Quoz Arts Fest 2020 to bring 60 regional artists, performers and musicians

The annual arts festival returns with an exhibition on alternative recipes, plus art, music, performances and films

'New National Dish: UAE' is an exhibition that investigates the future of food within a local context. Courtesy Alserkal Avenue
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The annual Quoz Arts Fest highlights the creative corners of Al Quoz, the Dubai neighbourhood that's home to art galleries, cultural spaces and concept stores. The event returns this year under the theme "In Search of …" and will feature more than 60 artists, performers and musicians from the region.

A highlight of this iteration, which takes place on Friday and Saturday, January 24 and 25, is a project by the Centre for Genomic Gastronomy (CGG), an artist-led research institute. Titled New National Dish: UAE, the work is a culinary experience and exhibition that investigates the future of food within a local context. Told in four "stories", it includes four alternative recipes, with dishes served on so-called "sculptural plates". The project is inspired by a 2019 exhibition that ran at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London titled Food: Bigger Than the Plate, which also looked at how mankind's relationship to food can be more sustainable.

For their show at Quoz Arts Fest, CGG conducted research on the UAE government's plans related to agriculture and food, and spent time with a local food researcher, visiting markets and prototyping recipes that are not only innovative, but also sustainable, and in line with the UAE's food security strategies.

CGG's recipes include the use of specific ingredients found in the region or that could be sustainably grown within its environmental conditions. These include the sea asparagus or salicornia, a type of succulent rich in protein that can be grown through ­seawater irrigation.

One of the prototypes developed by the Centre for Genomic Gastronomy (CGG), an artist-led research institute that is working on a project specifically for Quoz Arts Fest. Courtesy Alserkal Avenue

Other ingredients include camel milk used for cheese, plant-based meat substitutes, such as the Impossible Burger, Beyond Burger, and jackfruit, commonly found in tropical countries and native to South India.

"Traditionally, the UAE has a very protein-hungry culture, with meat and fish [in the cuisine]. We are looking into producing stuff here with aquaculture and plant-based proteins that will keep people happy," says CGG co-founder Zack Denfeld.

They also explore new methods of preparing food, such as cooking with ghaf tree bark as a way to add smoky flavours.

Globally, the agriculture industry produces a great degree of waste. In the UAE, the government has been trying to reduce its dependence on imported products. The work of CGG worldwide addresses these issues by looking at each region’s needs and capabilities.

Denfeld says that they typically present their research through exhibitions or museums, where people are more open to new ideas. At the same time, they won't have to worry too much about profit as restaurants would. "Food is directly where environmental concerns and culture meet. We all have a connection to food. So we feel like it is a place where we can make change. It's not just about keeping stuff in the lab, but about tasting the different futures to imagine where we want to go … We're trying to get people to have that conversation based on the flavour, rather than just the science," says Denfeld.

Palestinian-Jordanian music group 47Soul. Victor Frankowski

Quoz Arts Fest will also present a free concert by ­Jordanian-Palestinian band 47Soul, which fuses dabke music with synth and electronic beats. The band has produced its own sound called Shamstep, a combination of Levantine folk music and dubstep.

At The Courtyard Playhouse, the neighbourhood's performing arts centre, visitors can participate in improv and live drawing workshops. Local theatre The Junction, meanwhile, will present Short+Sweet, the world's largest 10-minute play festival. Photography enthusiasts can join a photo walk of the industrial area with Gulf Photo Plus, and attend a cyanotype workshop in their space.

African contemporary art gallery Akka Project is putting together an exhibition titled ­Africa and the other 54 Countries: Focus on South ­Africa, which highlights the country's art, culture and cuisine. Participating artists include Lehlogonolo Mashaba, Janko de Beer and Linda Hollier. On the first day of the festival, chef Kuhle Swana from Dubai restaurant Kiza, which serves pan-African cuisine, will prepare a Braai – South African, Namibian, Zimbabwean and Zambian barbecue.

Returning for its sixth event, the Reel Palestine film festival will screen independent and arthouse films produced by Palestinian filmmakers. There also be contemporary dance performances by Block Universe and Sima Dance Company, which will present Ansaf, a contemporary dance number that explores themes of conflict and displacement in the Arab world.

Quoz Arts Fest is free and takes place on Friday and ­Saturday, January 24 and 25. More ­information is at www.alserkalavenue.ae