Love was out in full force at this year’s Art Dubai—the fair’s tenth anniversary edition, which ran from 16 to 19 March 2016. Much of this was concentrated in a small section of the Mina A'Salam, right next to where Art Dubai Modern was located. Here, The Wedding Project, devised by Delfina Foundation’s Aaron Cezar, staged a nightly dinner offering guests an eleven-course menu designed by past Delfina residents, from Nile Sunset Annex to Candice Lin, reflecting on the eleven stages of love. (Starting with attraction and ending with insanity.)
Courses included a vegetarian version of the ghastly (and outlawed) ortolan bunting, once a favourite of President Mitterrand, and made by drowning a small live bird in Armagnac before roasting and eating it whole; and the faces of some of the art world’s power 100, from Abramović to Obrist, rendered in dough and baked over chickens, which were smashed open on the night. (I watched Delfina Entrecanales break her own face using the head of a copper pineapple handed to her by Marc Spiegler.)
The love that framed The Wedding Project—‘a marriage of commissions, interventions, and novel dishes and drinks’—was also present in Art Dubai’s halls and transitory spaces, and not only because the bride and groom, for whom the entire dinner was supposedly planned, ended up wandering the fair instead. Art Dubai’s tenth anniversary was by all accounts a great edition—a testament, as always, to the deft guidance of fair director Antonia Carver, not to mention the ever-poetic offerings of the Global Art Forum, this year co-directed by Amal Khalaf and Uzma Z. Rizvi with Commissioner Shumon Basar. In Art Dubai Modern, the only curated programme of its kind in the world (now entering its third year), the spotlight was shone on a number of notable names, including Adam Henein at Karim Francis Gallery, Huguette Caland and Laure Ghorayeb at Galerie Janine Rubeiz, and Shirin Gallery, who focused on the remarkable works of Ali Akbar Sadeghi, including stills taken from the 1971 animation Seven Cities, which tells the story of an aged warrior on a search for love, and illustrations from a 1970s series aptly titled Love & War.
Art Dubai projects, this year curated by Yasmina Reggad of aria (artists residency in algiers), included a searing performance by Doa Aly (the artist’s first), titled: “free radicals” Dancer Noura Seif expressed movements to Aly’s choreography, inspired by Symptoms of Schizophrenia, a 1940s documentary film, in which patients perform catatonic movements often associated with schizophrenia. These were performed to a soundtrack composed by Alaa Abdullatif, which extracts text from a passage in Daniel Paul Schreber’s Memoirs of My Nervous Illness (written between 1900 and 1903). As Aly mentioned in an interview, the performance links ‘schizophrenia … to a normalised state of “schizophrenic” speech and thought, which characterises our contemporary existence.’
Strong presentations also came from Palestine’s One Gallery, showing Bashar Alhroub and Amer Shomali, Lebanon’s Agial Art Gallery, featuring a range of artists, from Saloua Rouada Choucair to Nathalie Khayat, and Sfeir-Semler, presenting, amongst others, a powerful installation of charcoal drawings paired with printed texts by Haig Aivazian, in Field Drawings (2015). Daniel Templon brought back Sudarshan Shetty, who completes broken fragments of Asian ceramics with wooden finishes, while Espaciovalverde showed young artist Elena Alonso’s works on paper, depicting compositions of abstract places. Meanwhile, Galerie Imane Fares returned with a solid booth with artists from the gallery’s stable, including Ali Cherri and Basma Alsharif, who were also showing as part of Tarek Abou El Fetouh’s excellent exhibition over at the Sharjah Art Foundation, The Time is Out of Joint.
Never failing to add more evolution to a constantly evolving platform, we were told at this year’s opening press conference that the fair floor was composed of 45% women artists; reflective, too, of the strong presence of women in general within the region’s arts infrastructures not only in the UAE, but in the region as a whole. Representation, it seems, is one of Art Dubai’s strong points (this year the fair counted “500 artists representing 70 nationalities, 123 volunteers, 95 visiting museums and institutions, 94 galleries from 40 countries”). Take Marker, a dedicated sector that focuses on a different region or nation each year, launched in 2011 by Nav Haq, and in 2012 offered a focus on Indonesia curated by Alia Swastika. This year, Ringo Bunoan curated a section dedicated to both the artist-run spaces of the Philippines, and its artists, from visionary Roberto Chabet, to younger artists from various artist-run spaces including Post Gallery and 98B, from Tammy David, Wawi Navarroza, to Gail Vincente.