When Sharjah's Maraya Art Gallery, which opened in 2006, was relaunched as the Maraya Art Centre in 2010, the artistic director Giuseppe Moscatello expanded the existing gallery space into a non-profit centre that would become a platform and hub for emerging artists.
Five years later, the centre, an initiative by Shurooq, Sharjah’s Investment and Development Authority, is one of the leading art institutions in the UAE.
“Back then, there was very little happening in that respect,” he says. “We wanted to nurture and encourage artists.”
Its 1,500-square-metre space is home to the Barjeel Art Foundation and also functions as a community centre, library, studio and gallery space in the heart of Al Qasba, Sharjah’s waterside pedestrian neighbourhood.
Despite overseeing an institution funded by the government, Moscatello made sure the platform of support was extended to all artists within the community – that meant no bias towards Emiratis.
“I believe it is important not just to support Emiratis but also all the other nationalities that live and work here,” he says. “The community network here is very important and all artists have something to contribute to the UAE art scene. We keep that at the forefront of our vision.”
As part of a mission to engage as many members of society as possible, Maraya’s next big development came in 2013 with the opening of Maraya Art Park.
At the centre of the public space, located at Al Majaz Waterfront, is a giant commissioned piece of art by the Iraqi-American artist Wafaa Bilal.
The Hierarchy of Being is an attempt to re-create the effect of a camera obscura. Inside the white egg-shaped structure are 15 windows, which open and close every 15 minutes, projecting upside down images on the walls. The artist was inspired by the discoveries of Golden Age scientists Ibn Haytham and Ibn Al-Jazari. Two years after opening, it still attracts a steady stream of curious visitors.
“We wanted to engage the public and this is something that has worked really well,” says Moscatello. “The people who visit are not all from the art field and this is great because it means we are reaching new audiences.”
As well as hosting regular, top-quality exhibitions with in-house curators that have included Noor Al Suwaidi, a renowned Emirati artist, and Sara Raza, who has been taken on by the Guggenheim New York as its UBS Maps curator, Maraya continued to expand.
A residency programme launched last year gives three emerging and mid-career contemporary artists and designers the chance to live and work in the UAE, while sending UAE-based artists abroad for work and travel.
“The most important part of it is to send UAE artists abroad so they can widen their scope and come back and share their experiences,” Moscatello says.
More recently, the Jedariya initiative was launched to commission artists to paint public walls in Sharjah. Last month marked what Moscatello calls “the opening of our design chapter”, 1971 Design Space on Sharjah’s Flag Island.
At this rate of expansion, Moscatello acknowledges that Maraya could soon be outgrowing its title.
“Maraya has grown so much over the past few years that some people say it should be a foundation,” says Moscatello. “However, I don’t want to go to that level just yet. It is important to take things step by step.”
• For more information on the centre and all the programmes, visit www.maraya.ae