Top art exhibitions in the UAE and Saudi Arabia to see this spring

Masterpieces by a rich panoply of regional and international artists arrive in the Gulf

A handout image of Etel Adnan, author of "Sea and Fog" (Courtesy: Courtesy Arab American National Museum) NOTE: For Arts & Life's  Arab American Book Awards feature by Jessica Hill *** Local Caption ***  Adnan_photo.jpg
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As the calendar ticked over to 2024, art institutions in the Gulf began setting the stage for some of their best exhibitions of the year.

The UAE will host Art Dubai and March Art Week, while Saudi Arabia has a growing fixture of events anchored by the Diriyah Biennale Foundation as well as exhibitions and biennials staged in AlUla.

Here is a mix of blockbuster shows and calmer retrospectives to catch in the coming months.

Being Borrowed: On Egyptian Migration to the Gulf

Location: NYUAD Project Space, Abu Dhabi

Date: Until February 7

This show, which originated in Cairo in 2022, looks at the years of migration of Egyptians to the Gulf. Curators Farah Hallaba, Farida Youssef and Ali Zaaray have brought together 22 artists to explore ideas around identity, home and host country, looking at the generations of Egyptians who have been raised in Abu Dhabi, as well as those who remained in Egypt.

The exhibition draws on research supported by the NYUAD programme Al Mashhad and on the work of NYUAD professor Laure Assaf.

Sheher, Prakriti, Devi

Location: Ishara, Dubai

Date: Until June 1

Curated by the New Delhi photographer Gauri Gill, this exhibition explores the relationship between the environment – both urban and rural – and the sacred.

Gill invited 12 artists and collectives, mainly from South Asia, to think about how everyday built environments can offer portals to other worlds, whether through devotional drawings by artists such as Ladhki Devi or by paying attention to how animals make their own homes in urban settings.

Featuring artists Mariam Suhail, Meera Mukherjee and Shefalee Jain, the show was curated in dialogue with Ishara director Sabih Ahmed.

Etel Adnan Exhibition

Location: Ithra – King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

Date: February 2-June 29

Ithra, in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, is hosting the first major retrospective of the Lebanese-American artist Etel Adnan in the kingdom.

Curated by Sebastien Delot from the Musee National Picasso-Paris, the exhibition will be one of the most comprehensive to date of the artist, who died aged 96 in 2021. Featuring more than forty of her works, the retrospective will include paintings, written work, artists’ books (or leporellos), tapestries and ceramics, made over the course of her long career.

Vikram Divecha: Short Circuits

Location: Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai

Date: February 1-June 16

The Jameel Arts Centre presents the first survey show of the artist Vikram Divecha, who moved to Dubai in 2005 and is now one of the UAE’s most established artists. Curated by Dawn Ross and Lucas Morin, the Jameel show will look at Divecha’s work since 2013, focusing on his investigations of the different social and built systems around us.

Desert X AlUla: In the Presence of Absence

Location: AlUla, Saudi Arabia

Date: February 9-March 23

Desert X AlUla is a temporary exhibition of works installed in north-west Saudi Arabia, with commissions by international, regional and Saudi artists around the themes of the imperceptible and hidden.

The exhibition, now in its third year and a sister to the original Desert X event in the Californian desert, was the first to bring contemporary artworks to the tourist and cultural site AlUla.

This year’s programme is curated by Maya El Khalil, an eminent figure in the region, and Marcello Dantas, the Brazilian documentary filmmaker. Having moved to a new site, it will be housed in venues such as the mountain of Harrat Uwayrid and the former AlManshiyah Railway Station.

Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale: After Rain

Location: Jax District, Riyadh

Date: February 20-May 24

The second Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale will explore the relationship between humans and the environment.

Led by the well-known Ute Meta Bauer – who was the founding director of the Office for Contemporary Art in Oslo and subsequently the Centre for Contemporary Art in Singapore (which she still heads) – the exhibition takes in feminism, ecology and complex historical narratives.

The show will bring 85 Saudi and international artists to Riyadh’s new Jax district, where the Diriyah Biennale Foundation has erected its permanent buildings. Artists include the late Emirati artist Hassan Sharif, the pioneering US feminist artist Joan Jonas, as well as Safeya Binzagr, known as the mother of Saudi art.

Lala Rukh: In the Round

Location: Sharjah Art Foundation, Al Mureijah Art Spaces

Date: February 24-June 16

Late artist Lala Rukh from Lahore was a major minimalist artist and feminist organiser, who expanded the impact of both these practices through her long-standing work in education.

Now, the Sharjah Art Foundation will survey her career via more than 50 drawings, prints, photographs, videos and animations. Put together by SAF’s director Hoor Al Qasimi and Natasha Ginwala, one of curators of the next Sharjah Biennial, the exhibition features both Rukh’s careful, exacting works on paper and how they contrast with the directness of her political work.

Inspired by music as much as the rhythms of water and the moon, her work will be fully explored for the first time in this retrospective.

Updated: January 26, 2024, 4:28 AM