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Art Now – Responses fromTalks to Antonia Carver and Laura Egerton and Antonia Carver

ArtNow talks to Antonia Carver, Fair Director, and Laura Egerton, Abraaj Group Art Prize Curator, prior to the opening of Art Dubai (March 20-23, 2013). Art Dubai, now in its seventh edition, is one of the most prominent contemporary art events in the region. The Abraaj Group Art Prize is awarded to artists based on their proposals for new works, which are then shown at Art Dubai.

ArtNowQ 1: How do you see Art Dubai Art Fair, in terms of its location, development and certain/distinct character?

ACAntonia Carver: It is incredible to think that in 2007, Art Dubai was the first major international fair in Asia – since then, the number of art fairs in the region has exploded. We have grown into not only being the leading Art Fair in the Middle East, but really playing a global role. In 2013 we will welcome 75 galleries from 30 different countries, which for our size, makes us the most globalized of art fairs! Our feet will always be firmly in the Arab world, but we are reaching out more across Asia and Africa, to create THE meeting point across the “southSouth-sSouth” – which gives the fair a unique identity – something that is a major draw to institutions and collectors in the West.
ArtNow:Q2: What role in your opinion, can art fairs can play, in your opinion, especially Art Dubai Art Fair the in the Middle East region?

LELaura Egerton: Art Dubai is ideally geographically located as a conduit for ideas from around the region and between the major art centres of Europe, the US and Asia. Through its presentation of work by its participating galleries from across the world as well as its extensive programming of art projects including the annual Abraaj Group Art Prize, Art Dubai shows its commitment to growing an art scene and providing a platform for artists from the region to showcase their practice to the wider international art community. The Abraaj Group Art Prize gives often under-represented, contemporary artists the resources to further develop their talent by being granted the chance to create an ambitious new artwork that is then displayed for the first time at Art Dubai. It also rewards a curator annually, whose role is to create thematic connections between works being produced by the group of annual winners through an exhibition and publication. This year’s winners include the artists Vartan Avakian, Iman Issa, Huma Mulji, Hrair Sarkissian and Rayyane Tabet, working along side Murtaza Vali, an independent art historian, critic and curator living and working between Sharjah and Brooklyn.
AC: I completely agree. At the same time that we are growing a truly global reach, we are committed to nurturing increased participation from the UAE community, with residencies for UAE artists, programs for children and teenagers aged 3-14, over 60 student interns, and Campus Art Dubai, a six month educational series running before and after the fair. We see the success of the fair as part of the general growth of the arts scene here, which we are proud to be part of and to support.

ArtNowQ3: How you see the phenomenon of art fairs, in comparison to bBiennales and Ttriennials, or even old- fashioned ‘national exhibitions”’?

AC: Given the new global reality, art fairs and biennials have become essential crossover points at which the art world at large can catch up, research, discover new works, artists, centres and movements. Arts institutions, curators, and journalists are acutely aware of being part of a world that appears to be increasing in size and geographic spread; they are required to be truly international in their reach and scope of understanding. Within this pressured environment particular meeting points have emerged as increasingly vital for international conversations – increasingly East/East as much as East/West. A fair like Art Dubai can offer a 360-degree view of the art world – bringing together galleries, collectors and the commercial art world together with artists, curators, museums, and offering an extensive not-for-profit programme of projects and educational initiatives.
ArtNowQ 4: Do you think art fair can contribute more than just increasing and widening the art market?

AC: Definitely! Art Dubai has always prioritized being a supporter of young artists – from children’s education to internships to residency programs to commissions. Special this year is the launch of the Sheikha Manal Little Artist programme with workshops and tours for children from 3-14 years of age and the extended adult education program Campus Art Dubai, a six-month intensive course for artists and curators in the UAE. In the same way, we support emerging spaces with the MARKER program (this year focussing on West Africa) and our development of Art Week, which highlights the dynamic program of local galleries, Design Days Dubai and the SIKKA fair. We also place a real value on supporting the knowledge base of and engaging with the broader public through talks, the Global Art Forum, and – for the first time this year, MAG, a mobile art gallery that hosts a group exhibition in a truck that moves around Dubai.
All of these not-for-profit programmes are about providing nurturing and educational opportunities for artists, curators and art lovers. Our diverse programme is geared to be able to appeal to a wide spectrum of visitors.

ArtNowQ5: What changes you do see in future or wish to introduce in to the Dubai Art Fair?

AC: We’ve invested a lot in the not-for-profit side of the fair, growing our educational programming year-round, working to develop the artists’ projects more each year, setting up artists’ residencies, and much more. We work in collaboration with Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, and also most of the not-for-profit arts centres across the UAE – including Traffic, Tashkeel, the Pavilion, the Archive, the Barjeel Foundation and the Maraya Art Center. This is something we look to continue developing.

We also see the ‘“global footprint”’ of the fair grow each year – in 2012, we highlighted upcoming galleries from Indonesia – something that led to a long-term exchange, and this year, we’re focussing on West Africa. By beginning an exchange with a certain geography or theme each year, we’re we’re sparking a long-term engagement. Organically, the fair, in part due to Dubai’s role as a regional hub, has become a platform for artists from Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, as well as countries throughout the Arab world. This is something we’re proud of, and seek to develop each year.
ArtNowQ6: Can Do you imagine that due to art fairs, the centre of art is bound to shift, from Euro-centric to more international?

AC: Completely. The centre is not only shifting, but fragmenting. ‘“Global Art” is a little like ‘“world music”,’ in that it implies only certain places are centres, while others are on the periphery – while, of course, all this is relative. We are all part of a globalized world, and I feel this is now taken as the norm. Of course, the art world has always been “’global”’ in its reach, however the centres tended to be very divorced from each other – amidst a power structure that prioritized particular cities in Europe and America. Over the past ten years there has been a fundamental shift in the way we understand the importance of once so-called ‘“emerging’” centres like Beijing, Hong Kong, Dubai, Delhi, Rio, and so on. Over the next ten years, this will no doubt only increase.

ArtNowQ7: How do you perceive the individual artist’s role, position and place in the art fairs? Do you think that today, it is the gallery that is more important than the artist?
LE: We hear from artists that they feel welcome at Art Dubai, arguably more than at your average art fair, mainly due to the variety of curated programming and events—, which include performances, tours and presentations directly from artists.

AC: The artist must always be central. Without their work, there would be no gallery, no curator, no museum, no art fair, period.
ArtNowQ8: In your view, do different art fairs have distinct aspects/characteristics, or they are merely reflections of each other?

AC: While a critique can be made that many art fairs feel similar, we really set out to do something unique with Art Dubai. Our roots are in the Gulf and the Arab world, and we play a critical role as a centre for the international art world to access artists’ work and converses with the key players from both the commercial and non-commercial arts scenes of the Arab world. We’re proud to present over 500 artists at the fair, across all the programmes, of whom half are from the MENASA, plus featuring the works of the winners of the annual Abraaj Group Art Prize. For fairs to survive, or indeed thrive, in today’s globalised art world, they need to have a strong identity, and do something very different, to carve out a unique space on the art world calendar.
ArtNowQ9: What do you think of the Pakistani art that has been shown at Dubai Art Fair, particularly in comparison to art from other countries?
LE: Art from Pakistan has frequently been a notable feature of Art Dubai’s programme, ever since Salima Hashimi’s curated exhibition “‘Desperately Seeking Paradise”’ in 2008 which included seminal work by artists such as Rashid Rana, Naiza Khan, Huma Mulji (one of the winners of the 2013 Abraaj Group Art Prize) and many others. For several years Green Cardamom also showcased many artists from Pakistan on their stand at the fair. Given the geographical proximity and close relationship Dubai shares with Pakistan, the fair has been a natural (and perhaps rare) place for the growing talented pool of artists emerging from the excellent art schools in Pakistan to exhibit their work. Many Dubai-based galleries are now representing artists from Pakistan – this year at Art Dubai, Lawrie Shabibi will show work by Hamra Abbas (Abraaj Group Art Prize from 2011) and Grey Noise among other artists will show Fahd Burki, Ayesha Jatoi and Ehsan ul Haq, who is also one of our project artists, presenting History Lessons…. The last three editions of the Abraaj Group Art Prize have seen several winners with roots in Pakistan: Hamra Abbas, Shezad Dawood, Risham Syed and Hamra Abbas.

AC: There is a keen interest in artists from Pakistan at Art Dubai. This of course relates to the very strong interest to in work in general from the sub-continent;, however there is a distinct voice coming out of Pakistan and the diaspora of artists with Pakistani roots operating from across the world. This year in addition all the artists Laura mentioned, we will have over 16 artists exhibited across galleries in our main hall this year.

ArtNowQ 10: How do you perceive Art Dubai Art fair evolving in future?

AC: I believe Art Dubai has helped define Dubai as a cultural destination – and we hope that over the years to come, the city will be as known as much as a city of art and galleries as it is as a city of business and tourism. In the first year of Art Dubai we had approximately 8,000 visitors. Last year we had more than 23,000. More than numbers, the audience has also become very knowledgeable and enthusiastic – which is key to the development of an arts scene. We look forward to continue growing and to growing the art scene, both Art Dubai and the large scene around us.

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