x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

A chance to be seen in Venice

Having their work seen at the Venice Biennale will be a great boost for the three UAE artists named yesterday, but being there also makes the Italian event an important showcase for the UAE art world.

Art Dubai intern Hassan Al Darwish checks out Riyas Komu’s aluminum sculpture “Blood Brothers” during the “Jumeirah Patrons’ Preview” at the Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai.
Art Dubai intern Hassan Al Darwish checks out Riyas Komu’s aluminum sculpture “Blood Brothers” during the “Jumeirah Patrons’ Preview” at the Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai.

DUBAI // Three Emirati artists were thrust into the international spotlight yesterday when they were named to have their art displayed in the UAE Pavilion at this year's Venice Biennale.

The event, held in the Italian city every second year, is an international exhibition that draws more than 375,000 visitors. This year it runs from June 4 to November 27. At the 2009 version the UAE became the first Gulf state to be represented, alongside 70 other countries.

The three names were announced at the fifth annual Art Dubai, the region's largest art fair.

Reem al Ghaith is an installation artist who studied visual communications at the American University of Sharjah.

Abdullah al Saadi, who lives and works in Khorfakkan on the east coast, has been influenced by the two years he spent studying Japanese painting at Kyoto Seika University in Japan.

Lateefa Bint Maktoum, the founder and director of Dubai's Tashkeel public art studios, works mainly with digitally manipulated images.

Dr Lamees Hamdan, the pavilion's commissioner, said a presence at the Biennale would serve not only the artists but the whole UAE art scene.

"It is like giving them a global microphone," she said. "And we owe it to them.

"Although we have a lively gallery scene here in Dubai, very few have taken the time to properly represent Emirati artists. This is a great opportunity for them and it is good for the scene in general. It gives the world a glimpse of Middle Eastern art and it's wonderful to finally export something. Everyone talks about how much the UAE imports and this is our chance to show the world the talent we have," she said.

Dr Hamdan unveiled the names of the artists for the exhibition, which will be called Second Time Around, yesterday morning. It was one of many events due to take place at Art Dubai, which continues until Saturday.

More than 80 galleries from 34 countries have come to Dubai to sell their art, but Antonia Carver, the Art Dubai director, said commercial transactions were not a top priority.

Ms Carver, who is directing the fair for the first time, said she was focusing on giving every visitor, vendor and contributor a sense of discovery.

"Of course the profit motive is important, because if we don't sell art then we don't have the capacity to do anything else. But when I began this job the first thing I looked for was feedback from the art community," she said. "I wanted it to be a fair of discovery and one that worked both ways."

Alongside the paintings, sculpture, photography and video installations held in the main areas of the Madinat Jumeirah, Ms Carver also pointed out the experimental and visual art spilling into the car park.

Art Park offers an underground project space for film, video and talks, including retrospectives of the work of two Egyptian artists, Sherif El-Azma and Wael Shawky, and is a must go for first-time visitors to the fair, she said.

Then there is work from better known figures such as Anish Kapoor, a British-Indian sculptor whose work has been exhibited in the Tate Modern in London and the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain.

"We are trying to match the major international work with the highly tipped emerging artists in the region," she said. "It is vital they also get exposure."

Sheikh Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, a patron of the fair and a member of the Art Dubai Patrons' Advisory Board, said the fair has had a transformative effect.

"Art Dubai has spurred an ecosystem of art in the Gulf," he said. "Five years ago we struggled to find art insurers or people willing to transport art, but now all the infrastructure is in place. This has been a direct impact of Art Dubai and it benefits both collectors and people who enjoy viewing art."

The fair is also exhibiting the completed works of the five recipients of the Abraaj Capital Art Prize as well as a fantasy show by the jewellers Van Cleef & Arpels, which was inspired by the travels of the French science fiction author Jules Verne.

Tickets are available at the door for Dh50. Entry is free for children under 12.