Welsh artist Julian Castaldi and his wife Ellie came to Dubai to look after a friend’s cats nine years ago. They loved the emirate so much that they never left it.
Dubai, one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is attracting creative talent to the region with incentives such as Golden Visas, which allow residents to stay for 10 years instead of the usual three.
“I think the big difference with working in the UK or LA is that in Dubai there is diversity,” says Julian. “I’ve created works in Arabic and Hindi, which wouldn’t have happened anywhere else. Dubai’s art scene is amazing, so nine years later I’m still here.”
Amrita Sethi was a banker in Dubai, until she decided to become an artist, inspired by the emirate’s thriving art scene. He was recently awarded a Gold Visa in recognition of his contribution to Dubai’s digital art movement.
“I always loved coming to Art Dubai when I was a banker who dreamed of being an artist,” she recalls. “For me, Art Dubai is a really special place.”
Art Dubai: innovating
Art Dubai is a highlight of the emirate’s cultural calendar, celebrating its 15th edition in 2022. Held at Madinat Jumeirah, this year’s fair was the largest yet, with more than 100 exhibitors from 44 countries and a new section dedicated to digital art. Visitors were invited to purchase artwork and NFT (short for non-fungible yoken) and explore the galleries of the metaverse, as well as visit the more traditional wall exhibits.
“This is the first time that art can be purchased with cryptocurrency at Art Dubai,” says Global Art Forum curator Shumon Basar. “I think it’s very interesting. It opens it up to a new audience, a new collector base, even a new generation, so I’m really excited about that.
Art Dubai also has a section called Bawwaba, which means gateway in Arabic, dedicated to works from the underrepresented Global South.
“Dubai’s strategic positioning makes it the ideal platform to come and discover the art of the Global South, and by that we mean non-Western geographies. Generally speaking, the Middle East, Africa, Asia South, South East Asia, India and Pakistan,” says Art Dubai Executive Director Benedetta Ghione.
The artistic avenues of Dubai
Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue was formed from warehouses converted into galleries. Founded in 2008 in the industrial heart of Al Quoz, by Abdelmonem Alserkal, it continues to innovate.
This year, the flagship gallery Concrete presents the first “ambisonic” sound installation to be presented in Dubai. A Slightly Curving Place” invites visitors to “listen to the works of art”, pushing the boundaries of a traditional exhibition and embracing technology.
A few minutes’ walk away, the Carbon 12 gallery shares the personal exhibition “Heavy Eyes” by Michael Sailstorfer, who questions materiality through his series of eyeshadows on lead.
In the same street, Volte presents “The Guernica Project” by Raghava KK. This ever-evolving series consists of large-scale paintings, digital prints and NFTs that tell the story of India through cartoon characters and memes.
Using nearby Alserkal Avenue as a model, Al Khayat Avenue is currently converting more warehouses into art spaces. Vinyl-clad Efie Gallery is one of the first to open with an exhibition by African artist El Anatsui, famous for his large-scale bottle cap installations, which have been shown at New York’s MOMA and the Museum British.
Fly to the moon: Dubai’s next art mission
Further proof that Dubai’s art scene is reaching new frontiers comes from British artist-in-residence Sacha Jafri, who recently created the first artwork to be displayed on the moon.
Jafri’s previous painting sold for $62 million, and now he has created “We Rise Together – with the Light of the Moon”, a work of two figures intertwined in a heart, engraved on an aluminum plate designed to withstand the extreme temperatures of the moon. The work was presented to the public during a press conference in the United States pavilion at Expo 2020 in Dubai.
Commenting on the work, Jafri said his work focuses on “new hope for humanity”.