Bastakiya Art Fair is now in its fourth year and complements Art Dubai. The independent Fringe Fair is organised by the XVA Gallery in Dubai’s historic Al- Bastakiya area. Mona Hauser and Rosie Hayes bring together and promote emerging artists from Iraq, Pakistan, the UEA, Russia, Iran and Lebanon. It has attracted regional and international galleries and project curators and individual participants. A series of brunch talks include guests , Curator Hans Ulrich Obrist from the Serpentine Gallery London Venetia Porter from the British Museum, Kamran Diba founder of the Museum in Teheran, with Issa Rosa in the Chair and James Knox Managing Director from the Art Newspaper and Nour Wali independent Curator to name but a few.
James Knox, Ben Tomlinson, Anna Somer Cocks, Issa Rosa, Kamran Diba
The principle agenda is to promote emerging Middle Eastern Art, which is evident in the diversity of national houses represented here. I met artists and curators from Iraq, Pakistan, the UEA, Iran, and Lebanon and Syria and Leo Lefort made it all the way from Ethiopia. Along XVA’s own curated spaces leading off the central courtyard.
Al Harim Karim , Sculpture : ‘Goddess Doll’
Al Braithwaite exhibiting for the second time at Bastakija is not afraid to confront the age of terrorism and post colonial stress head on in his work. For this show he presented Hall of Mirror’s a juxtaposition between old and young Oriental and Occidental conveying a message about how we view geographical realigning of power in the 21st. century.
Topics for discussions included the increasing global poly centering of art spaces, issues concerning the choice of contents for collections and institutions, where Venetia Porter stressed the need for the growing inclusion of Middle Eastern Artists work for Museums and Institutions and how what gets chosen is what is art that is ‘necessary and of the moment.’ With regards to emerging artistic trends there was an emphasis on documentation and archiving of current exciting developments in Art from the Middle East. James Knox Editor in Chief of the Art Newspaper, Ben Tomlinson and Nour Wali an Independent Curator and Anna Somers Cocks addressed issues of media representation. And the inevitable misunderstandings that occur when interpreting artists work between different cultures. There was a call out for critical art writing that in the opinion of some seems to have lost its edge, and truth and James Knox highlighted the need for intercultural co-operative artist projects and residences for the Bastakija area and this was encouraged by many.
Issa Rose Hans Ulrich Obrist Venetia Porter
Further heated panel discussions arose with artist from Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and the Arab World with eager participation from the audience. Why are Middle Eastern Artists represented in the media with the label of oppressed and should they have to live up to that in some cases outdated image? Even the label of Middle Eastern Art itself is misleading. There are a host of Middle Eastern countries all of which have something different to offer culturally. Performance Night at XVA Gallery.
Hans Ulrich Obrist relating to the individual feelings of the artists in the search for identity was keen to discuss problematic issues for artists who are either in involuntary and voluntary exile and working away from their country of origin. This platform exposed the conflicting opinions on the sense of identity and responsibility the artists are confronted with in the face of how the Middle Eastern Artist and his or her work is viewed and understood by the West and this evolved into a challenging and lively discourse amongst those present.
Laudi Abilama : Silk Screen Prints of Eminent Figurheads.
Artist Nelda Gillian is a long time resident of Dubai and who was one of the first artists to exhibit at XVA when it began in 2003 and continues to exhibit each year. I asked her about her thoughts on the problems of identity in her work. In her infinite wisdom she responded by saying: ‘I think it does not really matter where one is from, one is oneself where ever one is and that is reflected in one’s work and if the work comes from within it is always authentic whatever one’s nationality. It is really a question of finding oneself first of all.”
Inside Janet Rady Gallery: Nilu Izadi’s Photography Project: The Yellow House, Beirut.
Towering above us all in the courtyard of XVA throughout the Fair was El Harim Karims oversized sculpture of a white doll. Titled “The Goddess Doll.” It is a call for remembering our dreams, innocence and purity. Inspired by the Sumerian goddess figures and his early experiences of being in contact with ancient art in the Baghdad Museum, which is now sadly looted and destroyed.Nilu Izadi showed a series of photographs along side a Camera Obscura Project. Poignant shots of the Yellow House in Beirut after 23years of occupation by Christian Militia.
An other one of my favourite pieces I saw at Arthur Gueret’s gallery house BA + AG Curators Arthur and art expert Brahim Alaoui are working on linking the Middle East and the West. Two video installations by Adel Abidin. Born in Baghdad and now living in Finland Adel Abidin’s video installations “ The Bread of Life’ and ‘Tasty’ is a mosque made of sugar-cubes placed next to an anthill. The video piece questions the relationship between inside and outside, and how symbols affect our lifes. I found his work to be both ironic and humorous.
Galleries represented included Saatchi Online for the third year running, Majlis Gallery is the oldest Gallery in the area and was showing ‘Arabian Love Story’ a series of hand finished prints and artists books, by Paul Wadsworth, who loves to spend 4 month at a time in his Studio in Dubai to produce work referencing the region. Laudi Abilama’s , silk screen portraits of eminent figures from the Middle East were hung on the walls of the centra Bastakija courtyard . Rania Ezzat installed a chain mail flag and Jane Beveridge paintings were there on individual participation.
The House of Art (previously Waqif Art Centre) from Doha, Sharjah’s showed inspiring and courageous art from the here and now with Mai Issa –Al-kuwari ‘s ‘Conversation’ piece. Al-Maraya Al-Qasba Gallery showcasing EmiratiArtists and Lebanese Running Horse Gallery and London based Rose Issa Projects.
At Emirati House and curated by Colleen Quigley of Zayed University, I saw an exiting students exhibition indicating much promise for the future of Dubai Art. While Source Space’s motto was: ‘Let there be glitter’ and glitter baubles and all things feminine there was!
This is just a very small selection of the pertinent and inspiring artwork I saw and am I am able to communicate here. Check out further blog entries with interviews of some of the participating artists later.
Being part of Bastakija Art Fair was an interesting experience because it provided much intelligent and inspiring thought and conversation between people involved in the arts at all levels. Awareness and caution on the part of ‘art colonialism’ is a valuable consideration that was not overlooked by Anna Somers Cocks in the panel talks. XVA’s platform provided an opportunity to discuss ideas openly. Most exciting is the move toward a new art language and new concepts in art developments from interaction between Middle Eastern and Western Art Practises.
I shall definitely want to be there again next year and hope to have inspired others to do so too.
Check up on Individual Interviews and Artists Profiles which I shall post soon.
Bastakiya Local , Bur Dubai