Art Nights In Dubai: Too Much Is A Good Thing

Two distinct Art Nights hit Dubai 17th March at Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and Alserkal Avenue in Al Quoz. There was some general grumbling about both events running concurrently and 25 minutes driving time apart, as though the city’s culturati were being forced to choose sides and declare allegiances. In reality, both events were beautifully attended, and the fact that multiple activities are taking place in Dubai on one evening is a positive sign that the city is growing into its new role as an international arts hub. Stop through London or New York on any given night and the possibilities for openings, talks, or performances are endless. More events than time to spare in Dubai is a good thing.

Street Art being created live in DIFC by local wonders Sya and Bow

Street Art being created live in DIFC by local wonders Sya and Bow

The organizers of DIFC Art Nights outdid themselves this time around. There was no elbowroom to be found in Gate Village as thousands of well-heeled young professionals nibbled complimentary canapés and flitted in and out of gallery openings. Unlike previous editions, the art was not simply inside the galleries—it was spilling out into the outdoor public spaces. The most literal example of this was Faig Ahmed’s yarn installation inspired by Azerbaijani carpets extending from inside Cuadro Gallery and out across the courtyard, interacting with the crowds.

Abdulnasser Gharem at Ayyam DIFC

Abdulnasser Gharem at Ayyam DIFC

Ayyam Gallery opened a strong solo show, Al Sahwa (The Awakening) by Saudi great Abdulnasser Gharem, who hit cult fame when he donated the $842,500 proceeds from a Christie’s sale of one of his works entirely to charity back in 2011. In contrast Art Beat, a new initiative aimed at providing emerging UAE artists with a platform, curated an outdoor pop up exhibition of affordable work. Affordable is not a word that is heard too often in DIFC, so this display really stood out.

Neon design on display at the Art Beat pop up exhibition

Neon design on display at the Art Beat pop up exhibition

In other areas street artists sprayed or painted away on canvas, and office types loosened their neckties and challenged one another to impromptu games of ping-pong. Corporate sponsored art collaborations were trending as Pepsi, Nokia, and Praesidium got involved by cooperating with local artists on special projects. The free potato chips and Pepsi sodas felt out of character for the upmarket DIFC atmosphere, but it was good to see the private sector beginning to support community creativity by making a cultural investment.

Fayez Barakat's paint splattered car outside the Barakat Gallery on Alserkal Avenue

Fayez Barakat’s paint splattered car outside the Barakat Gallery on Alserkal Avenue

Down Sheikh Zayed Road and deep into the industrial warehouse district of Al Quoz, Alserkal Avenue had a more laid back vibe, with a dressed down crowd of serious art connoisseurs darting between gallery openings. The upbeat voices of an acapella group spilled out into the dark alleyways from The Fridge, an indie performance space. A sophisticated yet conversational group took in Amir Hossein Zanzani’s opening at Salsali Private Museum, contemplating the theme of submission to power.

The new A4 Space has a library community space a theatre and a snazzy loft

The new A4 Space has a library community space a theatre and a snazzy loft

Meanwhile, the city’s writers gathered to mark the launch of Uncommon Guidebooks’slightly mischievous and downright poetic Dubai edition, edited by Hind Shoufani (check out my chapter on Dubai’s art scene, Lost in Al Quoz, which I’ll be posting in more detail about very soon). The launch was set in Alserkal Avenue’s brand new A4 Space, which will provide a much-needed centre for entrepreneurs and creatives to gather and light.

Launch copies of Uncommon Dubai were thumbed through with great interest. The book's layout and even the feel of the paper are particularly pleasurable

Launch copies of Uncommon Dubai were thumbed through with great interest. The book’s layout and even the feel of the paper are particularly pleasurable

Although several of the most established galleries on Alserkal Avenue are participating in Art Dubai, the evening’s event pushed the entire area into the spotlight and drew many out of town guests, providing all the galleries with international exposure. I will be doing a roundup post of some of the new standout shows on at Gallery IVDE, Grey Noise, Showcase, Green Art, and FN Designs soon.

My husband was along with me, and though we were both quite jet lagged from our recent trip to Japan, we ended the evening indulging in a steaming pot of mussels and cones of fluffy french fries at Cafe Belge at The Ritz Carlton DIFC, our candlelit neighborhood watering hole , which was bursting with pretty couples holding hands, artists blowing off steam, and tourists snapping selfies.

Me in all leather amongst some of the contributors to Uncommon Dubai, including glittery brilliant editor Hind Shoufani

Me in all leather amongst some of the contributors to Uncommon Dubai, including glittery brilliant editor Hind Shoufani

A portion of this post was Co-Posted on the Art in the City Blog