x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

UK art lovers get a picture of Dubai's thriving arts scene

The city's thriving cultural scene will be a part of a London festival.

DUBAI // Art lovers in the UK will be presented with a different side of Dubai this week in a series of events designed to showcase the city's thriving cultural scene on an international stage.

"People abroad probably think of a glossy, business-driven, mass tourist Dubai, that's the sort of narrative that exists, the highs and lows of its financial development," said Antonia Carver, one of a number of Dubai arts participants taking part in the programme.

"But I think quite a lot of people want to see us begin to build the brand of Dubai on its other attributes, including the fact that it now has more galleries than any other city in the region. It is the home of commercial contemporary art, but it's also the home of people who are contributing to non-commercial art."

Dubai Futures, which opens today at London's AIR Gallery, includes a photographic exhibition, the launch of a book about Al Quoz art district and a discussion session. It is part of Shubbak: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture, a major festival in London.

Ms Carver, director of the annual Art Dubai fair, will speak at a discussion considering the role played by young creative entrepreneurs in the emergence of the cultural scene.

"This is a great opportunity within the context of the Shubbak festival to really communicate where Dubai's current art movement came from," she said. "The movement has been very organic and started with residents and people who had grown up in the city who wanted to contribute to its cultural development.

"It's very important to tell that story and show that it's something that's much longer term than people assume. People often think it's a lot more recent than it was. It didn't begin in 2006, it actually began a decade earlier in its current form and links back to things that happened in Sharjah, Al Ain, Abu Dhabi and Dubai through the 70s and 80s."

Ms Carer said Dubai history showed that ideas as well as goods were traded between people for hundreds of years, and this was now true of contemporary art.

"The art movement is extraordinarily diverse and driven by individuals and entrepreneurs from all over the world. Key players in developing this cultural movement have been Iranian, Egyptian, Emirati, British, French - from all over - and I think that's what's given it a unique and vibrant identity."

The book being launched is Ahmad Makia's Evolving Spaces: Dubai's Emerging Cultural Districts, which tells the story of Al Quoz's art neighbourhood and is illustrated with photos by the Dutch artist Charlie Koolhaas.

A number of warehouses in the sprawling industrial area have been converted into galleries, and Mr Makia believes more will follow because the down-to-earth urban setting appeals to artists.

"A gallery owner told me some artists had been quite reluctant to show in Dubai because they found it to be very commercial," he said. "But once they learned about Al Quoz they wanted to exhibit there.

"I think it's gaining a lot of attention, especially from the youth. But then you also get more elite art collectors, so I think it has a lot of potential."

Dubai Futures, which is being hosted by the Dubai-based arts magazine Brownbook in association with Falcon and Associates and the Mayor of London, continues until Saturday.