Art, in any form, brings about a wealth of emotions. With the UAE establishing itself as an art hub, we speak to the women behind the most prominent creative institutions to find out what art means to them
Fair Director, Art Dubai
She has not studied Arts. But intensive juggling, a supportive team at work and understanding family and friends at home, have lent Antonia Carver the space and time to head Art Dubai andsuccessfully direct this leading international contemporary art fair for the Middle East and South Asia. “In its ninth year now Art Dubai has become the essential gathering place for collectors, artists and art professionals from across the region and beyond,” says Antonia. When she first moved to Dubai in 2001, the roots of an art scene were just taking hold. While based in London in the 1990s, she had started discovering new talent through the London-based Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts). That role led her to work with Black and Asian artists and as a programmer in Iranian cinema for the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2000.
“I started to become more interested in the Middle East and first went to Tehran in 2000 looking for great films,” says Antonia.
“Because so many people in the film community were aligned with the arts community, that interest grew, although I did not actually study art at all,” she points out.
Once in Dubai, she acted as a consultant for the inaugural Emirates Film Competition in 2001 and freelanced for a number of arts publications.
Shortly after Bidoun magazine began publishing in 2002, she joined as an editor and was key to its curatorial programme Bidoun Projects, setting up its Middle Eastern office in 2008 and organising exhibitions, workshops and talks, often in conjunction with Art Dubai.
So it was a natural progression when she was asked to take over as director in 2010. “It was something I was really interested in because it combined all those different roles and involved having a 360-degree view of the art world,” says Antonia.
Antonia observes that in the Middle East, the arts scene is dominated by women – most of the top galleries are run by women,as are ground-breaking organizations such as Ashkal Alwan, Darat Al Funun, Sharjah Biennial, and so on.
Most of the Art Dubai staff is women too, from a multitude of nationalities and backgrounds (as is the norm in the Gulf). “We’re perhaps unusual among the leading international fairs in that, of the 500-plus artists that exhibit in the fair each year, we have as many women as men artists in the fair hailing from the Middle East and South Asia,” she lists.
Detailing further she says, that many of the top patrons and philanthropists are women – and members of the royal families of the Gulf are often leading decision-makers in this regard (for example, Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, from Dubai, who runs arts prizes, collects, is a patron for young artists; Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, who founded and is president of Sharjah Art Foundation; Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad Al Thani, the very influential and hands-on Chair of the Qatar Museums Authority).
“As the arts scenes here rapidly expand, I hope that women will continue to play such a role and take on the positions – particularly museum directorships – that in the West seem so dominated by men,” she prays.
However, she points out that the biggest challenge has been trying to take the fair to the next level. “We want to build it as a global platform and play a greater role in nurturing the local art scene,” she insists.
“We want to be instrumental in grooming the next generation as Art’s enthusiasts,” says the Fair Director. Sheikha Manal Little Artists workshops and tours for kids (aged 5-16) is one such event planned with intent.
Antonia adds that they are putting up the biggest fair ever – with three gallery halls hosting around 500 artists ranging from: Art Dubai Modern (Mina Salaam, Madinat Jumeirah), hosting masters from the 1940s-80s; the “Marker” programme focusing on Latin America and the contemporary halls showcasing 71 galleries from across the world. More so, the Global Art Forum takes on the theme of technologies for those interested in how technology is shaping the way we create and communicate. The fair is a buzz with workshops, tours, talks, events running throughout the day from March 19-21.
Directly involved in the local art scene, Art Dubai supports cultural development through the organisation of programmes in partnership with other institutions and art spaces. The fair runs parallel not-for-profit programmes including residencies that connect artists from the UAE to international counterparts and invite them to participate in Art Dubai Projects.
An enthusiast in the true spirit of the word, Antonia eagerly adds, “Art Dubai sits between the museum and exhibition developments in Abu Dhabi, Doha and Sharjah.”
She elaborates, Design Days Dubai is a sister-fair, doing in design what Art Dubai does in art, and it takes place in March, as well, in Downtown Dubai. Sharjah Biennial also opens in March and they work closely with the Biennial to coordinate the two events, which complement each other really well. Antonia adds, “We also collaborate with Sharjah Biennial on the film programme Moving Images, which looks at the shared space between art and cinema.”
The development of Art Dubai goes hand-in-hand with the development of the local arts scene with each city contributing a ‘piece to the cultural pie’.
Photograph by: Clint McClean