Highlights from Art Dubai 2012

This year's edition of Art Dubai was one of the best. I saw some strong and thought provoking art, attended some great talks and I also had an opportunity to present (and was thrilled to receive positive comments and feedback after it). The four days of Art Dubai was hectic, but it was a lot of fun.

Here are some snapshots from Art Dubai, plus some of my highlights (and a lowlight).

The art 

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The above is a small glimpse of the artwork I saw across the fair. I didn't get a chance to see everything, but I did love the painting "Love Boat" by Khaled Takreti (top row, middle) and was utterly amused by the video installation "A Letter Can Always Reach Its Destination" byJoana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige (bottom row, first two photos), one of this year's Abraaj Capital Prize winners.

The video is based on a collection of spam emails the artists have been collecting for over a decade narrated by non-professional actors, the emails are transformed into monologues or stories making the viewer almost believe and empathise with the person on the screen. 

Setu Legi, Pseudophobia, 2012 (Mixed media installation)

For Art Dubai Projects, Indonesian artist Setu Legi has created a part-fortress, part refuge from hand-sewn bags, imported from Yogyakarta and filled with UAE discarded materials. The structue evokes connotations of a shelter in times of war and disaster, and aims to carve out a place of reflection and perspective within the context of the art fair. Playing on the narrow line between claustrophobia and sanctuary, viewers find themselves - and their thoughts - reflected in tiny steel pins that hold signs and texts, or simply in their own mirror image, while a tree of life grows symbolically above them around a tie-dyed roof.

I really liked this and now that the fair is over, I wonder where it is. I imagine it would be great to have this displayed in a public space for people to interact with. 

Magdi Mostafa, Elements of the Unexpected, 2012 (Sound cells and mixed media installation)

Magdi Mostafa's installation is based on his experiences in Dubai, shaped by the city's fluid parameters and geopolitical and economic specificities. Typically, Cairo-based sound artist Mostafa works with outmoded, discarded or analogue forms that invisibly persist in the contemporary cityscape. 

Elements of the Unexpected, a representation of three-dimensional sound, remixes traditional bread dough machines (tahana), altered to knead and whip local dates syrup, with an aural cityscape; the work is an extension of an on-going project "sound cells 2009-2012" - the work is drawn directly from his residency process and experiences. 

Yto Barrada and Zid Zid Kids, Morocco to the Moon
Mixed media installation and educational workshops commissioned by Art Dubai Projects

Tangier-based artist Yto Barrada and designers Zid Zid Kids from Marrakech created a 1950s sci-fi universe of astronauts, aliens and space robots, which featured workshops, film projections and ice cream, and served as an exploration area and trilingual educational zone for both children and adults.  

I adored this corner of the fair. The set up was so charming and I bet the kids that took part in the workshops loved it. There was a lovely talk with Yto Barrada and Zid Zid Kids who explained their art education project in Morocco and teaching children the art of the handmade and the the joy of playing and creating. 

Global Art Forum
I loved the Global Art Forum this year, the programme was outstanding (and I'm not just saying this because I was one of the speakers, honest). It was referred to as the brain of art fair during one of the sessions, I'd add that it's also the heart. Big round of applause to Shumon Basar the director of this year's Global Art Forum and to the team that put it together. Here are some of my favourite moments. 

Listening to Douglas Coupland, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Shumon Basar (top left) in conversation about Marshall McLuhan was my number one favourite event at Art Dubai this year. My favourite quotes from the talk were by Douglas Coupland, "I miss my pre-Internet brain." and "Time is now a new luxury."

My second favourite talk/presentation was by Michael Rakowitz called The Break Up (top right), his 2010 multi medium project that originally aired as a 10 part radio program on Ramallah’s Radio Amwaj. The Breakup "considered the intricacies of The Beatles’ 1969 breakup as an example of a collaborative phenomenon that stops functioning. Negotiation fails, communication halts." 

Cabaret Crusades by Wael Shawky(top left) is a film based on Amin Maalouf's book "The Crusades Through Arab Eyes". It's made with marionnettes and really has to be seen in person to be appreciated. We only got to see 12 minutes of the film and I hope to watch the whole film someday.  

Mariam Wissam Al Dabbagh (top right), a writer and researcher did a presentation that addressed the different ways current events in the Arab world are narrated by Arabic and English speaking news media. You can read more about it on the Art Dubai blog.


Dubai Art World Cartography by Brusselssprouts (top left) is an overview of the art world in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah from 2005, when Brusselssprouts moved to Dubai. It includes every organisation, artists, curators, galleries, exhibions and events and really shows you the most active and influential people and organisations in this field. I'm interested to see how this project will progress.

The Global Art Forum ended with the screening of Boney M's performance of Ma Baker in front of a live studio audience in Dubai filmed in the late 1970s (top right). It was from the presentation I made earlier "Mass Medium: Emirati TV on Home Video" which included highlights from Aqeel al Showab’s 10,000-hour VHS/Betamax archive of Emirati TV from the 1970s to the 1990s. Personally, I really enjoyed working on this project and hope I can do something more with it. Watch this space.  

And how cool was it to end the forum with a Boney M song? Very cool.


Performances, music and parties

So at most artsy events, there will always be a bit of fartsy, which leads me to my lowlight at Art Dubai. There was an evening performance called Trace which was a collaboration with Traffic, described as a "free-form, entertaining evening of experimental cultural commentary featuring artists, poets, musicians, video, academics, curators and collectors, most of whom are based in the UAE." So far so good, but it was also, 

Originally inspired by Marina Abramovic’s philosophy of ‘nothing to sell but memories’, this concept was pushed forward by concerns of ‘a present evasive’, a detour from the ‘what’s next?’ to the ‘what’s now?’ and a contradictory recent investigation that is being labelled the ‘post–contemporary’.

To me it sounded like a puffed up statement piece that doesn't really say much, with Abramovic's name thrown in for some credibility. The acts on stage were shoddy and it really felt like I was at an amateur production in high school. There were only two worthy acts that night:

- Hala Ali (top left), a Saudi artist based in Dubai and a spoken word extraordinaire who performed a daring critique about the art world in this region.
- Bunty (top right) a talented musician and visual artist based in Brighton, UK who did a great one-woman show.  


There were some installations and performance art scattered around the venue, but nothing that captured the imagination. I'm all for experimental art and performances, but sadly, this evening didn't work, at least not for me. 

Anyway, back to some other highlights. I was quite taken by this transparent and illumunitaed piano (top left). The closing party was a night full of Balkan gypsy disco (top right), which led to some oddball dance moves. It was fun, crazy and a good laugh. 

So there you go, a small glimpse into my Art Dubai experience this year. It went by very fast, but it was truly a memorable affair. Till next year.