Architecture of the Sky No 1 by Hossein Valamanesh, 2014 Image Credit: Supplied

A wedding banquet created by artists, featuring an 11-course menu inspired by different stages of love, a wedding cake with a twist, edible cutlery and other surprises will be part of the celebrations of the 10th edition of Art Dubai, to be held from March 16 to March 19 at Madinat Jumeirah.

Art Dubai 2016 will feature 94 galleries from 40 countries, living up to its reputation of being the most global art fair in the world. It will also host an extensive programme of non-commercial events for all ages, ranging from art workshops to the Global Art Forum, bringing to the city leading international artists, collectors, museum directors and other art professionals. The fair is held under the patronage of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Antonia Carver, the fair director, says, “Since the first edition of Art Dubai in 2007, the arts scene in Dubai has grown tremendously, and we are proud of the role the fair has played in this cultural change.

Art Dubai has always tried to contribute to the development of arts education, artists’ practices and community engagement in Dubai and the UAE through our not-for-profit public programme and education programming, which are the largest of any fairs in the world; and by bringing leading galleries, artists and art professionals to Dubai.

“Ten years ago people were surprised to hear about an art fair in this region, but the fact that we are the largest showcase of Middle Eastern art and the most global art fair in the world today reflects Dubai’s position as a regional and international arts hub. We are excited to have 16 booths by UAE-based galleries this year, which speaks about the strength of the local arts scene.

“We are also the only fair to have a special focus on modern masters from the MENASA region, who are now becoming known internationally as the art world begins to realise that the story of 20th century art is global. This year, we are excited to be the first international fair to showcase art from the Philippines. I also want to point out that 40 per cent of the artists exhibiting at Art Dubai 2016 are women.”

Carver says that Art Dubai has also had a very direct economic impact on the city. “The results of a survey we commissioned last year indicate that Art Dubai and Design Days Dubai brought in $35 million [Dh128.5 million] of new money to Dubai in direct visitor spending during Art Week 2015. The fair also impacted the wider art sphere with 60 per cent of annual sales revenue of local art organisations being made during this time.”

Art Dubai is part of Art Week (March 13-19), and a key event of the Dubai Art Season, which runs from March 1 to April 30. For art lovers who wish to get the most out of this explosion of arts and culture in the city, here is a guide to navigate Art Dubai 2016, and to keep track of other major events.

Art Dubai Contemporary: Spread across both halls of Madinat Arena, this segment of Art Dubai 2016 features booths by 73 galleries, ranging from well-known international names to fresh, upcoming spaces, showcasing works by more than 500 established and emerging contemporary artists from across the globe. Countries represented for the first time include Georgia, Ghana, Lithuania, Oman, Palestine, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

Art Dubai Marker: This is a not-for-profit, curated segment focused on specific themes or geographies, located within the gallery halls at Madinat Arena. Marker 2016 will focus on art from the Philippines with an exhibition featuring dynamic artist-run spaces in Manila that have contributed to the development of Filipino contemporary art and supported alternative art practices.

It includes paintings, soft sculptures, works on paper, textiles, neon works, photographs and films by a group of contemporary artists in their 20s and 30s, such as Jayson Oliveria, Jed Escueta and Gail Vicente. Serving as an anchor to the exhibition is a major installation by Roberto Chabet (1937–2013), a pioneering Filipino conceptual artist, teacher and curator who nurtured young artists and artist-run spaces throughout his life. Daily tours with curator Ringo Bunoan and artists’ discussions have been organised.

Art Dubai Modern: This segment is located in the Mina Salam Hotel, and is devoted to modern masters from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia (MENASA). Influential artists from the 20th century to be showcased by the galleries this year include Alfred Basbous, Samia Halaby, Moustafa Fathi, Mounirah Mosly, Geoffrey Mukasa, Syed Sadequain, Huguette Caland and Ali Akbar Sadeghi.

The Wedding Project: Also located at Mina Salam, this new performative project is the latest iteration of London-based Delfina Foundation’s popular Politics of Food programme that has been bringing together artists, chefs, scientists, anthropologists, agronomists and others to explore food as a medium for understanding complex histories and current issues.

The project will playfully transform two halls at the Mina Salam Hotel into an artist created edible garden, café space and wedding hall, referencing Madinat Jumeirah’s popularity as a wedding venue as well as Art Dubai’s 10th anniversary celebrations. Visitors to this immersive “food art” space can experience novel drinks, dishes, performances and interventions conceived by various artists, and even pick ingredients from the garden to be cooked for them by the chefs. They can also attend ticketed gala dinners on March 16, 17 and 18 featuring an 11-course banquet inspired by the 11 stages of love as described in Arab literature, beginning with “attraction”, and progressing through attachment, and infatuation to insanity.

Each of these concepts will be embodied in performances, interventions, food and drink. The dishes, produced in collaboration with chefs from Madinat Jumeirah, will explore the notion of food, recipes and cookbooks as markers of cultural memory that can be erased or preserved.

RCA Secret Dubai: Visitors to Mina Salam should also check out the RCA Secret Wall. This is the second Dubai edition of the anonymous art exhibition and sale organised by the Royal College of Arts, London (RCA) to raise funds for their scholarship fund.

The show features 1,000 postcard-size artworks donated by well-known and emerging artists and designers, including famous RCA alumni, young RCA graduates and established artists from this region. All the works are priced at Dh500, but the identity of the artists is kept secret.

The artworks will be displayed on the RCA Secret wall at Art Dubai (March 17-19) and Warehouse 46 at Alserkal Avenue in Al Quoz (March 14-19). Buyers can register their interest online or in person. The final sale will take place on March 19, but the identity of the artists behind each work will be revealed on April 16 when the RCA Secret sale in London closes.

The Global Art Forum: This acclaimed arts conference is part of Art Dubai’s not-for-profit programme. It is free and open to the public. The 10th edition of the Forum is titled “The Future Was”, and will explore how thought leaders such as artists, writers, museum directors, technologists, historians, musicians, economists, space scientists and sci-fi writers have imagined the future and are shaping it.

The Forum began in January with sessions at Dubai Design District and Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, and will continue at Art Dubai on the newly expanded Fort Island in Madinat Jumeirah, from March 16 to March 18 with 32 live talks, panels, performances and commissioned research.

Subjects to be discussed include how museums and artists are working with “the future of the past”; why deserts are the typical landscapes of fictional futures; the archaeology of space; the relationship between the futures and art markets, and legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer’s forgotten master plan for Dubai.

New commissions by artists include films on the future of our environment, a performance dwelling on the role of oil in all of our futures and a slideshow of real estate advertisements from Dubai in 2006-07, when Art Dubai and the Global Art Forum began.

The Abraaj Group Art Prize exhibition: The Abraaj Art prize worth $100,000, awarded on the basis of project proposals, is the leading honour for artists based in the MENASA region. The exhibition, curated by Nav Haq, features a major new commission produced by 2016 winners, Palestinian duo Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, along with works by the other shortlisted artists.

Art Dubai Projects: Spread across the fair venue are a number of interesting visual, auditory and tactile site specific works by local and international artists commissioned by the fair as part of its residency programme. Other projects include a cinema showing artists’ films and videos; and the Safina Radio Project broadcasting live at the fair.

89plus Dubai: This Gulf-centric iteration of an international, multi-platform research project is focused on the tech savvy generation born in or after 1989, and will showcase a text and voice-based performance dwelling on the nature of participants’ online conversations and relationships.

Shaikha Manal Little Artists Programme: This programme is designed to engage children and teenagers with art, and is free and open to all. It will be led by the UK based artist Polly Brannan, who brings the performance-based art workshop “The Mobile Variety Club” to Dubai, where children will work together with their families to produce and present dance, music or theatre performances or puppet shows using sets, props and visuals created by them. Also included are artist-led Discovery Tours of the fair for ages five to 17, a commissioned children’s art book by Emirati artist Khalid Mezaina, and workshops for schoolchildren and artists.

Exhibitions by fair partners Julius Baer and Piaget: Swiss private banking group Julius Baer will display works by Switzerland-based Iranian artist Shirana Shahbazi from its corporate art collection at the Julius Baer lounge. Piaget will present an exhibition of extraordinary watches and jewellery that include rare heritage pieces, new creations, and watches that once belonged to iconic personalities such as Jackie Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor and Andy Warhol.

Art Week: In addition to Art Dubai, other major events during Art Week (March 13-18) include Design Days Dubai, Sikka Art Fair and Galleries Night.

Design Days Dubai: This is the only fair in the Middle East and South Asia dedicated to collectible and limited edition furniture and design objects. The 5th edition of the event will be held from March 14 to March 18 at The Venue, Downtown Dubai. It will present modern and contemporary design pieces from prominent design galleries from around the globe, WASL — the largest ever retrospective of UAE design — and a public programme of guided tours, talks, workshops, screenings, performances and mentorship sessions.

Sikka: This is a contemporary art fair featuring an entirely commissioned visual and performing arts programme, organised by the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority to showcase the talent of UAE-based artists. It will be held in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood of Dubai from March 13 to March 24 and curated by Emirati artist and sculptor Mattar Bin Lahej. For the first time artists from the GCC region have also been invited to participate in this 6th edition of Sikka. Activations include art installations, film screenings, live performances, art workshops, educational activities, a glass making workshop, and a traditional Arabian feast on closing night.

Galleries Night: On March 14, more than 40 galleries in the Al Quoz and DIFC art quarters will welcome visitors to the opening of new shows by their top artists.

ArtBus: Visitors can take the ArtBus to travel between different Art Week venues from March 17 to March 19. Tickets costs Dh50 per day. For more information, write to

Dubai Art Season

Dubai Art Season, the umbrella arts initiative by Dubai Culture, runs from March 1 to April 30 and features a variety of exhibitions, events and indoor and outdoor cultural activities across the city. These include activations at venues such as the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai, Jumeirah Beach Residences, The Beach, City Walk, Dubai World Trade Centre, Alserkal Avenue, Kite Beach, Box Park and Dubai International Airport.

Other art events in Dubai: Picasso & Miro — Passion and Poetry: This exhibition running at the Burj Khalifa Annex until May 17 is organised by Alpha Soul and curated by Sergio Gaddi. It offers an in-depth perspective on the lives and works of Picasso and Miro through graphic works and ceramics from every stage of their careers.

Heat: Running at d3 until April 15, it showcases the oeuvre of famous Peruvian art and fashion photographer Mario Testino.

Dubai Photo Exhibition: Running at d3 from March 16-19, the show offers a global perspective on photography through iconic works from the 20th century and works by leading contemporary photographers. It is organised by The Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum International Photography Award in partnership with the World Photography Organisation.

Christie’s sale: Christie’s Dubai celebrates its 10th anniversary with auctions of important watches on March 15; modern and contemporary art, including Now and Ten — a special section of Middle Eastern Art — on March 16; and a new category, Element of Style, featuring handbags, luxury watches, limited edition fountain pens and luggage pieces on March 17. The preview exhibitions will be at Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel from March 13 to March 17.

Major exhibitions in Sharjah: “1980-Today: Exhibitions in the United Arab Emirates”, curated by Shaikha Hoor Al Qasimi for the National Pavilion UAE at the Venice Biennale 2015 at Flying Saucer; “Considering Dynamics and Forms of Chaos” featuring works by Maria Zerres and Angela Bulloch at Sharjah Art Museum; the March Meeting 2016, at Dar Al Nadwa and “The Time is Out of Joint” plus solo shows by Farideh Lashai, Simone Fattal, Joanna Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige organised by the Sharjah Art Foundation; “Home Ground” at Barjeel Art Foundation; “Al Haraka Baraka” by Unlimited Arab Exploration at Maraya Art Centre; and “Once Upon DESIGN: New Routes for Arabian Heritage” at the 1971 Design Space.

Major exhibitions in Abu Dhabi: “Phantom Limb”, American-Syrian artist Diana Al Hadid’s first solo show in the region at New York University; and “Mina Zayed: Through the Lens of Jack Burlot”, “1;100 The Warehouse Reimagined”, and “Lest We Forget: Emirati Family Photographs 1950-1999” at Warehouse 421.

Event details

Art Dubai 2016

Dates: March 16 to 19

Venue: Madinat Jumeirah

Opening hours for general public:

March 17: 4-9.30pm

March 18: 2-9.30pm

March 19: Noon-6.30pm

Tickets: One day pass costs Dh50 and three day pass is Dh80; free admission to visitors under 18 years, and university students with student ID. Tickets available at the venue.

For more information, visit

Jyoti Kalsi is an arts-enthusiast based in Dubai