritage Village.

In the houses

For 10 days, the work of over 50 artists will be showing in the small houses, which were formerly used for their original domestic purposes.

It is an event that is now in its fourth year and according to the Emirati artist Khawla Darwish, who is one of the few artists to have exhibited every year, it is the perfect launch pad for emerging talent.

“One of the best things about Sikka is that they identify new artists and give them a chance to show their work in a communal space,” she says. “For me, it was definitely a stepping stone for my career.”

Darwish, who lost her father and her 22-year-old brother to a heart condition, centres all her work around the theme of the heart. For Sikka 2014, she created three paintings of folkloric Emirati phrases where the word heart is replaced with a drawing of the organ.

Another painter, Sumayah Al Rais, whose father Abdul Qader is one of the UAE’s most prominent artists, is exhibiting at Sikka for the first time.

Although she has been painting all her life, she says that she stopped for many years and when she decided to start again, Sikka was the first place she wanted to exhibit in.

“It is a very important event,” she says. “We see artists here who are new and also many established artists and it really shows how much talent we have in our country.”

On curation

Sikka is co-curated by Sheikha Wafa Hasher Al Maktoum from the FN Designs studio and the Japanese architect and programme director Kayoko Iemura.

The pair worked on a general theme, Listen to the Voice. “Dubai and the city itself is changing so fast but, on the other hand, for many visitors it is difficult to see the face or hear the voice,” explains Iemura. “But artists try to touch it and so they end up listening to the tactile voice.”

This is the first time Iemura has curated an exhibition in the UAE and she says she was pleasantly surprised by the breadth of talent in the city.

“I was very impressed. I didn’t expect so much potential and so much quality. If these artists get the chance to show and discuss with other artists then they will be able to grow.”

Connecting voices

Sikka certainly allows for artistic exchange and that is something seen specifically in the artists-in-residence programme that has been running since January. The five artists were displaying part of their projects in House 11 in Al Fahidi Neighbourhood and the curator-in- residence, Ipek Ulusoy Akgül, explains why it presented such a unique platform: “What was really special was the residency allowed the artists to step out of their usual practices and gave them the resources and the environment to do something they had really wanted to but not been able to do before. I was a facilitator for that.”

Dubai Culture

Sikka is the inaugural event of the newly announced Art Season, an umbrella initiative from Dubai Culture. “In just four years, Sikka has become the definitive platform for the grassroots art movement of the UAE,” says Saeed Al Nabouda, the acting director-general of the authority. “It features multidisciplinary initiatives and ensembles that celebrate the newest trends in arts.

“The diverse programme this year, the largest to date, will provide visitors fascinating insights into how the contemporary world of arts is being shaped in Dubai, while highlighting the city’s reputation as a global hub for culture.”

• Sikka Art Fair runs unti March 25 in Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. For more details, visit www.sikka.ae

aseaman@thenational.ae