Art Dubai: Offering a slice of UAE
Much has been written about the world-class artists and exhibitions that came to town over “art week” in Dubai, not to mention the brilliant Sharjah Biennial but I just want to stop for a minute to give a word to the two sections at Art Dubai that focused on UAE talent.
First of all, UAE NOW was a brilliant idea. It gave the grass-roots platforms in the UAE the space to showcase what they do. Bait 15, the house of an artist collective in Abu Dhabi set up their booth with a large mattress in the centre. This was a space for performance, for conversation and for contemplation among the busy art fair. They also acted as a hub around which the other spaces could congregate. I personally thought the choice to place this section amid the Residents section, which asked 12 leading artists from Latin America to respond to the UAE was also a salient choice. It galvanised the whole of Hall 3 into a place for discussion about the country we are in and also focused audiences on something that was from the country and about the country.
I also particularly enjoyed the Daftar Al Asfar booth. This is the idea of a yellow sketchbook that has made its way around the world in which artists would contribute explore their own practice while connecting and interacting with other artists’ work.
The other highlight from Hall 3 was the exhibition of artists who recently graduated from the Campus Art Dubai programme. Campus Art Dubai is a six-month seminar and residency programme providing UAE-based artists with the opportunity to develop their practices under mentorship. In a presentation titled: Mirror Mirror on the Wall: Contemporary Art in the City, the show included work by Dima Srouji, Augustine Paredes, Jumairy and Mohamed Khalid.
Paredes is someone whose work caught my attention. His photography sheds light on shared spaces, which is where so many of Dubai residents live and work. Some months ago, I posted about his work, which depicted portraits of himself in his bed-space and I was happy to see that in this exhibition, his work has progressed into much more thoughtful and intense images that he describes as “conceptual existential self-portraits”.
The photographs of images of the foodstuffs that go into making one of the Filipino national dishes – adobo – are raw and up-close in a way that makes you want to recoil. Parades explains them as a commentary on the eternal question that Dubai-residents ask: where are you from? And that categorisation acts like the plastic bag and the label that wraps the food, forcing you into a box that can be as suffocating as he makes it look in his photographs. In another piece, Paredes composes his own recipe, which is a poetic take on how to survive life in Dubai. His work shows promise and was just one of many nuggets of discovery on show at this year’s fair.