As Abu Dhabi Art is set to paint the town all sorts of hues and welcome a horde of global artists, collectors and exhibitions, it’s time for our youth to take their role in the UAE’s future scene
As Abu Dhabi Art returns from 8th to 11th November, the capital will open its doors to a host of international galleries, artists, collectors and fans once more.
Founded in 2012, the annual event encompasses an art fair, panel discussions, performances and exhibitions for a global conversation on creativity in all its forms, with international and local curators and key players stepping up to show the world Abu Dhabi’s vibrant scene.
But with so much young talent on our doorstep, the time is coming for the UAE’s future artists to shine.
With that in mind, we talk to the people in the business to find out how the UAE – and events like Abu Dhabi Art – are shaping the next wave of the nation’s artistic identity.
Bright young things
“There are some very talented young people here,” says Peter Goodwin, founder of Mestaria, an organisation that works to give artists in the region a platform for exposure.
At the forefront of the UAE’s artistic community, Peter has a strong conviction that the nation still has a lot to say when it comes to cultural and artistic development – and young people are going to play a huge role in that.
“The young generation here has travelled, they’re internationally savvy, they’re tech savvy, they can see the world and where it’s going,” Peter pauses. “That is a potent mix to create some new things.”
Creating new things and innovation are part of the UAE’s DNA if you look at its lifespan, but how can the mark itself as a global player in the art world?
“Education and exposure are the key,” he explains. “Anyone who wants to become an artist needs to be told that there’s nothing stopping them and that this is an environment where you can create a career.
“They need to be told that the environment will be created for them.”
But, Peter notes, if the UAE wants to show the world its artistic identity beyond the clichés, then the new generation needs to think outside of the box.
“For me, I can’t just tell people what the UAE is. What I can do is use art as a medium to get that message out there; I can get these artists out into the world.
“What we want to do is show people they’re wrong; we need to change perceptions of the region,” he reflects.
“This region is a wealth of history that people can’t see,” he adds. “Things were invented in the Middle East that are used today in the Western world, and those should be celebrated.
“The way of thinking here is one of innovation and drive, and that should feed a whole new raft of artwork.
“It’s about honesty,” Peter says. “It’s about having something to say and being able to express that. And it’s about having the medium to do it.”
Creating the scene
With developing a young art culture one of the key aims for the UAE, part of that medium and educational drive is accomplished through outreach from key players, such as Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, the Salama Bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and Abu Dhabi Art itself.
And with its annual Wings project, where artists are encouraged to redesign the event’s iconic logo, to this year’s Pavilion Prize, where students worked on architectural design, Abu Dhabi Art has historically supported this impulse to push local art culture into a new era.
But this year, the event has extended its reach even further with its Art+Technology programme, where engineering students from Khalifa University are getting the chance to learn from internationally acclaimed artists.
And it’s education, say two of the visiting artists, that is the key to the whole thing.
“A lot of people think that the UAE is just shopping malls, the airport and the desert and nothing else,” observes contemporary Chinese artist Feng Mengbo, one of the artists collaborating.
Feng is working with the university’s students to create sound and art through an oscilloscope, drawing on influences from local and international culture to create simple music.
“They think it’s a desert of culture and art, and that’s where they’re wrong. The UAE government has developed everything the right way – they focus on culture and they
focus on art, and that’s very important.
“Education – that works,” he adds. “This is for the next generation.”
This focus on giving future artists the tools they need is something Egyptian artist Magdi Mostafa, another artist on the Art+Technology programme, agrees
with, noting how a little healthy competition goes a long way to further these aims.
“These students, they are ambitious,” he comments. “They really want to learn and understand. But underneath, between the emirates themselves, there’s a challenge between them to create art. It’s not only the country: all the emirates pushing the boundaries of art in a good way, in a way that serves everyone.”
Magdi’s work with the students entails generating familiar sounds through circuit building and interactive exhibitions.
And from aspects of Arabian culture, such as calligraphy, to African drumming, the students in the workshops are learning to build an art form that is distinctly their own.
“In Arabian culture – we have the beauty of the mosaics and calligraphy,” Feng says. “With art, it’s very easy to communicate with people here.
“I don’t want them to become me, I want them to become themselves,” Feng adds, reflecting on the UAE’s future artistic identity. “That’s not easy, and it will take time.”
Catch the students’ projects in action from 8th to 11th November at Manarat Al Saadiyat.
Art to art
Check out our pick of the best Abu Dhabi Art events…
- Iraqi born artist Hayv Kahraman will teach children palm frond weaving techniques based on her latest body of work. 8th November. AED 50. Manarat Al Saadiyat. 5pm–7pm.
- In The Invisible Woman workshop, aimed at teens and adults, artist Manal Al Dowayan will introduce visitors to the practice of participatory art. 8th and 9th November. AED 100. Manarat Al Saadiyat. 6pm–8pm.
- Evros Walk Water features a performance of American artist John Cage’s Water Walk by Daniel Wetzel, created in collaboration with refugee children living in Athens. 8th to 11th November. Free. Manarat Al Saadiyat. Daily 4pm–5pm and 7pm–8pm.
- Curated by Fabrice Bousteau, Street Art is a city-wide exhibition where leading international artists have explored the link between nature and culture with paintings on buses and walls. 8th Nov-27th Jan. Four Seasons Abu Dhabi and throughout the city.
- Egyptian visual artist Hassan Khan takes to the stage for a musical performance with Live Ammunition: Music for Clapping, String Quartet and Live Electronics, where he will layer different sounds and patterns of music to create a concert. 9th November. Free. Manarat Al Saadiyat. 8.30pm–9.30pm.
- Stand-up comedy comes to Abu Dhabi Art with Aditi Mittal and Omar Ismail, who will be pondering the role of language and the misunderstandings that result
from living in a multi-cultural, multi-linguistic world. 10th November. Free. Manarat Al Saadiyat. 8.30pm– 10.30pm.
- At Bridging the Gap: Collectives and Creative Platforms in the GCC, leading cultural experts will consider other forms of art and their role in the region. 10th November. Free. Manarat Al Saadiyat. 4pm–5pm.
Need to know
What: Abu Dhabi Art
Where: Manarat Al Saadiyat, Saadiyat Island
When: 8th-11th November, 2pm–9pm
Price: AED 50 for adults, free for children under 18 and students. Supplement required for some activities.
WORDS Camille Hogg