Abu Dhabi Art has announced three new curators for its 2018 edition, which will be the art fair’s tenth. Eminent art historians Salwa Mikdadi and Nada Shabout will curate the fair’s talks programme, the Emirati artist Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim will curate Beyond: Emerging Artists, and Hammad Nasar, the curator of last year’s Venice Biennale show, will also put together a non-commercial exhibition for the fair.
The figures will join the curators Tarek Abou El Fetouh and Omar Kholeif, who each return this year – Abou El Fetouh for his performance series and Kholeif for his invited gallery section.
The fair has also announced its commissioned artists, who will each a site-specific project in Al Ain: Moataz Nasr, from Egypt; Ammar Al Attar, from the UAE; and Imran Qureshi, from Pakistan.
As art fairs play an increasingly important role in the art world, they have begun adding non-commercial strands in order to remain relevant to the general public. Abu Dhabi Art, which is run by the Department of Tourism and Culture – Abu Dhabi, last year appointed its first director, Dyala Nusseibeh, who promptly beefed up the curatorial and commissioning side of the fair. Like last year, the fair is using its platform to support artists from the region.
The task of mentoring developing artists is a perfect fit for Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, who is moving close to a role of national treasure. “Ibrahim is undisputedly a pioneer amongst artists in the UAE,” says Nusseibeh. “Already a historically important figure for the next generation of artists to learn from, he is also naturally drawn to supporting younger artists, with whom he shares knowledge unreservedly. By inviting him to curate our Emerging Artist commissions we only amplify the wonderful work he already does in this field.”
For their part, Mikdadi and Shabout are considered two of the foremost art historians in the field of Arab modernism. Mikdadi, who is a professor at NYUAD, recently curated the Barjeel Art Foundation’s semi-permanent show of Arab modern works at the Sharjah Art Museum, and Shabout is likewise a well-known figure in the Gulf; for the past few years she has participated in the talks programme of Art Dubai’s Modern strand.
Their nomination for the talks strands suggests that the interest in Arab Modernism, long a dormant field of study, continues unabated. This isn't cause for straightforward joy. As The National has previously reported, much of the activity in Arab modernism is market-led, with collectors' interest for works at times outpacing scholarship. This complicated question will be among those addressed by the pair, Nusseibeh says. "As university professors and as thought leaders, their distinct approach will lead to a dynamic series of discussions this year on the topic of their choice: the circulation of art and global and local perspectives on new market economies."
The incorporation of Al Ain also reflects the unique positioning of Abu Dhabi Art, which is a government programme as much as an art fair. One of the changes ushered in last year was to make it year-round, with exhibitions at Warehouse421 of invited Abu Dhabi Art galleries throughout the year. Athr Gallery, who installed one "chapter" of their show based on Omar Saif Ghobash's Letters to a Young Muslim, will also bring subsequent chapters exploring the challenges facing Arab youth.
The Athr show, as well as Nasar’s, Ibrahim’s and the Al Ain commissions, will all remain up for a period after the fair.