Mara Sartore: Among the main highlights of this edition, the fair is inaugurating the new section “Bawwaba”. Could you tell briefly introduce the news of this upcoming fair’s edition?
Pablo del Val: Sure. We’re really excited about Bawwaba (Arabic for gateway), which is the fair’s new gallery section aiming to give visitors a curated reading of current artistic developments, via ten solo shows from artists either living in, from, or focused on ‘the Global South’. By this geographically we mean the Middle East, Africa, Central and South Asia, and Latin America and our intention is for Bawwaba to present a cross-section of the Global South, addressing themes of global migration, socioeconomic structures and identity. These themes are globally relevant and in many ways this new gallery section is an extension of what has always been in the DNA of the fair: an interest in exploring art and cultural exchange from all parts of the world, not just from the major arts markets. This interest in community building, inclusivity and promoting new and alternative perspectives is reflected throughout the fair’s programme: from the Bawwaba gallery section just mentioned to Art Dubai Residents, which this year allows 12 artists from Latin America to ‘deep dive’ into the UAE’s culture and art scene, and another new section of the fair, UAE NOW which will showcase the country’s emerging independent local artist-run collectives and community groups, from artistic collective Bait 15 based in an old villa in downtown Abu Dhabi to Banat Collective a creative community formed in to bring to the fore discussions about womanhood in the Middle East and North Africa region. Our performance programme, this year developed by contemporary art institution, Kunsthalle Lissabon, also reflects this and explores the unifying aspects of communal celebrations – through dance, processions and festivities – as powerful tools to think about the world around us.
At the same time, Art Dubai has always provided a platform for emerging artists too. You may remember the launch edition of Marker back in 2011, an exhibition curated by Nav Haq as point of cross-cultural exchange and discovery at the fair. Artistic collective Ruangrupa from Jakarta who were invited to exhibit back then was recently announced as the artistic directors of Documenta 2020. Art Dubai as an international platform has been a formative part of the journey for many early-career artists and collectives.
MS: Before undertaking your role at Art Dubai, you were Artistic Director of Zona Maco from 2012 to 2015; while previously you were the founding director of ‘La Conservera’ Center of Contemporary Art in Murcia, Spain. What do these positions mean to you and how do these experiences infiltrate into your current role?
PDV: That’s a great question but I think it starts further back too! I come from a family with a long tradition with the arts. My grandparents were old master collectors and my grandmother, Maria Luisa Caturla, was the main expert on Francisco de Zurbaran and a member of several museum boards like the Prado Museum. I studied in Madrid and London and have worked in most of the different facets of the art world. I’ve directed several galleries, had my own art consulting firm, directed two art fairs in Mexico and was the founder-director and curator of La Conservera, an art centre in Murcia, Spain.
All these experiences combined means I have a wide international network to draw from. This year’s Latin American theme for Residents, for example, is very much influenced by my years in Latin America and strong ties to the arts communities there. Trust must always be earned, mustn’t it? And, after working for over two decades in the industry, I have earned the trust of many commercial galleries, museums and institutions, and private and public collectors. This makes it possible for me to pour my energies into being Artistic Director of Art Dubai.
MS: What do you think about Dubai art scene and how has it changed since your arrival here?
PDV: Dubai is a city that moves at such fast speed. Since I first started working in the UAE, major developments have been the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the recent opening Jameel Arts Centre and the re-opening of Qasr Al Hosn. These of course have been well-publicised and currently Dubai’s art scene is extremely international. You can see exhibitions in galleries from a range of artists such as German artist André Butzer (at Carbon 12) or Brazilian Ana Mazzei (Green Art Gallery), for example.
But parallel to this has been the quieter organic development and growth in community and making spaces like Warehouse 421 and Tashkeel and self-organised grassroots groups and artistic collectives. This is both fascinating and vital in equal measure. Vital because these collectives and community groups offer a crucial counterpoint to the public and commercial sectors and add an essential layer to the local contemporary art ecosystem. At Art Dubai this year we offer visitors the chance to explore some of these platforms through segment UAE Now; as well as the artistic outcome of Campus Art Dubai, our intensive six-month seminar and residency programme providing Emirati and UAE-based artists with the opportunity to develop their practices under the mentorship
MS: My Art Guides likes to recommend to its readers unique places to visit in each destination, not necessarily connected to contemporary art. In your opinion, what are the absolutely unmissable places, landmarks and spots in Dubai? And could you recommend something that shouldn’t be missed during Art Week?
PDV: For an altogether different pace of life head to water. Whether on a simple wooden Abra on the Creek or something more upscale close to the beaches of Jumeirah or the Palm, Dubai explored by water is such a different experience to my usual work routine spent whizzing up and down the city’s arterial roads for meetings. I love viewing Dubai’s many different architectural styles from a different perspective and often discover incredible buildings that I’ve not seen before. During Art Week, I’ll always make time to explore SIKKA Art Fair in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. In the evening it’s particularly magical with live music, strings of lighting between the restored buildings and the sense of anticipation before you walk into one of them to discover the art within.
- Pablo del Val, Artistic Director of Art Dubai © Amirah Tajdin
- Art Dubai 2019