'Time to reflect': Key figures in UAE art scene to discuss future of cultural institutions

The event marks the conclusion of NYU Abu Dhabi's digital programme 'Trace: Archives and Reunions', launched in May

Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, Antonia Carver and Munira Al Sayegh are among the speakers at NYUAD Art Gallery's upcoming event Tracing: The Beginning
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Why do we need art organisations? What difference do they make in our communities? And how are they adapting to these times? These are questions that the founders of some of the UAE’s most recognisable art spaces will attempt to answer in an upcoming virtual gathering hosted by NYU Abu Dhabi’s (NYUAD) Art Gallery.

The discussion, Tracing: The Beginning, marks the last chapter of NYUAD Art Gallery's digital programme Trace: Archives and Reunions, which chronicles its history since its opening in 2014.

Moderated by curator Maya Allison from NYUAD Art Gallery and associate curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Bana Kattan, the event will feature key figures in the UAE art scene over the last decade. Namely, Antonia Carver, director of Art Jameel, who established contemporary art museum Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai in 2018. She also served as director of Art Dubai from 2010 to 2016 and was project director at Bidoun.

Barjeel Art Foundation founder Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi will also take part. An educator and columnist, Al Qassemi developed the Cultural Majlis talk series last year, which brings together thinkers, curators and artists from the Middle East and North Africa to discuss issues in arts and culture.

Other speakers include Munira Al Sayegh, co-founder of art platform 101, which challenges the traditional gallery model by presenting a quarterly sale of artworks by emerging and mid-career artists; Rami Farook, founder of art space Satellite and the now-closed Traffic; and Sunny Rahbar, the gallerist behind The Third Line, one of Dubai’s earliest contemporary art galleries that has since participated in major art fairs such as Art Basel and Frieze.

Speaking on the selection of speakers, Allison said: "Each one has led on founding a small, non-governmental arts organisation, with a very clear mission related to service of community. For example, The Third Line is a commercial gallery, but was extremely active in its first phase in creating community events. Munira Al Sayegh's project 101 responds to a commercial need of the arts ecosystem from a totally different perspective, 15 years later. I view this group as a spectrum of responses to the ecosystem as it has changed over time."

During the discussion, the speakers will share their experiences in founding their organisation and carving out their place in the art scene. Participation from the audience will be a crucial part of the talk, referred to by Allison as a way to “crowdsource” the conversation. Attendees will be grouped together with a founder and have the opportunity to tackle questions about the importance of art organisations and how institutions are adapting in this period of social change. These points will then be laid out and presented to the overall audience afterwards.

Each one has led on founding a small, non-governmental arts organisation, with a very clear mission related to service of community

Tracing: The Beginning will take place on Tuesday, November 3, and is open to the public via online registration. It will coincide with the launch of the archive of NYUAD Art Gallery’s first exhibition from 2014, On Site: The Inaugural Exhibition, which included works by UAE and international artists.

Launched in May, the digital programme Trace: Archives and Reunions was developed as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic and involved the release of NYUAD Art Gallery's archives of previous shows, as well as book publications, brochures, installation photos, videos, audio guides, alongside events such as artist talks and roundtable discussions.

Allison, who has been at the helm of the gallery since its opening and will curate the UAE National Pavilion for the 2022 Venice Biennale, said: "[Trace is an] opportunity to bring together our community of artists and curators, with whom we've collaborated over the years in our past 11 exhibitions… When it opened in 2014, NYUAD Art Gallery was not alone as a small art organisation with a goal to foster a lively cultural sector. Others had opened in the decade prior, particularly creating a ripple effect in Dubai and Sharjah, and now we see a similar effect in Abu Dhabi." She added that the present marks a "time to reflect, collectively, on where we, as visual arts organisations, can next focus our energies."

Currently, NYUAD Art Gallery is preparing a new, virtual exhibition, which she describes as being “curated from and for the digital realm”.

Tracing: The Beginning is free and open to the public. More information on registration can be found here.