Art Dubai 2016

The 10th edition of Art Dubai kicked off with great fanfare. Unlike the vast expanse of the recent Armory Show in New York, three manageably sized exhibition spaces at the Madinat Jumeirah allowed visitors to peruse a strong display of works from the Middle East and the surrounding regions of South and Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Africa, with a few representations from Europe. 

Increasingly viewed as a strong outpost of regional art, Art Dubai presented thoughtfully curated booths with an emphasis on abstract and landscape paintings, new and unseen sculpture, minimalist works on paper, and striking photography. Postcard sized spare paintings of the changing Pakistani urban landscape by Risham Syed at Project 88, contrasted well with Aida Mahmudova’s thick impasto brushstrokes of nature in her native Baku, Azerbaijan at Yay Gallery. For T. Shanaathanan, a mash up of memory and architecture resulted in strange earthy landscapes of a war-torn Jaffna after the twenty-six year civil war in Sri Lanka. Galerie Lelong’s presentation of the Cameroonian artist Barthelemy Toguo’s eye-catching purple-blue watercolor and pastel work Night Singers, 2014, stood out as did the Korean artist Yeesookyung’s quiet surreal paintings of cartoon and manga figures at Ota Fine Arts. 

Modernist works, such as the late Pakistani artist Syed Sadequain’s suite of twenty-two lithographs at the Grosvenor Gallery, and posthumous colourful figurative paintings of native Ugandans by Geoffrey Mukasa, showcased the artists’ ingenious combination of Western and local influences, as did Ibrahim El-Salahi’s black and white abstractions of his people in Sudan at Vigo Gallery. The French artist Julien Segard at Experimenter captured architectural spaces with compelling acuity in his suite of seventeen charcoal geometric drawings, while the Mexican artist Gonzalo Lebrija’s geometric sculptural painting at Travesia Cuatro, comprising of gold leaf on wood, used depth and shadow to great visual effect. 

Political sculpture, such as the Lebanese artist Nadim Karam’s large trumpet shaped work Silence Is Shout at Ayyam Gallery, recalled Lebanese history, while the Iraqi artist Ahmed Alsoudani’s contorted surreal shapes and the haunted figurations from his paintings, appeared in tactile three dimensional forms in his sculptures at the Leila Heller Gallery. For Syrian born Diana Al-Hadid, painting and sculpture were easily melded in her delicate stalagmite and stalactite formations of steel, plaster, fiberglass, and polymer. Rarely seen sculptures by the veteran Lebanese artist Saloua Raouda Choucair, who was a pioneer abstractionist in her country, were uplifting at Agial Art Gallery. Photographs by the Lebanese artist Ali Cherri’s The Egyptian Scale series of mammoth-sized Egyptian temples were as awe inspiring as the Egyptian artist Mahmoud Khaled’s photography of interior spaces in shops was intimate. 

At Art Dubai robust aesthetics combined with the commingling of indigenous forms with Western traditions played out in full force. Craftsmanship highlighted specific regions, and the cumulative strength of works from long neglected geographical areas only reinforced their significance in educating and uplifting the viewer. 

Olya Kroytor, Attention, 2015. Collage, 31 × 22.5cm. Courtesy Artwin Gallery.