The big one is back: Art Dubai is fuller, leaner and better organised

Art Dubai is back. The region’s biggest art fair (and the world’s most internationally diverse, according to the organisers) returns to Madinat Jumeirah 20-23 March for its lucky 13th edition; expect works by more than 500 artists exhibited by 90+ galleries from 40+ countries.

There’s a new structure to the show, with four main sections promising to offer visitors greater access and deeper engagement with artists and galleries from non-Western lands and showcasing “a truly international view of art”.

Pablo de Val, Artistic Director of Art Dubai, talks about giving visitors “an interconnected experience” with the changes to the fair’s layout, content, and general look and feel. “Art Dubai has always strived to be original in its content, in the diversity of its gallery line-up, and its quality non-commercial offering,” he said. “In keeping with that, we’ve added new sections which we think will add depth to our programming and when juxtaposed with the commercial galleries will create dialogue and the opportunity to explore art and new perspectives.”

Art on show

The meat of the fair remains Art Dubai Contemporary, 59 galleries now arranged across two halls. Art Dubai Modern is the smaller area for museum-quality works by 20th Century masters from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa; for this year it’s been moved from the Mina A’Salam to the main gallery halls alongside Art Dubai Contemporary. There are 11 galleries exhibiting under Art Dubai Modern.

Co-curated this year by São Paulo–based curator and artistic director of art space Pivô, Fernanda Brenner and Abu Dhabi-based Munira Al Sayegh, Residents – Art Dubai’s unique annual residency programme – was created for the 2018 fair.

Ran Hwang, Healing Forest (2018). Showing at Leila Heller Gallery Dubai

For 2019 a dozen artists from Latin American galleries came to the UAE for residencies of between four and eight weeks at spaces provided by Bait 15, Dubai Design District, Tashkeel and Warehouse421. They immersed themselves in the life and culture of the Emirates to create new art for Art Dubai, works which merge their distinct artistic practice with their temporary surroundings.

Then there are the new sections. Curated by French-Cameroonian curator Élise Atangana, Bawwaba (Arabic for ‘gateway’) features 10 solo presentations by artists from, based in, or focused on the Middle East, Africa, Central and South Asia and Latin America. Addressing themes of global migration, socioeconomic structures and identity, it features works created within the last year or conceived specifically for the fair; it’s accompanied by a programme of talks.

Hamra Abbas, Everyday Waterfalls 1 (2019). Shown by Canvas Gallery in the Bawabba section

And UAE NOW, curated by Munira Al Sayegh (one of our 50 to Follow, naturally) highlights five of the country’s independent local artist-run platforms – Bait 15, Banat Collective, Jaffat el Aqlam, PAC (Public Art Collective) and Dafter Asfar. These provide an important counterpoint to both the public and the commercial arts sectors here, so props to Art Dubai for giving them some exposure …

Bait 15 in Abu Dhabi, part of UAE NOW

The Campus Art Dubai artists (which this year are Dima Srouji, Augustine Paredes, Jumairy and Mohamed Khalid) get their own group show. Campus Art Dubai is the first and only programme of its kind in the UAE, an intensive six-month seminar and residency programme providing Emirati and UAE-based artists with the opportunity to develop their practices with training and mentorship and to show their work during Art Week.


Talks, tours and workshops have been an essential part of Art Dubai’s cultural programming since 2007. The headliner here is the Global Art Forum, an annual cross-disciplinary arts conference that has achieved genuine international recognition for combining original thinking and contemporary issues.

This year’s theme is ‘School is a Factory’ and uses panels and presentations from a wide range of contributors – from curators and critics to educationalists and entrepreneurs – to address some of the challenges and opportunities in education today.

Dia Azzawi, Sleeping Gypsy (2017). Showing at Meem Gallery

As usual the Global Art Forum is organised by Commissioner Shumon Basar, with editor/ writer Victoria Camblin and curator/writer Fawz Kabra as Co-Directors. It runs for two days (20-21 March), is open to the public (including non-ticket holders), and is free to attend.

The other conference is the day-long Art Dubai Modern Symposium on 22 March. Under the title ‘Cultural Hubs of Modernism’, it aims to map out the cultural shifts and trends instigated by modernity in four key cities in the Middle East and South Asia during the 20th century via a new 60-minute ‘masterclass’ format.

Dr Nada Shabout, professor and founding president of the Association for Modern and Contemporary Art from the Arab World, Iran and Turkey, presents ‘Performing Modernity: Baghdad of the Mid-twentieth Century’; Dr Iftikhar Dadi, professor and co-director of the Institute for Comparative Modernitiés, discusses ‘Modern Art in Lahore’; Elvira Dyangani Ose, director of The Showroom, London, will lecture on Dakar; and Catherine David, deputy director of the National Museum of Modern Art at the Centre Georges Pompidou, delivers a session on Beirut.

Performance art has long been a key element of Art Dubai. Developed by the Lisbon contemporary art institution Kunsthalle Lissabon, this year’s programme revolves around two main performances.

Marlon Griffith, a Trinidad and Tobago artist, has developed a version of his A Walk into the Night specifically for Art Dubai. Taking the aesthetics of Trinidadian carnivals and West African shadow puppets as a starting point, the piece stages both a large-scale celebratory procession and a magical play of light and shadow. The result is a collaboration with the Filipino community in Dubai, involving 150 performers and music composed, and it will pass through the fair inviting visitors to join in.

An earlier version of Marlon Griffith’s A Walk in the Night street procession

Samson Young’s Muted Situation #2: Muted Lion Dance is a reimagining of the traditional Chinese lion dance, where performers mimic a lion’s movements to bring luck and fortune. In place of the usual percussive music, the dancers will perform to a soundtrack made of unusual sounds such as the intense breathing of the performers, rattling of the lion costume, and the stomping of the feet. With this, the audience is forced to reimagine the aural experience of watching this dance.

And finally – NTS Radio curates this year’s after-dark music. Mirroring the fair’s focus on the global South, the two music sessions will be headlined by DJ Alexander Nut with Zakia (10pm-1.30am on 19 March) and Nabihah Iqgal (formerly known as Throwing Shade) with Zezi (9pm-1.30am, 20 March).


All the information you could want is on the website.

Opening hours:

21 March 2pm–9.30pm (last entrance 9pm)
22 March 12pm–9.30pm (last entrance 9pm)
23 March 12pm–6.30pm (last entrance 6pm)


One-day ticket AED 90 onsite, AED 60 online
Three-day ticket AED 150 onsite, AED 100 online

… but magpie readers can save 25 percent on advance tickets (that’s 25 percent off the one- or three-day pass, and you can buy any number of them).

Go to the ticket info page here, click buy tickets to get to the 800TICKETS page, click buy now and enter the date you want. Go to the promo code box for one- or three-day passes and enter the code MAGPIE50 (it’s case-sensitive). Click the arrow and the price should change; enter the number of tickets you want and add to cart.

This deal is valid until 20 March.

Art Dubai’s partner BMW is showing is Art Car project in the Middle East for the first time. On show is the 1989 BMW M3 Group A racing version created by Ken Done, painted in the Australian artist’s signature lively colours and brushstrokes

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