Galleries Night: Prelude to Art Dubai
Sara Elkamel from Dubai, Tuesday 19 Mar 2013
Ahram Online took a tour of exhibitions in the industrial district of Al-Quoz in Dubai, an unorthodox venue for art galleries and the lavish crowd they attract


As a prelude to Art Dubai, an extravagant annual showcase of the region’s contemporary art scene running from 20 to 23 March and hosting more Arab artists than any other global art event, coordinated evening openings of more than 40 new exhibitions were held 18 March at the emirate’s two major art hubs: the industrial quarter of Al-Quoz and at the Gate Village in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).

Ahram Online joined trendy gallery dwellers who trotted from one exhibition to the other at Al-Quoz on Monday night.

A diverse range of artwork materialised, with major Iranian and Arab artists unveiling compelling works that tackle Iranian architecture and mysticism, the hazardous potential of prejudice in Iraq, the challenges and realities of being a Muslim woman in contemporary Kuwaiti society, and even Egypt's 25 January revolution.

Coinciding with 11th Sharjah Biennal and the Abu Dhabi Festival, the art fair takes place within the Art Week; a series of art and design events taking the Gulf by storm this March.

The multi-dimensional Art Dubai fair this year brings a staggering 75 galleries from 30 countries and more than 500 artists to Dubai, a growing art centre in the Middle East.

Among the highlights of the fair is SIKKA, a major showcase of works by UAE-based artists, the seventh edition of the Global Art Forum, a platform for debate and discussion over vital issues, which begins this year in Doha, at the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, and continues at Art Dubai.

This year’s theme is‘It Means This’,which entails breaking down and redefining words, phrases and ideas in the art world. Among the forum participants are Saudi visual artists Sarah Abu Abdallah and Manal Al-Dowayan, acclaimed writer Mourid Barghouti, Emirati art patron Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, among others.

At Galleries Night in Al-Quoz, The Third Line Gallery, showcasing captivating mirror mosaics by famed contemporary Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, was positively buzzing with visitors.

The work on display spans over just shy of a decade; the exhibition feautures works produced since 2004, and despite being reflective of the artist’s evolution, the collection carries her enduring theme of combining Iranian architecture with Islamic geometry and mysticism.

The exhibition is almost interactive; the mirror mosaics bulging out of the wall invite you to become part of the artwork, as you are dissected and artfully manipulated by Farmanfarmaian’s neatly cut, layered mosaics.

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Another intriguing exhibition was by prominent contemporary Iraqi artist Adel Abidin’s‘Symphony’, a mini-series of installations that reflects on the stoning to death of more than 90 students in Baghdad for their “emo” look by religious extremists.

A large installation of a bird, and a video-based installation of a number of bodies piled on the ground with doves tied to them with string, fluttering their wings frantically while stuck in place,‘Symphony’is rooted in the philosophical writings of Ibn Sina (Avicenna). The project pays tribute to the fallen students, and poignantly spotlights the violent repercussions of discrimination.

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One of the feistiest exhibitions around was Kuwaiti painter Shorouq Amin’s series‘Popconographic’showcased at Ayyam Gallery, in which she pokes at the idea of hypocrisy and double standards in conservative societies while challenging the stereotypical perceptions of the identity of Muslim women in modern-day Kuwait.

In one mixed media piece, entitled ‘50 Shades of Tattoo’, Amin defies the stigma attached to body art in Muslim communities.

In another strong painting, ‘Blind New World’, a mother, dressed in a black cloak that does not cover her long legs in blood red heels, covers the eyes of her teenage daughter, who clutches an iPad in one hand, the other curled as a gesture of defiance.

The painting captures the futility of censorship attempts in today’s information age, and the inevitably confusing effects the free and democratic nature of cyberspace has on Arab youth growing up in oppressive societies.

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An exhibition of African artwork entitled ‘Happening Now’ featuring an installation that tackles political puppetry in African contexts by South African artist by Sonya Rademeyer, multimedia works that explore the notion of globalisation by Senegalese artist Viye Diba along with a multimedia project tackling revolution in Egypt entitled‘Cairo 11’by Egyptian artist Mohamed Abouelnaga was also a distinctive, dynamic show.

In‘Cairo 11’Aboulnaga, founder of the El-Nafeza Foundation for Contemporary Art & Development and former participant at the Venice Biennale exhibits a series of photography and mixed media artworks that depict trees from Tahrir Square clothed in posters, banners and newspaper pages that document the struggles, dreams and demands of revolutionaries in Tahrir Square.

At the gallery, Aboulnaga explains to Ahram Online that re-erecting the trees in this series is the artist’s way of saying that the revolution continues, and that none of the revolutionaries’ demands have been fulfilled yet. “Nothing has changed,” he says grimly.

Aboulnaga reveals that the use of paper to record and archive the plights and demands of protestors is an enduring characteristic of Egyptians throughout history; the ancient Egyptians cherished recording their lives through symbols and more recently, lovers have exchanged letters in the Egyptian countryside, he explains.

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