Art Dubai Celebrates The Global South And The Power Of Middle Eastern Voices

Emma Hodgson   |   28-02-2024

This month Art Dubai’s artistic director Pablo del Val sat down with A&E magazine to discuss the Global South and the power of Middle Eastern creative voices. 

Pablo del Val has been at the helm of Art Dubai for nearly a decade, and during his impressive tenure as artistic director, he has overseen the fair’s curatorial vision during some of its most prolific years, helping to expand the body and scope of the city’s leading annual art gathering significantly. This month, we sat down with del Val to learn about some of his career highlights and what we can expect from Art Dubai 2024 and beyond. 

You have been leading Art Dubai for nearly a decade, what have been your most proudest achievements during your tenure at the art fair?

This year, with the largest participation of artists from the Global South in the fair’s history, we can confidently assert that we are the destination to discover and learn from these diverse geographies. Nowhere else in the world can you encounter such a variety of artistic proposals.

For you personally, what are the most exciting aspects that you are looking forward to at Art Dubai 2024?

Art Dubai is a global meeting point for artists, art professionals and art enthusiasts. The curated sections, for me, hold the promise of a special engagement for all visitors. This year, the fair’s Bawwaba section will stand out, featuring 10 artists from across Latin America, South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. These artists will serve as a reminder of the hope and power of art in helping us navigate these challenging times. Curated by Emiliano Valdes, the ‘Healing / Sanación’ theme will extend to our commission’s programme with performances and activations, all contributing to healing as an artistic practice and a pathway towards becoming better beings.

Will there be any new categories or additions to the programme at Art Dubai this year that those visiting the fair can look forward to? 

Across the fair and the diverse voices and communities it represents, our goal for 2024 is to expand the curation, probing into what the Global South truly is. Do we draw its boundaries around a geographical location, or a living and moving community united by shared history? In the 2024 edition, you can expect to find the answers in over 100 modern, contemporary and digital presentations, featuring both new and established artists, from more than 70 cities spanning over 40 countries.

Moreover, this year’s Art Dubai Modern section will present significant yet previously untold narratives, in a curation led by Dr. Christianna Bonin. The objective is to present a richer view of art history by showcasing rare, unseen works from 17 pioneering modernists from the Global South.

Art Dubai Digital will return as the sole major digitally-focused section in any international art fair. Now in its third edition, it will offer a real-time glimpse into the evolution of artistic practice and trends, crossing from the physical to the digital. Curated by Alfredo Cramerotti and Auronda Scalera, this year’s Art Dubai Digital will go further to redefine contemporary art through augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and immersive installations, along with prominent works by female artists from the Global South.

We also have the largest educational and talks programme at any international fair. Art Dubai is not just a platform to discover art, but also to discuss its place in this fast-changing world. This year’s Global Art Forum commissioned by Shumon Basar and curated by Nadine Al Khoury is titled “Whether or Not” and will explore the relationship between extreme weather and extreme change, involving leading creative thinkers, institutional leaders, artists and architects in the discussion. 

Similarly, Modern and Collector Talks, presented in partnership with Dubai Collection, aim to delve deep into art history. They bring to the fore the greats of modern art and guide you in building your collection to be part of changing the narrative. Another talk series, Conversations with Artists held within the Ruinart Lounge, will introduce young and rising artists Pascale Marthine Tayou, Sara Naim, Tarik Kiswanson, amongst others, giving audiences the perfect opportunity to meet and get a closer look into their creative worlds.

What changes have you noticed in Dubai’s art scene since you first arrived in 2015?

We are witnessing the expansion and maturation of the region’s art scene. New institutions are emerging to contextualise modern and contemporary art in new and exciting ways. Collecting art, whether for pleasure or as an investment, has become popular in mainstream society. 

Notably, many wealthy individuals, including ultra-high-net-worth individuals, have moved here and now call Dubai their home. Artists are actively developing their markets, both locally and internationally. Simultaneously, there has been a steady rise in the quality and diversity of galleries, along with artists who have established their bases in Dubai. We are confident that the market here is experiencing resilient and sustained growth.

We are also proud to collaborate with major corporate partners who have made significant contributions to the local and regional ecosystem, both in the short and long term. In 2024, with art and artists at the heart of all collaborations, Julius Baer is presenting a significant digital project by Canadian-Korean artist Krista Kim. Clinique La Prairie has commissioned Syrian artist Sara Naim. Piaget is partnering with Saudi fashion designer Razan Alazzouni to create a textile installation, and an Emirati designer is working on a new watchpiece set to be unveiled at the fair. Meanwhile, HUNA is supporting the creation of a new sculpture park, and BMW has commissioned Dubai-based Asma Belhamar to create a new work for the fair.

 We are also deepening our partnership with Dubai Collection, the city’s first institutional collection of art, to showcase important works by Emirati artists at the fair. Together with the Public Art Strategy, we plan to unveil a large-scale public art project led by a regional artist in the city.

How did you first get into the art industry?

I started very young, and in a way, it was a family tradition. My first art lessons were in front of my grandmother, Maria Luisa Caturla’s art collection, which included works by El Greco, Zurbaran, Juan de Juanes, Ingres, Colbert, Van Gogh, among others. She was a patron of the Prado Museum, an art historian, and the main expert on the Spanish Baroque painter Francisco de Zurbaran. At the age of 22, I was directing a contemporary art gallery in Madrid. I think everything came naturally.

Which artists are you most excited to see exhibited at this year’s event? 

The exciting thing about Art Dubai is not the individuals but the energy and dialogues that get built through making both obvious and unexpected connections. The Art Dubai Modern section will serve as the light illuminating the masters from Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Uganda and Sri Lanka who went to study in the Soviet Union. They all returned to shape new modernisms in their home countries and the Global South.

What are your tips for readers looking to invest in artwork from this year’s fair?

I don’t like to use the word ‘investing.’ ‘Collecting’ feels more apt. My advice is to come to the fair with an open mind, leaving all prejudices at home. Arrive like a blank canvas or be a sponge. Follow your instincts and focus on things that truly resonate with your interests. Feel free to ask the gallery for information to get the full picture of what the artist is about. When you return home, create some distance from what you’ve seen, do online research, and if the image is still obsessively in your mind the next day, don’t hesitate to go and make the purchase!

In terms of representation of minority groups within the art world, how do you ensure that lesser-seen works and communities are represented too?

The line-up of artists is inspiring and diverse, pointing to a distinctly non-Western standpoint that is rarely heard in other global art fairs. We do so by working closely with galleries, institutions and partners from these geographies, and constantly building new connections and friendships at the grassroots level.

Who are your favourite artists in the Gulf, and wider Middle East region, and why?

I like artists that share with me affiliations and phobias. This year, some of my favourite artists exhibiting at the fair are the Al Najjar brothers, Sarah Almehairi, Maitha Abdalla, Farah Al Qasimi, all from the UAE and Tarik Kiswanson, Nadia Waheed and Samia Halaby from the wider Middle East region.

What advice would you give to young curators, starting out in your field?

Look, look, look and keep on looking. It doesn’t matter how much you have read, how well you write and how articulate you are if your eye is not trained. Training the eye is the key to everything.