Intersections in Dubai

By Joseph Hammond9.04.2015Culture and Society

Art Dubai has become a globally important art event in less than a decade. Its success depends on Dubai’s intersection of cultures.

The most popular piece at this year’s Art Dubai faire was “Intersections”, a piece which features a suspended wooden cube intricately carved with a laser. In the middle of the cube a powerful light bulb reflects this Andulusian design, onto the walls of the gallery. “The Guardian” featured a shot of the crown prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed al-Maktoum using his phone to capture a shot of a young Emirati boy standing under the cube.

The artwork titled “Intersections” was crafted by Pakistani-American artist Anila Quayyum Agha. Thus “Intersections”, while proudly Islamic, also shows strong Asian, European and North American influences. Dubai itself reflects a similar “intersection” of cultures. The multicultural nature of Dubai is often cited as one of the reasons for Art Dubai’s success along with generous government funding. Nearly every pamphlet and catalogue associated with the event begins with the words “Held under the patronage of his highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, Ruler of Dubai” usually written in capital letters.

Conveniently located

In less than a decade, Art Dubai has gone from upstart art fair to globally important art event. Yet, the success of Art Dubai has hinged on more than just government funds. Dubai’s location, almost equidistant between important cities in Asia, Europe and Africa, has aided the success of many of the city’s ventures: from Emirates Airlines to its successful World Expo 2020 bid. Art galleries who may worry about sending fragile artwork or installations long distances find Art Dubai more convenient.

Some 90 galleries participated in Art Dubai along with 500 artists. The European contingent accounted for 37% of participating galleries. This was followed closely by the Middle East and North Africa (31%), Asia (16%) and Africa (6%) art galleries. Further afield, 7% of the galleries were from the United States, 2% from Latin America, and 1% from Australia.

Most important art show in the region

The UAE’s liberal visa regime means that it is easier for artists from many countries to visit the show in comparison to other important art industry shows in Switzerland, Hong Kong, and Florida. Azeri-Iranian artist Nima Zare Nahandi told me that“Art Dubai is the most important art show in the region for Iranian artists as it is easy for them to attend this show and discuss their work in person.” Of course art can sell without the presence of the artist there to meet and greet potential buyers, but their presence can assist sales. One potential Emirati buyer interested in purchasing “Intersections” from New York’s Aicon Gallery seemed pleased when told the artist would be willing to install the piece in the home of its buyer.