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Local Art Revolution



With more than 157 art galleries, regular exhibitions and events, such as Art Dubai and the Abu Dhabi Art Fair, the UAE can be considered the art hub of the Middle East.

“The local art scene is doing really well; people are interested and the market is stable. [Everyone] is getting more educated about what all of us, as galleries, are trying to achieve and promote, locally, regionally and internationally, and are interested to see what works, artists and exhibitions all of us have lined up. We also have a set community of supporters and others within our industry, such as art fairs, auction houses, and private and public museums, not to mention new galleries that are opening up, and the expansion of hubs such as Al Serkal’s next phase and the development of the Dubai Design District (d3)”, says Sossy Dikijian, art director of ArtSpace, a local art gallery located in the Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC).

Meanwhile, regional artists are getting more and more exposure internationally, thereby putting themselves and the UAE on the map. “Each year local artists become better known through their works being exhibited at international art fairs and our own auctions that have an international following, and as a growing number of young collectors looks at works being produced from their own generation, they begin to build and develop an interest in art,” explains Hala Khayat, head of sales and associate director at Christie’s Dubai.

UAE artists are shining at international exhibitions and in different pavilions that the country set up in major art festivals around the world. “These few couple of years have seen a significant change in the promotion of Middle Eastern art internationally.  Middle Eastern artists are exhibiting internationally in galleries, biennials, art fairs and museums. The international market has also started collecting Middle Eastern art,” adds Dikijian.

Sheikh Sultan III bin Mohammed Al Qassemi, Member of the UAE Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, who is also an avid art collector, hosts a vast collection of Middle Eastern and Arab art in the Barjeel Art Foundation, which he founded in 2010. In an office decorated with works from across the Middle East region, Al Qassemi shared with POLICY, a sister publication of Aficionado, that investing in art in the Arab world is quite a new phenomenon. Local and international collectors are now starting to look at the Middle East not only as a source of antiques, but also as a beacon of new and interesting talent. When asked if local artists are selling their works, Khayat from Christie’s replies: “Yes, particularly among the younger generations of artists from the UAE. This season we are holding a dedicated online-only sale to coincide with our regular auction held in Dubai. One of the most interesting pieces is an arresting photographic work by Emirati artist Sheikha Lateefa bint Maktoum. Entitled: The Last Look, [and taken in] 2009, it is from an edition of ten [photographs]. It’s estimated to sell between $6,000 and $8,000.”

Beside art fairs and exhibitions organised in the UAE, industry professionals feel that more can be done in that regard and that the future of the local art scene depends on education and coverage. Tashkeel is a contemporary art organisation based in Dubai and established in 2008 by Lateefa bint Maktoum that is committed to facilitating art and design practice, creative experimentation and cross-cultural dialogue. Placing artists at the core, it supports the UAE’s creative community through studio facilities, artist residencies, international fellowships, a programme of exhibitions and events, and professional and recreational workshops.

Residencies organised by the gallery generally culminate in an exhibition, accompanied by activities such as talks and seminars, aiming to introduce the general public to international artists and their practices. “We are always asked for more educational events by our young collectors and the art community here is very active in setting up opportunities for people to meet others that are happy to share their knowledge and passion for art. There are regular art nights at the DIFC, where we have our own offices, along with the well-attended art forum that accompanies each year’s Art Dubai in March,” says Khayat.

Meanwhile, the media landscape in the Middle East is, like the art domain, evolving everyday and is still young. “It is also important to recognise the importance of art-specific publications in the region that have raised awareness and become useful resources for international collectors to follow and become better informed about Middle Eastern art. Christie’s catalogues, written and researched by specialists in the field, are also considered a valuable [source for information] and are published online, which makes them very accessible. There are two major art fairs held annually in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and a serious biennial in Sharjah, the Design Fair,” adds Khayat.

Meanwhile, the UAE government is heavily involved in the local art scene; it’s one of the major actors in the organisation of Art Dubai and the Abu Dhabi Art Fair. With Expo 2020 around the corner, authorities are also determined to take the art field to the next level.

“As the home of the regional and international design community, d3 will provide a centre of gravity for international designers and design enthusiasts leading up to Expo 2020 and a platform of support throughout the event itself. Our key objectives are to facilitate the on-going growth of Dubai,” explains Dr Amina Al Rustamani, Group CEO of TECOM Investments, while talking about d3 and its link with Expo 2020.

“The government is supporting the local art scene, although we need a big push and the opening of some type of museum. As an art community and the art hub of the region, we will really put our mark if we have a museum here.
Public art is now being looked into and it’s imperative that [the field is developed],” explains ArtSpace’s Dikijian.

The future looks really exciting for the local art scene. With the confirmation of the opening of a series of museums (in the UAE and Qatar), people from the region will finally be able to admire and study native works of art, which are the narratives of their own stories.


Originally published on Aficionado, sister publication of

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