The past month as been a busy one for ArtNow as the team travelled to the many art events taking place in the Middle East, including Art Dubai. ArtNow was very proud to have been a media associate of Art Dubai!
This year, Art Dubai was bigger than ever, with a host of prominent international and regional galleries. Art Dubai is unusual in combining the commercial with the curatorial, making it an exciting place to view new projects and witness new directions in contemporary art. Marker, the initiative of spotlighting a particular location from the region, focused this year on West Africa, inviting five galleries from places such as Ghana and Senegal. Some of the most innovative art in the Marker exhibit was from Lagos, a thriving, chaotic city much like Karachi. Sculpture on the Beach, a new part of the program, was a group exhibit of large sculptures and installations and made excellent use of the quintessential Dubai feature, the beach.
One of the regular highlights of Art Dubai is the unveiling of the Abraaj Group Art Prize. ArtNow is extremely proud that once again, the winners included one of our own! Lahore-based Huma Mulji won based on her proposal for a 21st century ‘cabinet of curiosities’ (read Saira Sheikh’s interview on the making of the cabinet here[link]). Along with the previous winners from Pakistan, Hamra Abbas and Risham Syed, this was an excellent way of showing the world the talent not just of our young artists, but of the prominence of young women amongst them.
The intellectual side of Art Dubai was most prominent in the Global Art Forum discussions, the theme of which this year was “definitionism” – exploring the words and terms used in the art world and excavating their hidden dimensions and potentials. One of the most interesting speakers in a line-up of was of Pakistani heritage. Uzma Z. Rizvi, an assistant professor at Pratt Institute in New York, is currently working on ancient South Asian outposts in the Middle East. Her talk showed how links between the two regions go back to the beginnings of civilization and that through events such as this art fair, are being made even stronger today.
Dubai was home to a number of other art events during its annual Art Week (March 14-23). Sikka Art Fair, a home-grown effort focussing on UAE-based artists, involving the local community and taking place in historic, heritage neighbourhoods, was the kind of grassroots effort Pakistan could take as an example.
The Sharjah Biennial is creating a new dialogue based on the cultural, aesthetic and conceptual challenges specific to the Middle East. This year’s edition of the Biennial, inspired by the courtyard as a liminal space between the public and the private, was titled “Towards a New Cultural Cartography”. The Biennial asked us to look at this traditional space as a zone of experimentation and collaboration, where new ideas can be created and exchanged. A case in point was Wael Shawky’s music installation featuring a conceptual take on qawwali, where the “song” was comprised of curatorial talks translated into Urdu.
Over the years, the region’s annual fairs and biennials have grown into key institutions that disseminate artistic knowledge and create networks of support for artist production. The MENASA region is quickly developing the infrastructure necessary for a flourishing artistic community that is connected pan-regionally and globally, and it is heartening to see the importance of Pakistani artists in this art scene. Some of the most important international contemporary art events will take place over the next few months, including the Venice Biennale, and Frieze and Pulse Art Fairs in New York. ArtNow will keep you updated on these events and more, and we look forward to Pakistani artists playing a role at those too, in the future.
Bye for NOW.