Guest curators and commissioned artists for Abu Dhabi Art

Najat Makki, Luminescence (2019)

After a virtual event in 2020, Abu Dhabi Art is making a return in physical form for this year’s fair from 17 to 21 November at Manarat Al Saadiyat.

“We are delighted to be able to bring a physical experience to our visitors this year,” said Dyala Nusseibeh, Abu Dhabi Art’s director. “It was important to enable our guest curators to bring their exhibitions and research into material form at the fair this year, to enable gallery exhibitors to once again connect first-hand with our audience and show their works in real life as well as to commission new artists to create site-specific works for the emirate.”

The guest curators have been named as Simon Njami and Rose Lejeune, both of whom were involved in the virtual edition last year with considerable success.

The principle is that guest curators work with selected galleries from the fair to present curated sectors; Njami’s gallery sector will draw connections between artists through the language of music, Lejeune will bring together a new performance art programme.

Paris-based Njami is an independent curator, lecturer, art critic and novelist who also cofounded and edited the influential Revue Noire, a journal of contemporary African and extra-occidental art. His CV also included stints as Artistic Director of the first Joburg Art Fair in 2008, Dak’art, the Dakar Biennale (2016 and 2017), and Bamako Encounters – The African Biennale of Photography (2001-2007). He also co-curated the first African pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale.

For Abu Dhabi Art Njami’s curatorial framework again focuses on African artists and references the iconic Miles Davis album Kind of Blue. Here Njami is suggesting jazz music as a metaphor for the open-ended parameters of the exhibition – galleries are likened to groups of musicians, both able to create a collective project that is wider than their singular expression. As the press release puts it: “Kind of Blue references the improvisation harnessed by the creation of jazz music as a means to create an exploratory space and dialogue for these artworks to be understood together”.

“For this year’s edition of Abu Dhabi Art, the African artists I selected have unique techniques and ways of addressing contemporary issues,” said Njami. “They also come from various locations not just mainland Africa.

“I have chosen jazz music as a metaphor for the gathering of the galleries I have invited to take part for this edition of the fair because, in my eyes, jazz is the best representation of what is at stake with ‘African Contemporary Art’.

“I am interested in bringing my theories and vision to Abu Dhabi to initiate a new dialogue here, as I feel that there is a cultural gap between the Middle East and Africa. Abu Dhabi can play a role in bridging this gap.”

Lejeune, curator of the fair’s public Performing Arts Programme in 2020, is also returning for the 2021 edition with a diverse line up of commissions that she says will explore “the transformative power of storytelling to create a series of journeys through histories, memories and fictions”.

Rose Lejeune is a curator with a specific interest in context-based social and performative practices. She is the Director of Performance Exchange, a UK-wide project working to embed performance art within collections; she’s also the Associate Curator for the Delfina Foundation’s Collecting as Practice programme where she developed a groundbreaking programme that looks at the politics and economics of global collections.

For Abu Dhabi Art she has made four commissions. French duo Louise Hervé and Clovis Maillet explore projections of the future and anthropological knowledge through performance and film; Mays Albaik is a Palestinian visual artist who interweaves poetry, socio-politics and geography; Abu Dhabi-based Rand Abdul Jabbar makes socially engaged works that cross between visual arts and architecture; and Moscow-based Taus Makhacheva has a performance art practice that is informed by her Dagestan origins.

Interestingly, Albaik and Makhacheva have been named among the seven artists shortlisted for the Richard Mille Art Prize.

Each commissioned artist will select a site for a live performance in different locations around Abu Dhabi and at the fair.

Also announced are the artists selected for the Beyond: Artist Commissions programme. This will feature new works by Aya Haidar, a British-Lebanese multimedia artist who focusses on the use of found and recycled objects to explore issue of loss, migration and memory; Hazem Harb, a Palestinian artist living between Rome and Dubai who has just opened a really interesting show at Maraya Arts Centre; Najat Makki, a pioneering Emirati contemporary artist who works with impressive swashes of colour (her mini retrospective at the Cultural Foundation was a highlight of 2019); Rasheed Araeen, the Karachi born, London-based conceptual artist known for his formal geometric sculptures; and Richard Atugonza, a Uganda-born sculptor who draws inspiration from his immediate surroundings.

The artists’ works will be unveiled during the fair and will remain on view to the public until 22 January 2022.

More information on Abu Dhabi Art 2021 is here.

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