World Art Dubai is under way.
Running until Saturday, the annual art fair is kicking off hot on the heels of Art Dubai and has returned to the Dubai World Trade Centre for the eighth time.
More than 300 artists from 50 countries are exhibiting works this year, making this the biggest version of the event yet.
It is also its most diverse. While there are plenty of paintings and sculptural works, the fair has given special focus to urban fashion, design and art, as well as a dedicated section for NFTs. The exhibited pieces are all for sale, ranging from a few hundred dirhams to five-figure sums.
“Each year grows exponentially while adapting to global interest and trends,” said Trixie LohMirmand, executive vice president of Dubai World Trade Centre.
“Underpinning our position as a highlight of Dubai’s annual art event scene, our theme this year is ‘Unplug Yourself’ which aims to provoke inspired thinking and the exploration of feelings which in turn enables visitors to engage in mind-opening experiences that only art can catalyse.”
Olga Belka’s underwater artworks are a fine example. Painting underwater using special non-toxic pigments the artist says she developed herself, Belka has travelled the world’s waters from Egypt to Thailand and the Maldives, capturing coral reefs in an effort to save them.
“I developed the underwater painting [technique] six years ago,” she says. “It’s waterproof. It’s eco-friendly and it is durable.”
The Russian artist, who lives in Singapore, says the fair marks her first time visiting the UAE. Proceeds of the works she will go on to sell at the fair will be used to help clean coral reefs off the coast of Phuket, Thailand.
“My first plan is to clean the coral reefs in Thailand,” she says. “I’m not going to donate the money to a project. I’m going to do it myself and invite other people to do it.”
The artist says she has several new works showing the detrimental effects of human waste on coral reefs, particularly face masks, which are being discarded unconscionably, polluting the planet and its waters.
The fair also features a revamped Urban Art DXB.
While the graffiti corner has always been a central element of the fair, Urban Art DXB is expanding this year with performances and competitions including breakdancing and freestyle, a voguing dance floor where performers can enter in groups or solos, as well as a make-up extravaganza contest.
“I am an '80s and '90s kid,” Kuwaiti street artist and art director Ahmed Al Rashid, curator of Urban Art DXB, says. “I used to do make-up and fashion and go dancing with hip hop and street art. Urban is first of all, before anything, tolerance and acceptance between a group of people who are from the streets. When I say the streets, I don’t mean something bad, but rather something rustic, unique and creative.”
Al Rashid says he intended Urban Art DXB to be reflective of the city’s cosmopolitanism.
“We have people from the UAE, Pakistan, India, Egypt, US, India and Philippines. Isn't this Dubai?” he says.
NFTs are also making their World Art Dubai debut this year, with an entire section dedicated to digital art. The zone, named WAD Next, exhibits NFT artworks by artists and galleries from the UAE, US, Lebanon and Iran. The artworks are each accompanied by a QR code, directing visitors to an online marketplace.
WAD Next will host talks by the people behind the Arabic technology website MenaTech, as well as The Crypto Sheikhs Podcast, dedicated to blockchain education. The zone will offer a place for both amateurs and those in the know to brush up their understanding and make their first NFT purchase.
This year, the fair also features a Japanese pavilion, a dedicated space that honours the country's long-running participation in the fair.
“We’ve been here since the beginning, since the first edition,” says Aki Yamada, project manager of Japan Promotion in the Middle East. “We only skipped last year due to the pandemic. But we are exhibiting 334 artworks by emerging Japanese artists this year.”
The Japan Pavilion features 68 artists and will hold live performances, workshops on calligraphy and cherry blossom stamping, as well as a kimono fashion show.
The artists include Shinonome, who embroiders motifs from Japanese folklore stories on silk banners; Kouhei Fukushima, who paints large-scale canvases with vibrant and minimal designs; and Kazz Morishita, who blends photography with painting, imposing luminous cherry blossoms on dim, rainy landscapes.
While scores of artists are marking their World Art Dubai debut this year, many are also returning with newer works and updated technologies.
These include the robotic arm from the 2021 fair, except this time it has come along with a larger counterpart.
The technology, says Vladimir Tsimberg, founder of Robot Does Art, is being launched as a service to the public. Those interested in commissioning a robotic arm to paint a work can visit the company’s website and upload the picture they want to be painted. Alternatively, you could also have the arm paint you a picture at the fair. Paintings cost around Dh600 for a single panel. Wall-sized works comprising several panels can go for Dh2,500.
“We update the software every month,” Tsimberg says. “We have 20 people in our team right now and we strongly believe that this is the future of art. This isn’t a substitution for painting by humans, but an extension.”
World Art Dubai runs until March 19 at the Dubai World Trade Centre. Tickets priced at Dh10 are available at worldartdubai.com