A reclining Kate Moss, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in a friendly embrace, and images of model and actress Cara Delevingne – these are just a few iconic works by world-famous photographer Mario Testino that go on display in Dubai this week.
The show features 33 images, seven which have never been shown in an exhibition before, presented in a custom-made temporary structure at d3 (Dubai’s design district).
The celebrity portraits will hang alongside remarkable shots from his Alta Moda series, taken in his native Peru and first shown in his eponymous museum in Lima in 2013.
Curated by Simon de Pury, a renowned Swiss art auctioneer, adviser and collector, the show sets out to somehow condense Testino’s large oeuvre.
“We wanted it to be a mini retrospective of Mario’s work,” says de Pury. “We chose some of his strongest and most-iconic images, some earlier work and the Peruvian ones.
“We wanted a show that would be coherent within itself, so you can appreciate it whether you are a Testino connoisseur or seeing his work for the first time.”
This is the first time Testino’s work has been exhibited in the Middle East. The idea was born about a year ago, when the photographer and de Pury were having dinner with Khalid Al Mheiri, the Emirati owner and founder of Ginza Fashion Group, in Scott’s restaurant in London.
The three had been friends for some time and Al Mheiri, who has a keen interest in photography, proposed the idea of exhibiting Testino’s work in Dubai.
“Testino’s work is dynamic and fresh; characteristics that are identifiable in Dubai,” says Al Mheiri. “We wanted to bring this artist, someone whom I admire greatly, to the Gulf for the first time and give locals the opportunity to see a Testino solo show.
“We have a responsibility to celebrate the arts and I am proud to be a part of this first-time project that brings Testino to our community of artists, enthusiasts, patrons, budding photographers and art collectors in the UAE.”
Describing Al Mheiri as a “man of action”, de Pury says that he was quickly drafted in as the curator, having had much experience with Testino’s work.
He curated two London exhibitions for Testino and one in New York through his art advisory company, de Pury de Pury, which he co-runs with his wife, Michaela de Pury.
The title of this exhibition is Heat – one that Testino chose to reflect the overpowering temperatures of the UAE, as well as the cultural climate.
“Mario was very much involved at every stage,” says de Pury. “He is a cultural impresario and we wanted that to be visible in the exhibition.
“He is also very particular about titles. He has had many books published by Taschen and they all have quite amazing titles – Mario chose them all himself.”
Q&A with Mario Testino
How do you feel about the upcoming show?
Of course I am excited for many reasons. I have been to Dubai before but this experience will be very different, as it will be my first exhibition in the region. I hear so much about the developing cultural and creative scenes and it will be interesting to witness that first-hand. It’s great when anywhere makes a conscious effort to support the creative sector.
Would you describe yourself as a photographeror an artist?
I feel the two are definitely linked – but in many ways I don’t want to ever box myself in to one thing. I always say I want to be nothing in order to be everything. I don’t want to limit myself.
As well as iconic celebrity shots, we are also going to see some of your work from Peru. Can you tell me what that work means to you personally?
It means so much. In this show will be some works from my Alta Moda series, which is a body of work I created over a five-year period after I discovered an archive of traditional costumes in the mountainous region of Cusco – one of the highest in Peru. The costumes have so much about them, every detail tells a story and they have been carried down over generations. It’s an important aspect of our culture and I felt I was in a position to document and then share them. It’s interesting how people reacted to them, as it was almost taken for granted before – I guess in the race of modern life – but when people saw these works, they really connected with them and I feel they connected with their heritage too. I think heritage is so important and should be protected.
To what extent were you involved in making the final selection of images to bring to Dubai?
When one works with a curator, one really needs to allow them to do their work. Simon is, however, very collaborative. We have worked together many times before and staged many shows of my work, so he understands me – but he also knows how to challenge and to try something new, so I am open to that.
• Heat opens on Thursday, February 25, and runs until April 15 at d3. Saturday to Thursday from 10am to 10pm. Entry is free