Duba: It’s November 21 and like most Wednesday mornings, British art historian Rose Balston is at the XVA Gallery in Bastakiya by 10. Over the next two hours, she will be delivering a lecture on 19th and 20th century European art to a class of 30 students. Mostly adults, the students are regulars at her weekly courses. As they begin to trickle in, there is an unmistakable sense of belonging.
Australian expat Katy said, “I really look forward to these engaging mornings. They are an absolute delight.”
Barbara “from Canada via the UK” echoes her words. “I am here for some cultural stimulation. I have a degree in art history and these courses give me a chance to continue with the education.”
For Balston, such comments are only a reaffirmation that Dubai is home to some of the world’s keenest art enthusiasts. “In the early days, many people believed the UAE was a cultural desert and that art here was something that could be bought wholesale. But neither of that is true. As an art historian who came to Dubai from the UK three years ago, I find there is so much content to work with. The Gulf art scene is as bustling as it is anywhere else in the world.”
She said, “Some people describe art in the UAE as a flash in the pan and say its evolution has been too quick. But what is happening here now is exactly what happened hundreds of years ago in the West. I am living in the moment and I realise the power that art wields in the emirates today.”
She said the UAE is among those countries that can pride itself with the most sophisticated art collectors with priceless private collections. “There is also a huge wealth of educated, well-travelled, interesting and interested women who are constantly looking for outlets where they can learn about art and enrich their experience.”
As an art historian who conducts workshops, tours and soirées, Balston said, “Dubai is right now preoccupied with contemporary art. I want to look at the roots too and help connect the missing links. Knowledge of pre-contemporary art and the works of the old masters is essential.”
Mona Hauser of XVA Gallery, which hosts Balston’s courses, said, “The courses certainly fill a void.”