Shortlist for the inaugural Dubai Public Art Commission

The shortlisted artists for Dubai Public Art's inaugural landmark commission. Left to right: Khalid Al Banna, Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, Asma Belhamar, Shaikha Al Mazrou, Afra Al Dhaheri

The artists shortlisted for the first Dubai Public Art commission, a piece to be installed in an Al Hudaiba park that overlooks Etihad Museum and Union House, have been announced.

Dubai Public Art is a Dubai Culture strategy to put major public art installations around the city; curating and management has been subcontracted to half a dozen notable players, and for the first one it’s Art Dubai. (Applications are currently open for the second project.)

The five artists shortlisted for the inaugural landmark commission – announced during Art Dubai – were chosen from over 250 applications: Afra Al Dhaheri, Asma Belhamar, Khalid Al Banna, Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, and Shaikha Al Mazrou.

Each receives $5,000 to work on a detailed technical proposal and a maquette, with a winner announced sometime in Spring. The finished work is due to be unveiled at the end of 2023.

The shortlist is hardly radical; there are no surprises here, no outsiders. Mohamed Ibrahim, part of UAE’s first golden generation of contemporary artists from the late 1980s, is the Lawrie Shabibi artist who represented the UAE at last year’s Venice Biennale with an installation of 128 sculptures, Between Sunrise and Sunset; Shaikha Al Mazrou, also on Lawrie Shabibi’s books, was a star of Frieze Sculpture 2022 in London and was one of the selected artists for the Expo 2020 Public Art Programme.

Khalid Al Banna has been a regular in some of the most important exhibitions of the UAE, including the influential Emirati Expressions I (2009), Portrait of a Nation (2016) and Tashkeel’s COVID Conversations (2020-21). Asma Belhamar is another who has a piece in Expo City as part of the Expo 2020 Public Art Programme; her extensive exhibition credits also include this year’s Sharjah Biennial with Monuments of Alfreej, an outdoor installation at Sheikh Khalid Bin Mohammed Palace that explores the phenomenon of the megastructure in the Emirates.

Afra Al Dhaheri, an Assistant Professor in Visual Arts at ZU Abu Dhabi, has had solo shows at Green Art Gallery and has participated in several key group exhibitions include Abu Dhabi Art’s Beyond: Emerging Artists selection (2020 and then at Cromwell Place, London, in 2021); she’s another who has shown in Emirati Expressions (2011 and 2015).

So does that make for a safe list? Maybe; and to be fair, we have no idea how good or bad the other 245-plus applications were. But the shortlist makes for an impressive snapshot of 3D from the Emirates, and covers a range of experience (the three female artists all happen to have been born in 1988, Khalid Al Banna in 1975, Mohamed Ibrahim in 1962). Given their track records we’d trust any of the artists to be capable of producing interesting work – and no, we’re not opening a book on the winner. Here are some pointers though:

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