Myrna Ayad is the recently appointed director for Art Dubai and her involvement in the art fair’s 11th edition has resulted in it being widely proclaimed as one of the most successful to date. On a recent visit to Pakistan, ArtNow had the opportunity to meet and interview the up and coming director about her experience in Pakistan and her future plans for the fair.
JA: Where does your interest for art and culture stem from? How has your hometown, Lebanon, encouraged this concern with art?
MA: I grew up in Dubai, where I’ve lived since 1982 and where I had and still have access to a multitude of cultures. That offered me insight and exposure into the art, traditions and cultures of several diasporic communities; this multiculturalism is at the heart of the UAE – that diversity and energy that very much mirrors what we do at Art Dubai in being the world’s most global fair. So in essence, there wasn’t one identity growing up in Dubai, but many and that collective became a defining factor.
JA: You were previously the editor for Canvas, a magazine focused on art and culture. How does this experience aid in your current job as director of Art Dubai?
MA: The knowledge that I had acquired helped me a great deal; I was familiar with many of the key players by virtue of interviews and covering stories, from artists and galleries, to collectors and patrons through to curators and institutions. I also feel very privileged to have seen and reported on the rise of the regional art scene and have to say that Art Dubai, which I covered since its establishment in 2007, was a major educational platform for me. Today, the knowledge I’ve acquired allows me to continue telling stories; it’s just a different conversation.
JA: Could you tell our viewers a bit about Art Dubai and how, in your opinion, it has progressed over the years?
MA: When we launched our first edition in 2007, we presented 40 galleries and attracted 8000 visitors. For our 11th edition in 2017, we welcomed a record 94 galleries from 43 countries, enjoyed by an audience of 27,000 visitors. Numbers aside, the fair offers such a robust programme of activities and events, from the Abraaj Group Art Prize, which in 2018 celebrates a decade of the MENASA’s most important prize; The Global Art Forum, a critically acclaimed series of talks that takes on a different theme each year; the Modern Symposium that complements our Modern hall, the only platform that showcases Museum quality works by masters working in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia in the 20th century; The Room, a space offered to artists to create an immersive environment including gastronomy, performance art and artistic engagement. The list goes on, and I am so proud to see the fair develop each year, continuing to be at the core of the regional art scene, very much acting as a nucleus, exceeding its position as just an art fair and being very much a platform and hub.
JA: The first Art Dubai under your direction was widely considered as one of the strongest to date. Take us through your experience of the first time?
MA: I work with a formidable team who have a molecular knowledge of how an art fair runs and who are also very passionate. My first year involved a lot of listening and observing and the kudos really goes to the Art Dubai team. It was wonderful engaging the region, traveling to countries like Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iran, Egypt, Tunis and others, meeting art professionals and organisations and exploring ways in which we can collaborate. Ultimately this feeds right into one of Art Dubai’s missions: to gather and be a meeting point and host these different energies.
JA: Art Dubai prides itself on having one of the most extensive non-profit programmes. Could you please tell us more about these?
MA: Our nonprofit programming was born out of a desire to engage the local community and act as an educational platform and cultural institute that communicates with society. Among our non profit activity is the Global Art Forum (mentioned above), Campus Art Dubai which is an art academy that operates on a year-round basis and which attracts art enthusiasts from all fields; the Art Dubai Fellowship, a think tank that runs through the duration of the fair and deliberates specific themes and topics that often pertain to the fair.
JA: How important art fairs both nationally and internationally? How does it affect its local city and residents and how does it affect the city image in the international art scene?
MA: With Art Dubai, the fair was and still is a game changer that created a lot of attention, possibility, opportunity and appreciation for art. Ripple effects can still be felt – it is the heartbeat of the regional art scene. I feel that due of Art Dubai, events and activities happen around it because of the attention that it has garnered not just locally but regionally and internationally too. Art fairs are great places to explore a country/region’s pulse and discover trends, but in the case of Art Dubai, I very much feel that this is where trends are set, networking happens, discoveries are made and strategies formed. Celebrating art in March becomes a nation-wide festivity and the buzz is palpable.
JA: What is your future plans for Art Dubai? What should the audience expect from the upcoming fair?
MA: We want to continue strengthening our positioning as the most international art fair, one that is the preeminent platform to discover artists from the MENASA, a fair that engages the city and the region with its programming; a fair that mirrors the dynamism and energy of its host city. I’d like people to know that attending Art Dubai leaves one culturally enriched and inspired and we’d love to welcome this curiosity and enthusiasm.
JA: How has your experience in Pakistan been?
MA: Fantastic and such an eye opener. I was absolutely delighted to have discovered some late greats operating in the 20th century and also, some incredible contemporary talent. I think that a lot more can be done to push Pakistani art and export it so the world can celebrate the talent and history that exists in this South Asian nation. I feel that there is a great deal of enthusiasm amongst professionals and patrons alike and very much hope that it is just a matter of time before we see more Pakistani art on the world stage. Art Dubai has and will welcome Pakistani art, so watch this space!
JA: Karachi is currently enjoying their first biennale. How do you think this impact Karachi Art culture as well as their international image?
MA: Only in positive ways. I think that the initiative is great and I was delighted with the discoveries I made, especially as the biennial really engaged the city and it felt quite like a democratic platform, which is fantastic. In initiating something as ambitious as a biennial, noise is created, potential is discovered and opportunities are explored. I am eager to see how this will negotiate the Pakistani art scene and attract international attention. It really is always wonderful to attend a freshman cultural initiative and I am so happy to have been there.
JA: Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?
MA: Read, ask and come to Art Dubai!