March is here, which means it's Dubai's annual art season with a wide range of new exhibitions and events including "Art Week" between 12-18 March, SIKKA 2016 (12-21 March), Design Days Dubai (14-17 March), Art Dubai (15-18 March), plus Galleries Night in Alserkal Avenue and Art Night at DIFC (both on 13 March).
Below are my top 15 picks of exhibitions opening this month, plus a couple of talks and events. There are also some new exhibitions in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah that are worth checking out which I've included in my list.
Additionally, it is also the year for the 13th edition of the Sharjah Biennial - which I am thrilled to say I am part of as one of the commissioned artists. I will be sharing a separate post about the biennial which is on from 10th March - 12 June 2017, but I do hope you get a chance to visit the activities during its opening week (10-14 March), also listed below.
As I mentioned last year, there is a lot to see and do during "Art Week", but the good news is even if you can't attend every opening, most of the exhibitions will remain for a month or more. So pace yourself and enjoy what you see.
Everything is listed in artweek.ae, but here are my top picks in the order of their opening dates (click on each title if you want to see more information):
This exhibition surveys one of the most important artistic communities in the UAE’s history. Community has played a key role in every modern art historical breakthrough, with artists banding together around manifestos, or turning to one another for support when art institutions rejected their innovations. Art communities grow out of critical and creative exchange among peers and mentors.
But We Cannot See Them focuses on one community of artists, sometimes called “the five”, at an intersection of visual artists, writers, and filmmakers based in the UAE. Its members identified with a “new culture” of encouraging radical, formal and conceptual experimentation. Eventually, some of these artists founded the celebrated Flying House.
The exhibition includes work by Hassan Sharif, Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, Abdullah Al Saadi, Mohammed Kazem, Hussein Sharif, Vivek Vilasini, Jos Clevers and Ebtisam Abdulaziz.
2. Once Upon A Time: Hadiqat Al Umma - Sadik Kwaish Alfraji
Gallery: Maraya Art Centre, Sharjah
Dates: 4th March - 6th May 2017
Iraqi artist Sadik Kwaish Alfraji presents a panoramic multi-media installation reviving his childhood experience of Baghdad’s Hadiqat Al Umma. This park, full of plants, fountains and playgrounds, was a sanctuary from the city’s exhaust fumes and the blazing sun. It was surrounded by music and photography shops, cinemas, theatres, restaurants, cafés and markets.
Although it has lost much of its beauty over the years, the park remains a vivid memory in the artist’s mind and he uses his own visual and emotional recollections to recreate its rhythm. His beautiful drawings, which reimagine people seen there, are brought to life in black and white animations across 9 projectors. This installation will stir memories and emotions, conjuring a park that was a landmark in Baghdad and in the memory of generations of Iraqis. Alfraji’s recreation of the collective experience of this park in the 1970s belongs to his larger exploration of the loss, fragmentation and lapses in time that underline exile.
3. Beloved Bodies II
Gallery: Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah
Dates: 4th March - 4th October 2017
Beloved Bodies II presents a compilation of artworks drawn from the Barjeel Art Foundation collection that investigate representations of the human body, traversing themes of language, landscape, trauma and remembrance. Each work alludes to the body in a variety of ways, ranging from more literal representations of physical forms to subtle references to bodily experiences in certain social, natural and political contexts.
The exhibition’s title is loosely inspired by French theorist Roland Barthes’ writings on the dynamics of love and desire. Barthes uses the term ‘beloved body’ to refer to the object of a lover’s desire, whether that is a person, an object or a place. The word l’autre—the other—is his way of describing the beloved or that which provokes in us a yearning to connect with or possess this other. In the grips of such longing, the body becomes a sensory device that responds to internal and external stimuli. Beloved Bodies II offers glimpses into different bodily encounters, including romantic and spiritual love, political oppression and gendered marginalisation.
4. 66 Lbs - Said Atabekov
Gallery: Andakulova Gallery, Dubai
Dates: 6th March - 12th May 2017
66 Lbs by Said Atabekov features photo, video and site – specific installation to reflect on ancient nomadic tradition of Kazakhstan the game of Kokpar.
Kokpar is a Kazakh game played on horseback in which two teams compete to carry a headless goat carcass over the goal line.
The title of the exhibition 66 Lbs is from the mandatory weight of the animal carcass used for the game and cannot be just any weight. Heft is mandatory. It must weigh 66 pounds.
5. The Creative Act: Performance, Process, Presence
Gallery: Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi
Dates: 8th March - 8th July 2017
The Creative Act: Performance, Process, Presence is the second exhibition of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi collection. It brings together more than twenty artists of different nationalities and generations who have emphasised performance, process, and human presence in their practice.
The Creative Act offers a transcultural perspective on these defining aspects of contemporary art by highlighting interconnections among artists working in various corners of the globe since the 1960s. The works on view reveal common sources of inspiration, lines of influence, and distinctive contributions. Two commissions featured in the exhibition underscore the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi’s commitment to supporting the production of new work by living artists.
6. Inside the Fire Circle - Mounir Fatmi
Gallery: Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai
Dates: 8th March - 27th April 2017
The exhibition expands on the artist’s interest in the circle, its form and symbolic meaning throughout history. In particular, Fatmi examines the life of John Howard Griffin (1920 –1980), an American activist, journalist and author from Texas, who wrote about racial equality and was known for his fight against racial discrimination during the Civil Rights Movement. These two seemingly opposing themes connect through Fatmi’s interest in the idea of repetition, erasure, movement, and the tendency of history to repeat itself. As stated by art critic Lillian Davies in Fatmi’s monograph Suspect Language “Fatmi’s use of the circle marks a symbolic refutation of linearity.”
At the center of the exhibition is Inside the Fire Circle a new sculptural installation from which the exhibition takes its name. Consisting of a configuration of jumper cables that spill out from a set of obsolete typewriters, their ends clipped to sheets of plain white paper, the installation reveals itself as a palimpsest of history, repeating itself over and over again.
7. Stitches to Save 9 With - Fari Bradley
Gallery: The Mine, Dubai
Dates: 9th March - 25th April 2017
Fari Bradley explores the nuances of language, history and memory. Contemplating either the usefulness or destructive nature of traditionally recited proverbs, truisms, and dictums alongside several new ones for today, Bradley renders them as signifiers, using textile and mixed media.
Stitches to Save 9 With pits the deliberate form of stitching against quickly spoken lines, fleeting inspirations and ‘quippage’. A proverbial expression, ‘a stitch in time saves nine' is an incentive: to mend a tear in a cloth, now, before it becomes larger and harder to mend. The ‘nine’ refers to the greater number of stitches that will be needed later, if one quick stitch isn't performed ‘in time’. This and other wise homilies in this body of work are falling out of use - just as hand stitching itself is disappearing.
8. Artist Run New York: The Seventies
Dates: 9th March - 30th June 2017
Gallery: Jean-Paul Najar Foundation
Artist Run New York: The Seventies explores the transformation of contemporary art in 1970s New York. The exhibition looks at the vital role artists played in an artistic revolution that underscored multi-disciplinary collaborations that went beyond the visual arts to include performance, film, theatre, dance, writing and music. The blurring of these lines served to influence the trajectories of each discipline for decades to come.
9. The Vast: Mirrors Of The Mind - Bill Viola
Gallery: Leila Heller Gallery (Dubai)
Dates: 9th March - 22nd April 2017
A selection of pioneering video pieces, including works from the Sufi-inspired series Transfiguration Studies (2008), desert-based mediations on existence from the Mirage (2012) series, and the hauntingly infinite fluidity of the Water Portraits (2013), The Vast: Mirrors of the Mind seeks to reveal to the viewer the thematic relationships in Viola’s work of the portrayal of desert and water as emblematic of his explorations of the voyage of life and death, consciousness and reflection—East to West.
10. sagar - Lala Rukh
Gallery: Grey Noise
Dates: 9th March - 13th May 2017
Lala Rukh’s first solo exhibition in Dubai entitled sagar comprises of a collection of enigmatic photographs of the sea that make her meditations on the nature of time and transience palpable.
As a parallel photographic practice, they locate Lala’s travels between years 1992-2005 and extend her better known drawing oeuvre such as ‘River in an Ocean’ series, 1992 also on display. The titles in the photographic sets mark sites across Sri Lanka, India, Nepal and Burma where as though a seafarer traversing with a lens, the artist has stopped to take stock.
11. Sharjah Art Biennial 13: Tamawuj
Venue: Sharjah Art Foundation and various other venues
Dates: 10th March - 12th June 2017 (Opening Week Programme 10-14 March)
Tamawuj, a noun in Arabic which is defined as a rising and falling in waves, but also a flowing, swelling, surging, fluctuation or a wavy undulating appearance outline or form, is reflective of SB13’s aims to cultivate collaborations, infrastructures and strategies within Sharjah and the project localities.
The Biennial poses questions around, and proposes answers to the conditions for the possibility of an art world. In a region currently being invested with larger institutions and lesser infrastructures, SB13 will cross from the ideal to the material. Vital interventions will stretch the idea of the biennial in order to traverse rooted contexts, harnessing the agility and fragility of present informal networks.
12. Redemptive Narratives and Migrating Patterns - Samira Abbassy
Gallery: XVA Gallery, Dubai
Dates: 11th March - 25th May 2017
Redemptive Narratives and Migrating Patterns features , the second solo show of Samira Abbassy at XVA features works on paper and oil paintings on gesso panel, from 2002 to 2016.
Abbassy describes her work as an excavation of art history and an exploration of the Self; a form of autobiographical self-portraiture that draws from tradition, history and culture, whilst simultaneously offering contemporary ideas and reminders to the viewer.
13. Write Injuries on Sand and Kindness in Marble - Hera Büyüktaşçıyan
Gallery: Green Art Gallery, Dubai
Dates: 13th March - 6th May 2017
In her solo exhibition at Green Art Gallery, Write Injuries on Sand and Kindness in Marble, Hera Büyüktaşçıyan uses the space’s previous life as a marble factory as a starting point for questions about frameworks of power, labour, production and reconstruction of memory.
Much of Büyüktaşçıyan’s work is defined by an architectural and anthropological approach, and she often favours site-specific installations inspired by the memories found within a place. She examines the way in which virtual spaces operate in relation to the physical, and how fragments of time and memory can be unearthed, restructured and woven together to bring to life a forgotten aspect of time and history. As ever, she also touches on larger issues of geopolitics, culture and ongoing change.
Here, she examines the relationship between labour and productivity. The long-forgotten fingerprints of marble workers trigger deeper questions and reflections on the dynamics of the architecture of power, and the invisible builders whose hands shape the social, urban and historical landscape. Just as Büyüktaşçıyan believes in the functional memory embedded within the marble itself, so too she looks towards the marble workers as the living embodiment of the reconstruction of a virtual space, as each carries within them their own mental space of their own geography.
14. Art Dubai Modern Symposium
Venue and dates: 13th March (Modern Lounge, Art Dubai, Madinat Jumeirah) and 17-18 March (Concrete, Alserkal Avenue)
The inaugural edition of Art Dubai Modern Symposium is a series of talks and presentations focused on the life, work and cultural impact of 20th century masters from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa.
Renowned curators, scholars and patrons lead the sessions that delve into the styles, influences and practices of artists whose work contributes to the history of art produced in the 20th century. Topics include "Women and Modernity", "Preserving Modernism", the influence of spirituality in Modern art from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia and the incfluences by modernists from the Maghreb and South Asia.
The complete schedule can be found here.
15. Global Art Forum 11: Trading Places
Venue: Art Dubai, Madinat Jumeirah
Dates: 15th-17th March 2017
Global Art Forum 11: Trading Places explores the relationship between the economy of goods and ideas that constantly shape who and where we are.
From ancient ports to the “New Silk Road” to algorithmic financial markets, the infrastructure of trade is also a geography of imagination and invention. It is also the foundation upon which Dubai and sibling Gulf cities have forged their pasts and their futures, from pearls to airports.