A worthy platform for the Global South’s creatives

ArtScoops caught up with Hala Khayat, Regional Director, Art Dubai, to learn more about what visitors will find at the 15th edition of this must-attend industry event, which includes the launch of a dedicated digital space and new multi-site installation exploring the concept of communities 

Art Dubai prides itself on being a destination for championing new trends and starting conversations on the creative output from the Global South. In what ways do you see Art Dubai 2022 - the most extensive edition to date - building on the achievements of previous editions of the fair?

This year marks the 15th edition of Art Dubai, which has become a highly anticipated event in the global art calendar. We have built a strong reputation as an innovative, ambitious and truly global art fair that has played a significant role in developing the careers of artists, curators and art professionals, as well as from emerging regions across the Global South, in particular. 

Ongoing support of art and artists from the Global South will continue to be a key pillar of growth for us as we move forward, and this year we’re delighted to welcome more than 100 galleries from 44 countries to the fair, including more than 30 first-time participants, in our largest and most extensive edition to date. 

Innovation is incredibly important to Art Dubai. In our home city of Dubai, we see innovation all around us, and this year, we are pleased to present a new and very relevant part of the fair, Art Dubai Digital, which will give a 360-degree overview of this exciting area, providing an important bridge between the crypto and art worlds. 

Art Dubai Digital will undoubtedly be a major draw at this year’s event. Does the addition of this new fair section indicate that digital and NFT art is now an established and accepted part of the broader art scene? What would you say to audiences that are still sceptical about digital art?

In recent years, we have seen huge growth in the digital and NFT art space, and this is very exciting because it brings with it a new focus and energy which is a big draw for a new generation of art enthusiasts and collectors. 

As a fair with innovation at its core, we felt that this was the perfect time to introduce Art Dubai Digital. The art scene continues to evolve and digital art and NFTs are becoming more mainstream, so we wanted an extended platform to initiate conversation and debate about the digital space. 

I think it’s natural for people to feel uneasy about change, but artists need access to innovations as they are always pushing the boundaries and exploring new materials, techniques and the latest technologies. 

Digital art has been part of the artistic conversation since the 1980s, but has recently evolved at pace, with NFTs disrupting the art scene over the past two years.  It’s still early days for NFTs in the broader art landscape, but there is a lot of energy and excitement about them right now, which opens up new possibilities and audiences for art - something that is hugely exciting. 

Art Dubai 2022 will take place in the closing stages of Dubai Expo 2020. What added dimension do you expect the juxtaposition of these two major events to bring to the art fair?

Expo 2020 Dubai has been a huge draw over the last six months, bringing a large number of people to our home city. Expo 2020 Dubai has generated worldwide attention on the city, as a destination focused on innovation. In contrast, Art Dubai is an annual event that for over 15 years has been a major catalyst for the growth of the cultural scene in Dubai. It’s incredible to have these two major cultural events taking place at the same time in the city.  

Sustainability has played a major part in Expo 2020 Dubai - something we feel incredibly passionate about here at Art Dubai. As a large-scale, global event, we’re constantly thinking about how we can be more sustainable, both as an organisation and through our programming. 

One great example of the work we are doing in this area is the Children’s Programme, in collaboration with A.R.M. Holding, in over 80 schools, reaching more than 5,000 students. Here we introduce the concept of upcycling to the minds of children in collaboration with leading artist, Cyrus Kabiru. 

What were the Art Dubai team looking for when commissioning the new site-specific works for this year’s fair?

We want to bring the most innovative and exciting artists to Art Dubai each year and the commissions programme is one of the key routes for this. We invite an artist to make a new artwork that responds to the specific context of Dubai and this year, Fernando Garcia-Dory x INLAND, a globally recognised artist, has been commissioned to create a new multi-site installation at the fair and in a variety of locations across Dubai. 

The installation aims to explore the concept of communities and how they come together through a curated programme that combines visions of the past, present and future of Dubai. 

What do you think additional attractions, such as the talks programme, bring to events like Art Dubai?

We have always been more than an art fair and have a strong education programme, whether that be a world-leading talks programme like the Global Art Forum, our new series of Bybit Talks that will introduce the concepts of NFTs and digital art to a wider audience, or our extensive programming and workshops. 

This edition’s talks include the Art Dubai Modern Talks (March 10-12), in collaboration with the Dubai Collection, an initiative we run in partnership with Dubai Culture and Arts Authority that builds scholarship and research around the region’s leading artists, and Byit Talks, the first in a series focused on the digital landscape from an art perspective.

Another interesting initiative to note is this year’s Global Art Forum, titled ‘This is the Picture’, which runs alongside Art Dubai Digital. Here we invite artists, curators, creators, thinkers and technologists to discuss and examine the worlds of digital artefacts and crypto economies. 

These are important, because new and innovative initiatives, like the Dubai Collection and Art Dubai Digital, point to the fact that the scene is only going to keep growing and developing from here on, and we very much want to be a driving force in that by encouraging and exploring trends and innovations locally and globally.

Art Dubai was one of the first in-person art fairs to take place in 2021 following the emergence of Covid-19. From your observations, how have artists from the Global South chosen to explore or comment on the pandemic in their work?

This year’s Bawwaba presentation, which means Gateway in Arabic, is very relevant here because what I see in this section of the fair is so unique. It invites you to take the time to reflect and slow down for a moment and reconnect, which I think was a very common practice over the period of global lockdown. 

This is important because it gave artists, in particular, the time to concentrate more on the art of making across several different forms, and to explore new and interesting techniques.  This section of the fair provokes a re-evaluation of our time and efforts from a collection of artists originating from Peru, India, Pakistan, Mexico, Nigeria, Angola and Chile which I think is so important in today’s busy world.

What have been the challenges of organising a major event with the Covid-19 pandemic still an issue and what aspects are you especially excited about?

The art industry, as maybe all industries, has certainly changed since the Covid-19 pandemic. We have paid great attention to the safety of all visitors to the fair and have implemented several measures to ensure that this year’s event can be enjoyed by as many people as possible.

Art Dubai Digital is testament to the expansion we have witnessed into the digital realm over the pandemic, mainly due to international travel restrictions, which has had a profound effect on the global art scene. 

As we begin to navigate our way out of this period, something that we have been humbled by is that we’re increasingly seeing people wanting to work together and collaborate to overcome challenges, whatever they may be. The feedback we’re getting is that people are excited to welcome the return of an in-person, full-scale Art Dubai - collectors are eager to attend, institutions can come and see work in person again and artists are keen to showcase what they’ve been incubating over the past two years. 

Art Dubai takes place from March 11-13, 2022. For more information, go to www.artdubai.ae 

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