From Fine Art to RAK Art: Ras Al Khaimah Art Festival evolves

The Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival always seemed a misnomer. Fine art as a concept surely promotes aesthetic and intellectual purposes over (say) practical utility and/or handcrafted quality. Fine art implies hushed exhibition rooms, single-minded artists often working in garrets, highbrow art considered purely on its own merits.

RAKFAF was never been like that. It’s always celebrated openness – in defining ‘art’ as widely as possible, for instance to include cooking, entertainment and traditional crafts: in selection by open calls, with very few restrictions: in including the family (pet-friendly weekends has to be a unique innovation for an arts festival) and fostering a sense of community. For much of the time it’s also literally open, with al fresco displays around its Al Jazeera Al Hamra base and at outdoor locations like the Jabal Jais viewpoint and Al Marjan park.

So it must be with a slight sense of relief that the festival has thrown off the weight of its original name to be reborn as Ras Al Khaimah Art, surely to be known more simply as RAK Art – the centrepiece of the new Ras Al Khaimah Art initiative, a year-long programme of grants, masterclasses, and workshops held throughout the year with the goal of “identifying and cultivating existing and emerging talent” while maintaining engagement with the local community.

It has already kicked off with an exhibition outside the emirate, in the Sunken Garden of the Ritz-Carlton at DIFC (16 November to 16 December, 3pm till late: that’s it on the right). It features works by Emirati photographers Faisal Al Raes and Nuwair Al Hajeri; a display of bespoke jewellery from the private collection of Sheikha Hana bint Juma Al Majid, including the spectacular Savoy headpiece and Daisy hand ornament designed by Catherine Martin for Tiffany’s Great Gatsby collection; and finely crafted mother of pearl jewellery by Mohammed Rashed Al Suwaidi from Asateer, inspired by his family’s pearl-diving heritage and reflecting a modern reinterpretation of Emirati identity.

Natasha Ridge, Founding Executive Director of RAK Art’s parent body the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, said the DIFC exhibition exemplifies the way Ras Al Khaimah Art will attract and showcase home-grown and international talent. “We are delighted to be working with inspiring artists, photographers, and filmmakers to provide just a small glimpse of the type of vibrant works that visitors will enjoy at our upcoming Festival.”

That runs 2 February to 29 February next year, offering “a month-long celebration that bridges heritage with modernity”. It is curated by the Swiss photographer and artistic director Alfio Tommasini, co-founder of Verzasca Foto Festival, where he’s responsible for the artistic direction and curation. His interest in the relationship between people and place should make for an interesting event.

The Festival has the theme ‘In Motion’ – representing the new beginning with a chance to reimagine what’s possible for the next decade of the Festival. At the same time it is an invitation to embrace the beauty, diversity, and constant evolution of the world around us – perhaps an opportunity to question what the new ‘normal’ should be in a post-Covid AI-imminent world: as the organisers put it, “Ras Al Khaimah Art 2024 seeks to simultaneously celebrate and critique the power of motion and change … From the mechanical to the natural, we ask you to reflect on what it means to live life in motion once again”.

In practice this will be realised for the upcoming 12th edition with a curated display by over 90 artists working in multiple media, 2D and 3D, plus masterclasses and public talks, live performances, outdoor cinema, and youth development programmes. As usual it will be hosted primarily within the Al Jazeera Al Hamra Heritage Village, the Festival’s permanent home now.

This has always been one of our favourite art-and-more experiences in the UAE, mixing the conventional idea of ‘art’ (in a broad sense) with real life – entertainment, family, fun, pleasure. The revamp looks like real evolution and augers well. More information here.

Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan wearing the original Savoy Headpiece and Daisy Hand Ornament, later part of Tiffany’s Great Gatsby collection

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