The founders and curators of Abu Dhabi’s galleries each play their own unique role in shaping the city’s growing arts and culture community
In the space of 45 years, Abu Dhabi has done something remarkable.
Where there was desert, there are now museums, galleries and creative hubs – and with it, an ever-growing, vibrant cultural scene.
And with the recent announcement that Louvre Abu Dhabi is set to open its doors on 11th November this year, the capital is poised to enter a whole new era of culture – and it’s one we’ve all been eagerly anticipating.
With that in mind, we talk to some of the people behind the capital’s galleries championing the local art scene…
Guggenheim Abu Dhabi
The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi might not have opened its doors yet, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see – in fact, it’s quite the opposite.
With three exhibitions already under its belt at Manarat Al Saadiyat, the museum has made an assertive statement as to its future contribution to the capital’s creative scene with a focus on the contemporary arts.
“We work with living artists,” explains programmes manager Maisa Al Qassimi. “We’re the museum that still has artists with us today, and we try to take advantage of that.”
With an active schedule of public programming and talks, the museum has certainly made an impression, and engagement forms a core part of its ethos.
“The museum doesn’t exist as a collection yet; it exists through our public programming,” Maisa says.
With the famous Manhattan Solomon R Guggenheim museum, known for its Impressionist and contemporary art collections, giving the capital’s gallery its name, Maisa is quick to emphasise that Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is not just an offshoot – this is the real deal.
“Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is not a branch. It’s centred in a completely different axis of the world; it’s rewriting history in a way with its location.”
As the museum prepares for a future launch, there’s one thing that is central to its development – and that’s reaching little ones through art.
“I remember a school group that came to see the Creative Act exhibition a few months ago,” she reflects. “I asked them, ‘What did you learn today?’ and this child put his hand up. He said, ‘I learned that I can make art out of anything’.
“Children relate to the art in different ways,” Maisa adds. “And through our artistic workshops, they can connect to it.”
To stay up to date with upcoming exhibitions, visit: saadiyatculturaldistrict.ae
The Art Gallery
“We don’t sell art, we’re not a community arts centre. There’s going to be all these other big museums on Saadiyat Island, so what’s our role? We’re part of the changing landscape of art here.”
Maya Allison, curator of New York University Abu Dhabi’s (NYUAD) Art Gallery, believes this art space has a strong position to uphold.
“The role of [the gallery] is to be a point of connection for a dialogue between the public and the university community,” she adds.
“What we want to do is show exhibitions on art and culture that focus on three core themes that are really meaningful: Arab and Islamic arts and culture, the landscape and the experience of cultural exchange.”
With a mission to show the UAE’s artistic diversity, NYUAD’s gallery bridges the gap between university and public life, as well as inspiring the next generation of art-lovers.
“When you’re in a city where there weren’t many opportunities to look at art, it doesn’t become something you do every week,” Maya muses.
“Building habits of looking at art will be key to building a generation of people who are part of this audience.”
Catch Bruno Boudjelal: Frantz Fanon at the Project Space until 27th September, or Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952–1965 at the main gallery from 4th October. Free. Saadiyat Island. Mon–Sat noon–8pm. Contact: 02 628 8000, nyuad-artgallery.org
“Art is not an elitist thing,” begins Shamma Al Mheiri, project manager at the Salama Bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, which oversees cultural hub Warehouse 421.
“We try to make art more approachable,” she adds. “We share it with the public and we invite people to engage with it. We don’t want people to be intimidated by it or feel like they need a qualification to be able to understand our exhibitions.”
Founded in 2015, the location is part-gallery, part-cinema and part-platform for developing the grassroots art scene with a public schedule of events and panels.
“We’ve never wanted to limit it to being just one thing,” Shamma comments. “It’s not just about art, it’s about design, lifestyle, music, cinema. It encourages people to explore their own creativity.”
With exhibitions such as Lest We Forget, which plumbs the depths of Bedouin life through photography, objects and archival material, the creative hub draws on local artists and UAE history to form a programme that resonates with those that live here.
“The arts scene here continues to grow, and it provides people with unique cultural experiences through art and artists from the Middle East, while exploring artists across the globe,” Shamma reflects.
“We encourage emerging artists and members of the public here to be able to share
and engage with the art,” she adds. “That’s how we help the UAE’s art ecosystem grow.”
Catch Emirati Adornment: Tangible and Intangible until 24th September. Free. Mina
Zayed, near Mina Center. Tue–Sun 10am–8pm. Contact: 02 676 8803, warehouse421.ae
For La Parole founder Claude Habib, establishing her gallery came from a desire to support local talent as well as supporting a young art culture.
“I inaugurated La Parole in 2009 as a platform for contemporary art,” she explains. “I believe that the UAE and Abu Dhabi in particular have strong hidden talents.
“It is La Parole’s vision to embrace young local artists through our art workshop programmes, as well as encouraging local artists by offering them a platform to express their artistic peculiarity.”
La Parole, which means ‘the word’ in French, offers a voice to the local art scene, with exhibitions and workshops that focus on not just visual arts, but poetry and music, too.
But local exhibitions are not the only thing Claude does to promote the UAE’s artistic talent; she also showcases the works internationally, putting the UAE on the map for art.
“La Parole was born in Abu Dhabi, so I am careful to show the UAE’s artistic diversity in my international shows and shed light on this part of the world’s palette.”
Al Forsan International Sports Resort, Khalifa City. Sat-Thu noon–10pm. Contact: 050 127 8772, laparoleartgallery.com
N2N Art Gallery
“Art is an act that our mind can’t express,” says Natalya Muzaleva, founder of N2N Art Gallery. “A curator needs to curate in such a way as to surprise people – like a good movie.”
Founded in 2013, the gallery focuses on showing works from Eastern European artists to give a unique insight into a little-known art scene.
“Our mission is to develop understanding of Eastern Europe’s contemporary visual arts in the Middle East,” Natalya explains. “The great inspiration and influence of such a rich history in countries such as Ukraine, Russia, Poland and Hungary are expressed through the works of these artists.
“Many of these people remain unknown because they are still poorly represented,” she adds. “We say that we learn from history, but it’s the same with art; it doesn’t have boundaries.”
With over 170 original works in the gallery’s collection, Natalya personally selects the pieces she wants to show for each exhibition, and even hosts masterclasses for art fans to get closer to the artists themselves.
“Curating each exhibition and choosing every single piece, I constantly become attached to works and their artists. I live through N2N Art Gallery; we are genuinely committed to supporting the dialogue within the local art scene.”
Al Ain Tower, Al Khalidiyah. Sat–Thu 10am–10pm. Visit: n2nartgallery.com
The bigger picture
Abu Dhabi Art Hub: Promotes cultural exchange with artist residency programmes, exhibitions and public workshops. Mussafah, near ICAD. Sat–Thu 9am–7pm. Visit: adah.ae
Novus Art Gallery: The city’s newest gallery showcasing internationally-renowned contemporary artists The Galleria, Al Maryah Island. Sat–Thu 10am–10pm, Fri noon–midnight. Visit: novusartgallery.com
Etihad Modern Art Gallery: Multipurpose art space showcasing contemporary art from local talent. Villa 15, Al Falah Street, Al Bateen. Sat–Thu 10am–10pm. Visit: etihadmodernart.com
Miraj Islamic Art Gallery: A unique museum showcasing classical and contemporary Islamic art and lifestyle. Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street, next to Zayed Sports City. Daily 9am–6.30pm. Visit: mirajabudhabi.com