Not so crude: Jameel Arts Centre offers a meaty opening programme

Art Jameel has announced the programmng for the much-anticipated Jameel Arts Centre, the first independent ‘cultural destination’ in Dubai. Due to open on 11 November, it’s a three-storey multi-role development over 10,000-square metres of Creekside Jadaf; right now it’s floating in an area that is still under development, but given the pace with which things happen in Dubai it’s definitely going to be a classy centrepiece for a neighbourhood real soon now.

Art Jameel has committed the institution to “dynamic programming that resonates with a diverse audience”. Antonia Carver, Director of Art Jameel, was given an official statement that is a tad more lucid: “Jameel Arts Centre is set to not only expand the public’s engagement with our extensive collection and library, but also present museum-quality exhibitions in partnership with local, regional and global collaborators.

“Through new commissions of immersive works, a dedicated research space, and ongoing public programming for many communities of all ages, Jameel Arts Centre aims to be a truly innovative new cultural hub.”

The opening exhibitions demonstrate how the place will work. The centrepiece is a curated group exhibition, Crude, that covers the multiple facets of oil – its historic relevance to the region, contemporary social and geopolitical contexts, and by extension its influence on the wealth and the attitudes of its beneficiaries. Given the central role that oil has played (and still plays) in the region, the way it has moulded national and personal characters in so short a time, this couldn’t be a more apposite opener for the Arts Centre.

Crude has been given a decent chunk of space – 500 sq m spread across five galleries – and brings together some of the biggest and best names in the regional art scene. It also has a blue-chip curator in the form of the Sharjah- and New York-based Murtaza Vali.

We’re really looking forward to this show, not least because of its range. Monira Al Qadiri – born in Senegal, raised in Kuwait, educated in Japan, now based in Berlin – is well known in the area; she’s curated some interesting shows and exhibits a lot here. Her Alien Technology series is fascinating, fibreglass sculptures based on oversized representations of oil rig drill bits.

Some of the oldest works featured in the show are by Latif Al Ani, one of Iraq’s best-known photographers and one of the first artists to be embedded with the region’s oil companies. A selection of his photographs from the 1950s and 1960s depict the social, cultural and architectural changes brought on the nation’s newfound oil wealth. Earlier this year there was a good Sharjah Art Foundation exhibition of his photographs.

Compare that with the intricate installation by Alessandro Balteo-Yazbeck that entangles the 2003 Iraq invasion with broader histories of art and diplomacy. He had a good show at Green Art Gallery in the Spring, an interesting hybrid of research, archives and art that looked at gaps in collective knowledge or misrepresentations in the public record, especially as they are reflected in the dynamics of power and propaganda.

The exhibition also has several new commissions, including works on by paper by Hajra Waheed that reflect on the history of Aramco; hand-blown glass sculptures by Michael John Whelan, created from sand collected at historic oil well sites off the coast of Abu Dhabi first discovered by Jacques Cousteau in the early 1950s; and performative interventions by Dubai-based Lantian Xie that examine some contemporary rituals of car culture across the region.

Crude is getting a decent run – to April 2019 – and will be accompanied by a new publication, a symposium, a film, and a series of educational programmes.

The other art being presented from the off gives an individual gallery over to a single artist from the Art Jameel collection. Under the label ‘Artist’s Rooms’, these are solo exhibitions that have been developed with the artist and often feature new commissions that respond to the Centre’s curatorial themes.

The opening four Artist’s Rooms go to a site-specific installation from Japan’s Chiharu Shiota; a large-scale installation based on quotidian finds from Saudi Arabia’s best-known female artist Maha Malluh; a collection of work from the Art Jameel archive and loans from partner institutions for the late Lala Rukh; and video and textile works by Lebanese artist Mounira Al Solh.

There’s a tenth gallery too, dedicated to a curated programme of film, video and new media works. We’re promised more information over the coming weeks about programming for that, and for the portfolio of workshop, talks and other events around the Arts Centre.

In addition to the gallery-based exhibitions, the public spaces of the Jameel Arts Centre will feature major installations by local and international artists. So the main lobby has a new, interactive work by Lara Favaretto, an artist whose works always interact with space and with the setting and community around them. A sculptural work by Vikram Divecha is suspended above one of the seven gardens. For another of them, Shaikha Al Mazrou has created a sculptural sectioned glass house; this is the first in an annual series of commissioned projects for the Artist’s Garden, an experimental, light-filled, creekside outdoor space.

And the winning work from the first edition of Art Jameel Commissions will be revealed on the Roof Terrace during the Centre’s opening. Contrary Life: A Botanical Light Garden Devoted to Trees (2018) by Kuwait-based artists Alia Farid and Aseel AlYaqoub riffs on our relationship with the natural and nocturnal worlds; it will remain on view for a full year.

There are more details on the Jameel Arts Centre’s opening exhibitions here.


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