November opening for Jameel Arts Centre

Art Jameel has announced that its purpose-built contemporary arts institution Jameel Arts Centre will open its doors on 11 November. It’s also been announced that the Arts Centre will become home to the collection of the Abraaj Group Art Prize.

That date is just before the start of  Dubai Design Week (12-17 November), and Art Jameel would probably have preferred a tie-in to Art Dubai rather than the design vibe; but at least this way it gets to surf some of the buzz. And if it’s going to become a major contributor to art in Dubai, at least it will have a few months of shakedown before the 2019 Art Week comes around.

The Jameel Arts Centre is a genuinely exciting prospect, a significant addition to the local art scene and sure to be recognized as a central element in Dubai’s bid to be an international as well as a regional art hub – every city with such aspirations needs an arts centre, somewhere to provide a year-round focus with exhibition and research space (as well as that vital element, a good café). The fact that it’s an independent venture (and not-for-profit too) adds extra credibility.

The Abraaj Art Prize 2012 winner was Wael Shawky with his puppet cabaret A Glimpse of Clean History

Awarded annually during Art Dubai, the Abraaj Group Art Prize has been going for ten years, commissioning from artists from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, and it will be good to get the work out of storage and into public spaces. Thirty major works by artists including Jananne Al-Ani, Kader Attia, Basim Magdy, Huma Mulji, Wael Shawky, and the 2018 winner, Lawrence Abu Hamdan (featured at this year’s Art Dubai), will be loaned to the art centre on a long-term deal.

Art Jameel is committing to exhibit the works at all of its arts spaces, so as well as Dubai we expect to see Abraaj Group Art Prize works visiting the impressive 17,000 sq m Hayy: Creative Hub complex that Art Jameel plans to open in Jeddah in mid-2019. That would make sense; Hayy and the Dubai Arts Centre are obviously similar and complementary operations.

The central courtyard of the Hayy: Creative Hub, Art Jameel’s multidisciplinary arts centre in Jeddah

Art Jameel will also maintain the current active loans policy of the Abraaj Group Art Prize. To date that has taken works to some very classy addresses – among them Guggenheim and the New Museum, New York; MACBA, Barcelona; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; and the biennials of Sharjah, Sydney, Singapore and Venice. These are the kind of relationships that Art Jameel will want to build upon.

It’s already close to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art via a long-term partnership that basically funds the Met’s acquisition of works by modern and contemporary artists from the Middle East. Right now this is one-way – the Met says which works it would like to acquire, Art Jameel pays for them (assuming it agrees with the choice). But there’s an obvious prospect of the Met loaning these and other works to Art Jameel for non-permanent display in Dubai and Jeddah.

A second key relationship is with the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, notably by sponsoring the biennial £25,000 Jameel Prize – an international award for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic tradition. Work by the finalists is shown in at the V&A (28 June to 25 November this year) and then tours internationally. More opportunities for Dubai and Jeddah?

And a couple of weeks ago, Art Jameel announced another tie-up – with the UK-based Delfina Foundation, an organisation that has similar operational goals: independent, non-profit foundations supporting artists and creative communities.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Art Jameel shares with Delfina Foundation an ethos that is artist-centric and that is committed to the exceptional power of the arts to generate ideas and facilitate exchange …[/perfectpullquote]

Delfina Foundation is explicit about facilitating artistic exchange and developing creative practice through residencies, partnerships and public programming; it is London’s largest provider of international residencies, hosting 40 artists and practitioners each year. The Foundation launched in 2007 with an initial focus on the Middle East and North Africa; it has expanded its remit internationally in recent years by concentrating on themes rather than geography.

Art Jameel describes itself as “an organisation that supports artists and creative communities … Our programmes foster the role of the arts in building open, connected communities; at a time of flux and dramatic societal shifts, we see this role as more crucial than ever”.

So all round this sounds like a really good match. As Art Jameel President Fady Jameel put it: “Art Jameel shares with Delfina Foundation an ethos that is artist-centric and that is committed to the exceptional power of the arts to generate ideas and facilitate exchange – between practitioners, between artists and audiences, and between contrasting disciplines and schools of thought”.

The two parties describe the deal as “a significant new partnership” and “a major new chapter for both organisations” that will extend the international reach of both and provide “new programming and residency initiatives”.

Art Jameel will have access to Delfina Foundation’s expertise in running artists’ residencies, and its accompanying network. What Delfina Foundation gets is less obvious, but the official line is that Delfina “will be able to harness the strategic thinking behind Art Jameel and its sister organisation Community Jameel, to expand the London organisation’s work exploring the relationship between the arts and social change”.

At a practical level, Delfina Foundation director Aaron Cezar has been appointed as Senior Advisor at Art Jameel, working at large across curatorial, educational and residency planning, collection building, advocacy and organisational development. Fady Jameel will join Delfina Foundation’s board of trustees; along with Art Jameel director Antonia Carver, he will “contribute to shaping Delfina Foundation’s future over the next few years”.

The announcement was short on other specifics, but the current show at Art Jameel’s current base in Alserkal Avenue suggests one option. Plan for Feminist Greater Baghdad, a solo exhibition by Ala Younis, is being held simultaneously in Dubai and London. We can expect more co-commissions, exhibitions, and events. (incidentally, get along to that exhibition soon if you haven’t seen it – it’s fascinating, and finishes on 14 April.)

The inaugural exhibitions for Art Jameel Dubai will be announced in September. The curatorial principles apparently centre around “confluence, exchange and shared, manifold histories”; well, the place is on the shore of the Creek. Exhibitions will be drawn in part from the existing Art Jameel Collection as well as the Abraaj Group Art Prize works; but partnership is key to the Art Jameel approach and developing collaborative shows, “both in-house and with other curators and institutions”, will also be central to the programming. So that’s the Met, V&A and Delfina pencilled in, then …

Art Jameel will be doing its own commission, too, of course. Earlier this year Kuwait-based artists Alia Farid and Aseel AlYaqoub were awarded the inaugural Art Jameel Commissions: Sculpture, selected by an independent jury from an international field of applicants. This immersive light-technology installation of hybrid ‘trees’, reflecting on our relationship with the natural world, is the first in a multi-year programme to support art in the public realm.

It’s also the first of an annual Art Jameel Commissions programme. The next one (2019) will focus on research, followed by a commission for drawing and painting in 2020.


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