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Aiming to become a major regional hub for modern and contemporary art, the Dubai-based fair has organised a fifteenth edition that is proving to be exceptional. The big surprise of the year ? An entire section devoted to NFTs and digital artworks.

On February 22nd, the emirate of Dubai inaugurated its Museum of the Future. The façade of this marvel of architecture and innovation is adorned with a quote from Dubai’s ruler: « The future belongs to those who can imagine it, design it and execute it. The future does not wait. The future can be designed and built today. » In this regard, Dubai’s future in the international art market seems to grow stronger every year. Art Dubai returns to the Madinat Jumeirah Conference and Events Centre, March 11-13, 2022 to consolidate its foothold.

The COVID-19 pandemic plunged the Gulf region into severe recession in 2020. Iranian collector Mohammed Afkhami remarks that the 2021 edition of Art Dubai was for « a good sign for Dubai as well as a positive omen for some of the world’s biggest fairs. » The Templon and Perrotin galleries sold well (pieces by Ivàn Navarro sold for $28,000-$100,000 at Templon, and Perrotin sold two works by JR for $65,000). Art Dubai has skilfully added valuable also managed to surround itself well through judicious partnerships with renowned auction houses: Christie’s and Bonhams. During the 2019 edition, Christie’s 2019 edition sales were a great success, tallying over $20 million.

Mohamed Kacimi. Courtesy of Comptoir des Mines Galerie

2022 will be Dubai’s year

Determined to be one of the hubs of the art world, and strengthened by the success of the 2020 edition, Art Dubai is back for a 15th edition that promises to be exceptional. It marks the appearance of a new category of exhibiting galleries: «Art Dubai digital», including 17 galleries presenting NFT digital art projects, some of whom are pioneers since the 1980s. Also present, e-commerce platforms transforming physical artworks into NFTs.

Underscoring the crypto-art dialogue is the most anticipated new beat of 2022. Among them, « Cyber Baat », an exhibition by Senegalese artist Linda Douina, who exhibits works by Afro-descendant artists. In addition to the galleries, a number of conferences will take place during « Art Dubai Talks », focusing on the most influential modern artists in the MENA region. The « Building Important Art Collections in the Arab World » conference is particularly topical, as it explores the transformation of artistic production, demand, and the role of art collections in the Arab world. Rendez-vous March 11th, 3-4:30 pm. The fair also features the 9th edition of Campus Art Dubai, which, in this year of digital art, focuses on blockchain. Designed for digital savvy artists, Campus opened its 8-week session in January . Every year, the fair moves closer to the forefront tech innovation in the art market.

Malika Agueznay, 2021, oil on canvas. Courtesy artist and Loft Art Gallery

To top it off are workshops for young people, 5-17, in close collaboration with UAE-based schools. Highlighting the art of African recycling, these immersive workshops are led by the Kenyan futurist-artist, Cyrus Kabiru. With more than 100 exhibitors from 44 countries (including more than 30 new exhibitors), the 2022 edition is the largest edition so far and marks the return of Iranian art galleries (five this year, including one in the NFT category), and the absence of Israeli galleries, which ultimately reflects the political situation that binds the Emirate of Dubai to these two states.

As for Morocco, three contemporary art galleries will be present during this exceptional fifteenth edition: Loft Art Gallery (Casablanca), Comptoir des Mines (Marrakech) and dar d’art gallery (Tangier). Hicham Daoudi, founder of Comptoir des Mines, explains the artistic approach of his gallery: «We will offer a modern and contemporary selection. For contemporary, we present our own artists: Hassan Bourkia, Mohamed Arejdal, Fatiha Zemmouri, and Khadija Jay. The theme is Le Pain Nu by Mohamed Choukri. A book that raises interesting and very current questions: the individual destiny of the artist and the difficulties they may encounter in the context of Moroccan society, how they face resistance with resilience. And then, we must not forget that Le Pain Nu has changed Moroccan literature, and its raw and beautiful writing has had great impact in the Arab world. For the modern section, we focus on Kacimi and his work on the question of human dignity.»

Loft Art Gallery presents an exhibition bringing together 5 different perspectives on the theme «Transmission is Love ». The artists presented (Mohamed Melehi, Malika Agueznay, Mohamed Lekleti, Mous Lamrabet and Marion Boehm) each use their own artistic process to demonstrate their love for their heritage and values. For Loft Art Gallery, « art is the transmission of their feelings, and for these five artists, transmission is an act of love.»

Mohamed Lekleti, Entre deux infinis tu nous tiens suspendus, 2022,Mixed media on paper, 152 x 250 cm. Courtesy of Loft Art Gallery

Finally, dar d’art gallery and its « Dialogue » exhibition reunite two important figures of the Moroccan contemporary scene: Mohammed Melehi and Mahi Binebine. « The exhibition was to take place in 2020, when Mohamed Melehi was still alive », explains Chokri Bentaoult, but after postponement of the 2020 and 2021 editions, Melehi’s touch will nevertheless be present, as « the selection of works and the scenography were decided three years ago. The presentation is large format: four pieces by Binebine, three by Melehi. The works have been sleeping in a warehouse for a long time; only two works of Mahi Binebine have been changed », says Chokri Bentaoult. Though the duo’s popularity will surely attract visitors, this exhibition is also a beautiful tribute to the friendship and complicity that bound two significant figures who have played a major role in opening Moroccan art to the world.

Thanks to Art Dubai, the Emirate of Dubai remains, once again, one of the major players in the international art market, covering the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia (MENASA) region with the presence of galleries from India, Pakistan, Korea and Turkey. This year, the fair takes place at the same time as World Expo 2020, and will highlight the Sharjah Biennial, postponed until later in 2022 or 2023.

Art Dubai reinforces the Emirate’s position as a commercial crossroads, an inheritance that dates back to the late 19th century and the links forged between the great Iranian merchants of the East and the British Empire of the West.

Yasmina El Gueddari

Art Dubai, Madinat Jumeirah Conference and Events Centre, 11 – 13 March 2022.

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