Now in its 13th year, Art Dubai is the Gulf region’s premier art fair.  It grew again this year with more than 90 galleries representing 40 countries from across the Middle East, Gulf, Levant, Africa, India and even a number of Europe based galleries. The galleries were a diverse mix from Contemporary ranging from the established to the emerging artists; Modern presenting museum-quality works by masters from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa whose work has been influential throughout the 20th century; a second edition of residents, dedicated to solo presentations from invited galleries whose artists took part in a residency in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with a special focus this year on artists from Latin America. The events surrounding Art Dubai this year included a number of educational talks and presentations, cultural performances, and the very unique and innovative “Campus Art Dubai” which is the first and only programme of its kind in the UAE: an intensive 6 month residency programme for Emirati artists and expat artists based in the UAE, culminating in a group show.

Among these events, Charles Russell Speechlys co-hosted an informative event in the form of a lunchtime panel discussion run with Harper’s Bazaar Arabia ART magazine, at Alici on Bluewaters Island.

I participated in a panel together with Mai Eldib, a regional art expert from Sotheby’s on a panel moderated by Rebecca Anne Proctor, Editor-in-Chief at the magazine. The panel discussion dealt with legal and commercial issues in the art world whilst taking a look at regional trends and developments.  The audience involved a very high calibre mix of collectors, curators and artists including Sasha Jaffrey, Ramin and Rokni Haerizadeh, Hesam Rahmanian, Michelle Poonawalla and others. 

One of the best things about Art Dubai is that there are events targeting different age groups to ensure that art is accessible and enjoyable to all. Each year, I attend together with my children and their friends and we take part in the annual Sheikha Manal Little Artists programme.  This year the programme was curated by American installation artist Sally Cursio and the workshop resulted in children (including mine, ages 10 to 11) building cities from shiny glass beads and other delicate craft materials.  My children enjoyed creating sparkling and fun additions to a larger installation but also with an important message that teaches children about the need to protect our fragile planet. 

Art Dubai is a gateway fair, one of the few international art fairs with the potential of a very broad geographic coverage from the Middle East and North Africa but also into Asia, India and Central Africa.  This year, the fair seems to have had an increased curator representation with over 50 museum representatives having been invited.  Although official statistics and information are not yet released, it appears that Art Dubai 2019 generated good sales revenues and garnered more international coverage and attention than in previous years. 

Everyone always has their favourites and this year was no exception for me personally.  Popular pieces included work by Abdul Rahman Katanani, and the typically excellent collaboration work of Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian.

The “I am a Stranger of This Place” piece by Ramazan Can seemed a fitting conclusion for a Dubai Art fair.  Dubai truly is a melting pot of cultural diversity and stands as a gateway for the region.  Not just in art perhaps, but in life and business also.  Art can be, and so often is in this region, a reflection of issues of diversity, heritage and belonging.