Depart at Art Dubai
Depart was a media partner of Art Dubai 2013, the seventh edition of a mammoth event that saw its launch in 2007. The three-year old art quarterly based in Dhaka has been copiously displayed at multiple desks at the main venue of the international art fair where one could find other international magazines and journals vying for attention.
For Depart it was an opportunity to make inroads into the cultural heart of the UAE – where one detects the symptoms of a revolution in the making if one is to consider the convergence of East and West, art and knowledge alongside art and market, a combination generative of new epistemic and artistic milieu.
Dubai's art fair which smacks of the new money garnered in the postindustrial capital regime is also a place where an epistemic reframing is underway initiated by the forums and talks held at the fair. Knowledge has been a victim of compartmentalization in the early modern era; it is now being subjected to decomparmenta-lization to ensure a fluid praxis.
One glowing example is a presentation by an artists' cooperative called Slavs and Tatars where one is faced with the question thrown at the audience by Payam Sharifi: why can't we speak about Mohammad (The Prophet) and Marx at the same time while addressing ideas and knowledge with civilizational implications? On another occasion, Gilles Deleuze's contributions to discursivity were unearthed through reenactment of his interviews, discussions pregnant with analyses of his ideas and theories, whereby one of his students based in Paris presented him as a philosopher bestowed with a perpetually shifting yet penetrating gaze. There were abundant reasons to be star-struck by the session that came under the rubric, Biography as it saw on the panel Michael Stipe, the lead vocal of the recently defunct rock band REM, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, director of International Projects of the Serpentine Gallery, London, and the Canadian writer turned artist, of Generation X fame, Douglas Coupland. Yet this session seemed to have been sapped of its initial energy in the course of the nostalgic recouping indulged by Stipe and Coupland.
Reflecting on the forum Antonia Carver, the current director of art Dubai, had this to say to her interviewer from Depart: 'At Art Dubai, we have put this discursive approach at the heart of the fair – through the Global Art Forum (the only annual 6-day conference, featuring over 50 speakers and contributors, in Asia) and all our educational endeavours. Some of the most crucial voices in this part of the world – meaning the Middle East and South Asia – or indeed, anywhere (for that matter), are coming out of Dhaka – such as Drik founder Shahidul Alam and the artist Naeem Mohaiemen.'
The official web site calls Art Dubai 'the largest and most established contemporary art fair in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.'It is here that many a regional and internationally mobile artists find the opportunity to work on commission. The Abraaj Group Art Prize, which is in its sixth edition, has played a catalytic role in bringing together artists from Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, providing them with a platform to take their respective practice further into the mainstream and to acquire global attention. The prize aims at providing an effective support system to promising and under-represented contemporary artists in order to facilitate the growth of their individual knacks and skills. A selection committee sifts through the potential proposals sent in by artists, from which the chosen ones are developed under the patronage of the group which also provides an internationally reputed curator to monitor and guide the work in progress.
Through this collaborative journey the artists emerge with a wider ranging repertoire of strategies and techniques equipping them to relevantly tap into the contemporary art practices, thus, making way for a trans-border traffic which would allow them to represent their regions to a global reach of audience.
Art Dubai is an outfit of Art Week, the umbrella initiative that also includes Sikka Art Fair ( hosted in the Al Fahidi historical neighbourhood, formerly known as Bastakiya), Design Days Dubai, and a range of contemporary art and design events comprising exhibits at major museums as well as ones held at lesser known galleries, and above all artists' projects – all held during the month of March every year; yet another celebration in the long festive chain of harbingers of spring, of new visions and hope.
Photos courtesy of Art Dubai.