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It's a different Arab spring in art and culture

Tuesday January 31, 2012 09:44:54 PM, Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS

New Delhi: Away from the dust and din of revolutions, the Arab world is celebrating a different spring in the arts and culture space by broadening its links with the rest of the world.

The arts and culture agenda in the region set by three major arts projects - the Sharjah Biennial in March 2013, Art Dubai in coming March and the ongoing Abu Dhabi Art Project on Saadiyat Island - reaffirms its commitment to use culture as a tool of soft diplomacy and futhering of people-to-people ties.

Of all the projects, the Abu Dhabi initiative, often dubbed as the "Arab art dream" - is the most ambitious.

It promises to transform an island into a huge arts complex by 2018 to accommodate four museums, a performing arts centre and luxury hotels, said an official.

"The Gulf with its funding and stability becomes a platform and support for regional artists to engage with the world," Judith Greer, associate director of the Sharjah Arts Foundation, said.

Greer pegs the increased focus on arts in Arab world to two reasons - the region has so much of wealth that it can afford to look at its arts and culture. The melting boundaries have made it easy for them to reach out new terrains and connect to fraternities worldwide.

Greer was in the country to look for potential artists to promote in the region and discuss art in Arab World at the India Art Fair.

"A lot of western money is going to mid-east people, who are engaged in culture.
The arts space in the Arab world has opened out with exchange and residency projects," Greer told IANS.

One of the key initiatives that will bring the arts and culture of the world under one roof in Arab world is the Sharjah Arts Foundation's March Meeting 2012 - a run-up to the biennale in 2013.

The assembly March 12-17 will draw at least 80 artists, art professionals and institutions like MOMA in US and Centre Pompideu in Paris and from India concerned with production and dissemination of arts in the region and around the globe.

The meet will be accompanied by four exhibitions.

"They delegates will address challenges and issues relating to residency and commissions in a critical way. In the Middle East, artists often make work by going to places where they are invited to-this meet creates a synergy," Greer said.

Suzanne Cotter, curator of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Project, said: "Even till two years ago, the Arab World was not on the map of the global arts. But the culture of 'biennalisation' and institutions like the Tate and Museum of Modern Art (MOMA-US) advocating that to remain relevant in contemporary art space various art practises have to be recognised."

Addressing a select gathering of arts practitioners and media here on the weekend, Cotter said "biennales have suddenly become important and art was testing a new language and finding new ones through these expositions."

And the Arab world has caught on to the trend.

Four top Indian art galleries are participating at the Art Dubai in March. The Grosvenor Vadehra gallery, will pay tribute to the modernist M.F. Husain - a popular name in the region- with a solo showcase.

Kavita Singh, associate professor of Arts at JNU in the capital said: "Equal representation from India and South Asia should come about in the Arab world because of the geographical and economic ties and the large number of South Asian migrants."

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at






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