Zayed University has opened a permanent gallery in Alserkal Avenue in Dubai: the Zayed University Urban Satellite Space. Situated off The Yard in Al Quoz's arts district, the space will give students and recent graduates from the university's College of Arts and Creative Enterprises a public platform for their work.
"We wanted the students' work to be more accessible both for the public and for the industry," says Walter Willems, the space's curator. "This is a place where they can launch their careers. The work from the Zayed students hasn't been as visible in comparison to other universities in the UAE that have more open campuses, such as AUD [American University in Dubai]."
'The place is very hands-on'
Willems, a Dutch artist and curator, was appointed two years ago to lead the project, which he developed in collaboration with former College of Arts and Creative Enterprises dean Ann-Maree Reaney and current dean Kevin Badni. They started with a test phase of two years of pop-up exhibitions, choosing to house them in the contemporary-art complex of Alserkal Avenue.
“Alserkal Avenue is very much focused on creativity and industry,” Willems says. “The place is very hands-on – there are small businesses here and people with a passion who really want to go for it in their field. I think it’s a great example for our students to see that and to be surrounded by them.”
Alserkal Avenue is giving Zayed University the space for free. It is the site of the former Art Jameel Project Space, which operated while the recently opened Jameel Arts Centre was under construction. It comprises a main room for exhibitions, as well as a smaller space for one-off projects, workshops and lectures.
The shows to expect
Willems will curate some of the shows, but the students will also have a chance – either those involved in the curatorial practice course or students working on design projects. The College of Arts and Creative Enterprises offers degrees in interior design, graphic design, visual art and animation design, as well as programmes in curatorial studies and multimedia design.
The current show is made up of recent graduates from the arts course. A large painting of theatrical motifs by Maitha Abdalla adorns the back wall, and in the centre is an enormous sculpture made of abandoned items that the artist, Rawda AlKetbi, found in the desert: a rusted silo for storing grain and a part of an aircraft that Willems says took three people to lift. On the inside is a video comprised of images scanned from old passports, "as if this was a crew found abandoned in the desert", Willems says.
The opening kicked off with a sculpture about the movement of time: an enormous ice block, a work by Jumaanah AlHashemi, on which ticking alarm clocks were placed. The work, Through the Fabric-ation of Time (2018), contrasts two modes of telling time, and defied expectations. The company who sold the ice block said it would melt in 14 to 18 hours – it actually stayed up for more than 36. As they say in Latin: Ars longa, vita brevis (Art is long, life is short).