Art has served as a compelling platform to invigorate societies, especially in the face of great challenges. The power of art to inspire the public and to help them find hope, confidence and positivity makes it essential to humanity, no matter the unprecedented – and temporary - hardships.
The COVID-19 pandemic, and the lockdowns and travel restrictions that followed, no doubt, limited artistic expression in the public realm. The vibrancy of art exhibitions, the dynamic cultural exchange fostered in person, and the ability to collaborate and co-create were missed.
But challenges come with opportunities. Art Dubai in 2020 went online to ensure that the platform, which showcases the creative expressions of artists from around the world, was not disrupted. In many ways, the online event provided continuity and catalysed online collaborations. It also enabled the artist community to explore the potential offered by digitisation.
During the pandemic, artists around the world drew inspiration from the sudden ‘stillness’ and they continued to create works of art, many of which reflect the unprecedented reality of our time. They serve as a referral point for coming generations on how the artist community responded in the face of crisis that fact humanity, much like Edvard Munch, the creator of ‘The Scream’ who famously documented the 1918 Spanish flue with his ‘Self Portrait with the Spanish Flu’ and ‘Self-Portrait after the Spanish Flu’.
It is still unclear if Munch was suffering from the Spanish flu, but as art historian JP Hodin, observed, “he suffered and depicted the condition of modern man in a time which was not yet conscious of its own predicament.” It is a profound statement on how great art lives beyond time, and continues to be relevant to a whole new generation of humanity.
Beyond the value of social cohesion that art celebrates, it has also played as a tool for economic value-add. The Federal Art Project, founded by then US president Franklin Roosevelt in 1935, following the Great Depression, was squarely aimed at administering artist employment projects, federal art commissions and community art centres.
It is heartening that support to the creative community by the patrons of the art has continued despite the pandemic. One of Art Dubai’s longest serving partners is Julius Baer, which upholds the belief of its founder the late Hans J Baer that ‘art in the workplace offers a wonderful starting point for conversation.’ Julius Baer has an amazing collection of artworks at their office in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), inspiring visitors and sparking conversations as the firm’s founder hoped they would.
At DIFC, we continued to commission artworks for our Gate Avenue, the lifestyle hub, and we have one of the largest public collections of art in addition to our ‘Art Nights’ welcoming creative talent and visitors from around the world.
One of the first global art events to recommence in the physical realm, Art Dubai will deliver an enriching experience for all with over 50 leading galleries from 31 countries showcasing works by accomplished and emerging artists. Ahead of Expo 2020 Dubai, we are bringing the world to Dubai to connect minds and create the future through art. This year, we are honoured to host the event, investing significantly in building a purpose-built venue at the Gate Building, and extending all support to the initiative that adds to the pride of our city.
Art Dubai 2021 offers a platform to connect, to be inspired and to co-create. And for any visitor, the event will provide the safe physical space to reflect upon the works of art, and discover that art essentially is about humanity and its spirit of catharsis and resilience.
Arif Amiri is the Chairman of the Board of Directors, Art Dubai.