Cradled in the palm of British artist Donald Rodney’s hand is a tiny sculpture of a house, constructed from pieces of his skin removed during an operation he underwent to combat sickle cell anaemia. The photograph, In the House of My Father (1996-7), is one of the pieces selected by curator Hammad Nasar as part of his exhibition for the Gateway section of the Abu Dhabi Art fair.
In Durub Al Tawaya - another expertly curated section of the fair - curator Tarek Abou El Fetouh presents a multimedia installation by Monira Al Qadiri, which investigates historical ties between the pre- and post-oil worlds in the Arabian Gulf. Diver, 2018 features synchronised swimmers wearing pearlised costumes dancing a fully choreographed routine to a traditional pearl-diving song.
These particular artworks are just a few examples of how the wide-ranging subjects and narratives that are prevalent both at a local and international level are accessible through the non-profit sections of the capital’s art fair, which is now in its 10th edition and will open to the public on November 14.
Much emphasis has been placed on expanding and strengthening the fair’s programme outside of the obvious commercial concerns since Dyala Nusseibeh took over the reins in 2016. Nusseibeh, whose exemplary background includes founding and managing the now-discontinued ArtInternational fair in Istanbul, prioritised the programme by inviting top-notch guest curators to oversee sections of the fair and commissioning leading artists for installations both inside and outside the venue.
It is, as she explains, part of the responsibility of any international art fair to provide cultural entertainment. “Realistically, we know that only a small percentage of our visitors are actually buying art, so we have to pay attention to our more institutional role in terms of supporting artists and presenting a platform for artist commissions,” says Nusseibeh.
The visual art exhibition curated by Nasar under the title Structures of Meaning | Architectures of Perception include the works of more than 15 international artists, including Abigail Reynolds, Rachel Whiteread, Hajra Waheed, Abdullah al Saadi and Imran Qureshi. Qureshi is also a part of Beyond, a programme of new commissions featuring large-scale sculptures and installations by Moataz Nasr and Ammar Al Attar in historic locations in Al Ain.
“This is one of the things I am really excited about,” says Nusseibeh. “These works are very much for the public; both people who live nearby and those who are visiting. It is about activating different parts of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and, over time, it will be interesting to see how different artists respond to these spaces.”
In another branch of the Beyond umbrella, Emirati artist Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim has been working as a mentor to three young artists producing commissions to be displayed within the fair at Manarat Al Saadiyat. Ahmed Saeed Al Areef Al Dhaheri has created an animated video of a fictional character called ‘Lady Lioness’; Taqwa Alnaqbi has delved into paper-making as an art form and has made paper from old material as an exploration of her own family heritage and Dhabiya Alrumaithi created her land-based art in a remote location in Al Ain, which will be presented as a series of photographs. As with all the commissions, the works will be showing for an additional two months after the fair.
“Part of the lure of an art fair is the content, but equally, it has a responsibility because it is such a large engine for the market. We can impact the market so we try to do so in a positive way—as well as thinking outside of the four-day parameter of the event,” says Nusseibeh.
Inside the fair at Manarat Al Saadiyat, the galleries are presenting a mix of international and regional high-quality art. With only 43 galleries, the fair is considered more boutique in size next to its international competitors, but with nine new spaces including Kayne Griffin Corcoran from Los Angeles, Galerie Isa from Mumbai, and Zawyeh from Ramallah, the global spread is balanced—and the visitor is afforded the luxury of being able to spend time absorbing the variety of offerings. Highlights include newcomer Gypsum Gallery from Cairo, bringing a solo booth of works by New York-based Ahmed Morsi, and Dubai’s The Third Line, who is presenting a duo of artists—Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian and Rana Begum—as part of Focus: Icons, a commercially curated section by Omar Kholeif.
“The heart of the art fair are sales, but we have to think also what is going to attract the collectors, and how we maximise our engagement with the galleries, offering them chances to think about the community and the city that they are coming to. Lastly, we are organised by the government so our mandate is much wider—and that is to contribute to the UAE art ecosystem as a whole,” concludes Nusseibeh.
Abu Dhabi Art runs from 14-17 November.