History tells us that art helps societies to cope with tragedies and uncertainties. Even now, during the pandemic, social distancing has come at a price for artists around the world. But despite that, most have found creative ways to build resilience and connected with people. Musicians and singers have live-streamed concerts from home, with online audiences responding to these with a flood of likes, shares and comments. Theatres desperately trying to stay alive have tried their best to connect with audiences on digital platforms. Plays are now being written for Zoom, online play readings are gathering steam and virtual town halls are the theatre hangouts for the pandemic generation.
Here are three voices from the arts community at Dubai's AlSerkal Avenue sharing their experiences
Mohamed Somji, Founder of Gulf Photo Plus and Seeing Things
Covid has greatly impacted our process and methodology as artists. My personal practice typically involves spending a lot of time in public spaces as well as homes of my interlocutors and with the lockdown and social distancing that became nearly impossible. I tried at the time to continue my exchanges via Whatsapp or telephone calls but that proved to be quite difficult. So I used the lockdown time to organise and sort out my image inventory and do a lot of reading and thinking about current and future projects. As we eased out of the lockdown, I started to venture out to public spaces and keeping social distancing in mind, documented public (outdoor) spaces and how they looked in our new normal and slowly started to interact with people.
The pandemic has reaffirmed and reminded me of how vital an exchange between the photographer/artist and his/her subjects is. There is no substitute for face-to-face contact and dialogue, and no virtual tools can replace that. It is also important to put forward images and stories that give us different perspectives of a post-Covid life that help us get a better understanding of the situation. I have often heard the narrative that the pandemic is a great equaliser in that it affects everyone, but I disagree. This is something I am more conscious of in my work that aims to help understand the lived experiences of people who are not from here.
Shelley Frost, Director, The Fridge
At The Fridge, we are passionate about the art of live performance. Over the last 12 years we have staged more than 150 original concerts curated under the banner of The Fridge Concert Series at the Alserkal Avenue.
That was until recent challenges put a stop to all live performance, and launched us headlong for the first time into the world of livestreaming as the only way for musicians to reach the public. We were surprised to discover that the positive impacts were many. We suddenly had reach to a much larger and more global audience than ever before. And for the audiences, a strong emotional link with technology was created, as we all craved artistic content and human connection more than ever before. It was a revelation, that watching a concert in your living room could actually be a very satisfying experience, and even had the potential to give a more close-up and personal connection with the featured artist at times.
One of our favourite moments was taking the ChoirFest Middle East final performance virtual for the first time. Singers loved putting on a performance, and felt a great deal of pride, hope and achievement, with a vital sense of belonging to something much bigger than themselves.
We have been strongly reminded how important music and live performance is to all of us. And while nothing will ever quite replace that feeling of being at a live concert, at The Fridge we will continue to embrace technology, and hybrid concerts will remain our new normal moving forward!
Yasmin Atassi, Director, Green Art Gallery
We have participated in several online initiatives, including Art Basel Hong Kong's Online Viewing Rooms, collaborative platforms with other galleries, such as Alserkal.online, not.cancelled and artintouch.in to name just a few and we understand the need of having digital gallery presence for our artists. While seeing art online would never replace live interaction with an art piece, having online presence proved to be a good complimentary tool in engaging with wider audience and perhaps we will implement these practices in the upcoming season – to accompany solo show by Hera Buyukstasciyan, opening in September and solo by Maryam Hoseini, which is planned to be open in November.
However, we still very much believe that buying art and engaging with our audience and collectors requires a more intimate and in person approach, and that includes supporting our artists as well. Live interaction lies in a very nature of having a gallery space and we are looking forward to welcome visitors back in September.