Talking art

Alserkal’s Majlis Talks on 28 February represent a useful contribution to the UAE art scene. A key part of Alserkal Art Week, they’re informal, commendably short, and meaty; as such they should provide both stimulus and incentive – a taster rather than the full banquet, as it were.

“I think Majlis Talks are a very important part of how Alserkal builds new art audiences,” says Mahnaz Fancy, who curated the series of six talks before taking up her new post with the UAE Ministry of Culture as Principal Researcher for the Arts.

“The format of accessible short casual conversations curated to highlight key ideas, and the opportunity to hear from the artists and curators themselves, is something that art professionals and the general public can enjoy while getting an introduction to what’s going on.”

The majlis concept is also a useful reference point – “the majlis has always provided the necessary form to plant the seeds of connections,” say the organisers. “From the majlis we begin a convergence of differences, mingling vantage points, allowing new questions to rise …”

Mahnaz Fancy’s brief for the Majlis Talks was “to create a talk program that could showcase the artists and curators involved in the diverse range of exhibitions and related activities happening at Alserkal during Art Week while drawing out key topics for our arts ecosystem at the moment.

“One of the things I became interested in showing through this series of talks is how active the UAE arts community is today at the local level (Engage 101) and how engaged it is with an expanding definition of ‘the region’ (Design East, Art D’Egypte and the book launch for Punk Orientalism).

“Another important part of these talks is the importance of the curator-artist collaboration in creating exhibitions – like Rana Begum and Cliff Lauson, who bring Dappled Light to Concrete.”

Majlis Talks start at 4pm on 28 February and each will run for around 30 minutes. They’re free to attend, but preregistration is advised (click the title for a booking link):

4pm: Session One Shifting the Paradigm

This conversation between curators Gaith Abdulla, Lubnah Ansari and multidisciplinary artist Fatma Al Ali looks towards the future of the Gulf and how we are trying to introduce green into our desert environment. It pivots on the open-call exhibition Getting Over the Colour Green, presented by Engage101 – a platform that exhibits and supports independent artists (specifically to include non-gallery-represented artists within the commercial arts ecosystem of the Gulf).

4.30pm: Session Two Threading Through Design

A session on how designers are turning to local materials and craft traditions to create innovative contemporary design especially in textile arts. The panel is Rue Kothari, whose CV includes launching Harper’s Bazaar Interiors in Dubai in 2011 and five years as director of Downtown Design; Nour Hage, award-winning British-Lebanese artist and designer whose practice centres on the exploration of West Asian identities, culture, history and storytelling; and Florence-based artist Lisa Batacchi, formerly a fashion designer (her bio includes a spell with Vivienne Westwood) who is now exploring the emotional bonds between the individual and the society by visualising singular and collective memory.

5pm: Session Three The Art of Collecting

The Pictet Group is a Swiss-based independent investment firm with more than 200 years’ experience; its art activities include the Prix Pictet for photography, and the Collection Pictet – a unique collection of more than 900 examples of Swiss art from 1805 (the year of the group’s foundation) to the present day. The Danish art historian and curator Loa Haagen Pictet (right), the Collection Pictet’s curator, talks with Ishara Art Foundation curator Sabih Ahmed about the parameters and values of building a collection .

5.30pm: Session Four Art and Heritage

This session has the Egyptian curator, art consultant and cultural ambassador Nadine Ghaffar in conversation with Fiza Akram about how art initiatives can affect social change and re-invigorate a contemporary art sector and heritage landscape. Nadine Ghaffar established the art consultancy Art D’Égypte in 2016 to promote Egyptian art nationally, regionally and internationally; moderator Fiza Akram is Director of Special Projects at Alserkal Advisory, a specialist in developing partnerships across the arts and culture spectrum responsible for realising flagship exhibitions at Concrete and commissions in Alserkal Avenue.

6pm: Session Five Punk Orientalism

Curator and writer Sara Raza talks with artist Ala Younis about Raza’s recently published Punk Orientalism: The Art of Rebellion to discuss intersecting geographical and cultural themes, and experimental and fractured poetic forms. Focusing on art and ideas from Central Asia and the Caucasus, the spaces and places associated with the former USSR, the book’s scope expands to Afghanistan, Arab World, Iran and Turkey, during and after the Cold War and draws directly from Raza’s curatorial practice. “Raza plots a unique, artist-led global punk narrative for the 21st century, taking British punk aesthetics as a ‘method’ to chart a fascinating post-Soviet and post-colonial art history,” said Catherine Wood of Tate Modern, describing it as “a fresh and timely book, impressive in scope and bold in its vision”.

6.30pm: Session Six Play of Light and Space

Rana Begum’s exciting solo exhibition Dappled Light has arrived at Concrete, adapted from its previous incarnations in Britain at Warwick’s Mead Gallery (January–March 2022) and Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery (Mar-Sept 2022). Rana Begum, an artist who experiments with the boundaries between painting, design, and architecture, will be talking with Cliff Lauson, Director of Exhibitions at Somerset House, London, and curator of her show.

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