No major city can really exist today without having a soul,” Fred Sicre says, “without this cultural dialogue which allows for all of the things this planet is sorely missing these days — tolerance, understanding, dialogue.”
A room full of members of the arts and culture press from all over the world are huddled in an air-conditioned tent in the middle of Fort Island, an extension of the Madinet Jumeirah hotel, and Fred Sicre, the managing director of the private equity investor Abraaj Group, is discussing the increasingly important role of the arts and culture in the world, and maybe especially the Middle East. As the second speech in the opening press conference of the 10th edition of Art Dubai, a major cultural event in the city of Dubai but also, increasingly, a significant event in the global art scene, it’s a statement of intent but also a statement of power.
For the last nine years, in the kind of big business-cultural community synergy most cities can only dream of, the Abraaj Group has worked with Art Dubai to make the fair into what it is today — the most global art fair in the world, boasting 94 galleries from 40 countries and 500 exhibiting artists representing 70 nationalities. In turn, Art Dubai has become the leading art fair of the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.
“The city is now known internationally as a cultural and creative hub… the one stop during the year that really reflects the art world as a world, and as part of a myriad of interconnected centers,” Art Dubai director Antonia Carver says in her speech. “We really feel that Art Dubai has played a very particular role in that shift.”
That shift is apparent in the panel of speakers tasked to open the art fair — including Dubai Culture and Arts Authority director general H.E. Saeed Mohamed Al Nabouda, Sicre, Carver, Abraaj Group Art Prize 2016 curator Nav Haw, Art Dubai Projects 2016 curator Yasmina Reggad, and Global Art Forum commissioner Shumon Basar. Among them are several continents, over a dozen languages, and widely different cultures. But this might be precisely what’s made Art Dubai so compelling over the years. It’s a fair that accounts for all of these nationalities and cultures, without imposing any kind of hierarchy. It has built a reputation on inclusivity.
That shift can also be felt in this year’s Marker, Art Dubai’s curated thematic gallery program. This year, after much deliberation, Art Dubai decided to focus on the Philippines, inviting Manila-based artist, curator, and researcher Ringo Bunoan to curate a special exhibit that highlights Manila’s dynamic, independent art scene. Ringo completes the seven-person panel that opens Art Dubai, providing a unique perspective and an indispensable education on contemporary Philippine art.