Artist Gulay Semercioglu’s exhibition titled ‘The Line of Life’ is currently on at Gallery Etemad, a warehouse space converted into an art gallery, at Al Serkal Avenue, in the Al Quoz industrial district in Dubai. Image Credit: Francois Nel/Gulf News

Dubai: It isn’t about packaging. If it were, then the dry, desiccated row of warehouses in Al Quoz wouldn’t be the hub of art in Dubai.

Notwithstanding the decelerating economy, art scene in this industrial suburb continue to advance.

Nine galleries opened in the past five months in Al Quoz which now has a total of 33 art shops. Another one will open in the coming months.

The largest space is being utilised by Alserkal Avenue that houses 20 creative spaces including art galleries and a private art museum and auction house. Plans are in place to expand the Avenue by 2014.

Robust is one way to describe the Al Quoz art scene. To the outsider that is. What do insiders have to say about the burgeoning space that is being dubbed as the epicentre of art in the region?

Dariush Zandi, founder of Total Arts gallery at The Courtyard, says: “The gallery is 15 years old. When I first designed The Courtyard — that houses several galleries and spaces including Total Arts — the complex stood by itself in the desert.”

Today several warehouses – both industrial and art-related, stand side by side, erected on the same expanse of desert which Zandi calls as “empty”.

One could call him the first settler who sowed the seeds of an art hub. He doesn’t refute the reference.

“After I set up, other gallery owners and artists starting to rent warehouses. What draws them is the same aspects that drew me — inexpensive large spaces that can be transformed into artistic venues,” Zandi said.

Abdul Moneim Bin Eisa Al Serkal of Alserkal Avenue, the Developer and Patron, describes the Al Quoz art scene as the highest concentration of art galleries within one space.

“I’ve seen many similar neighbourhoods that formed on its own such as Wynwood [Arts District] in Miami or Soho in New York. The Al Quoz area has a strong potential to become the cultural centre for our community.”

Of the changes, Al Serkal says that there has been growth despite the economic downturn, and increased international interest.

“For the first time, two art galleries from the Gulf — Green Art Gallery and Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, both situated within the Avenue — showed at Art Basel, the top art fair in the world.”

The interest is palpable, and going by the opinion expressed by Ahmad Al Bachan, Manager of Art Sawa, the recession hasn’t affected interest in art. He says, prices in Al Quoz have not dipped “for the last three years. Every year is getting better.”

The growth has been evident, said Kurt Blanckenberg, the Director of The Mojo Gallery.

“Al Quoz has gained legitimacy and momentum as an art destination. Every city needs an area like this which is culturally led and adds another layer for both residents and tourists. The art scene here has its own character; it lends a feeling of exploration and discovery to the experience of viewing and buying art.”

Further adding insight to the uniqueness of the place is Jareh Das, Communication and Artist Liaison at Etemad Gallery.

“It presents a cluster of galleries in a vastly industrial area; you really have to seek it out. Lots of first-time visitors are astounded by the scale and variety of gallery spaces here.”

Going by the facts mentioned by Das and other gallery insiders as well as the overriding optimism, it wouldn’t be incorrect to predict a promising future for emirate’s art hub.