Benedetta Ghione, Executive Director, Art Dubai Shares Insights Into This Year’s Fair

Lindsay Judge   |   07-02-2023

Art Dubai is returning for its latest edition this March and it’s set to be the most exciting season yet.


With a focus on digital art as well as celebrating and supporting local talent, the event is welcoming more artists, galleries, speakers and talents than before. As Executive Director of Art Dubai, Benedetta Ghione is tasked with not just showcasing art, but bringing together global communities to celebrate the culture world. Here we find out more about what to expect from this year’s fair and the importance of celebrating art in the Middle East.



Tell us what we can expect from the 2023 edition of Art Dubai and what has changed from the previous editions. 

This year’s event promises to be our most ambitious yet, expanding our programme with extended partnerships and exploring the increasing influence and importance of the digital art world. For more than 15 years, we have been an incubator of talent and a catalyst for the creative economy in Dubai. We are an institution in our own right; we are a convener of great minds and an entry point to this vibrant cultural ecosystem. 


Our role is also to bring together artists and inspirational and creative thinkers from across the global south (Latin America, Asia, Africa and Oceania) who are underrepresented in the wider global art world. So not only will you see the largest presence to date of UAE galleries at this year’s event, but we are also partnering with a greater number of the most important and influential organisations from across South Asia, including the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and the Kochi-Muziris Biennal, as part of the fair’s not-for-profit programme, Art Dubai Commissions. It’s an opportunity for us to support artistic production by local and international artists. This year’s programme will include daily performances and food-based experiences exploring themes of community, celebration, hope, and connection. 


We have been listening to our audiences, particularly as the world has adapted and changed since the pandemic. There is a real desire – and not just in the art world – to bring people together, for live experiences and the exchange of ideas across cultures. This year’s thought leadership programme – something we have championed since our foundation will expand this year to include a two-day edition of the Global Art Forum, our flagship talks programme and we will also be hosting the first Dubai edition of Christie’s Art+Tech summit. Our dedicated digital section, Art Dubai Digital, is also expanding in its second iteration, giving a 360-degree look at the digital art ecosystem, from artist collectives to blockchain innovations, DAOs and NFTs. 


For the second year running, we will be linking up with Abu Dhabi’s independent platform supporting emerging artists that provides a year-round programme of learning opportunities to the wider community in collaboration with local, regional and international partners. Art Dubai 421 will present a group exhibition curated by UAE-based artist and researcher Dania Al Tamimi.



Can you share a little about some of the talks and educational opportunities that have been added to the line-up this year?

Our annual event provides a powerful and prominent platform to champion our artists and their art. But beyond the five-day event, Art Dubai has an extensive year-round education and commissioning programme, working in close collaboration with local and regional partners to deliver ambitious cultural programming across the city.


We will again be hosting a series of talks and education programmes during this year’s Art Dubai fair. This will include the most far-reaching children’s programme to date, developed in partnership with A.R.M Holding, which reaches more than 6,000 children in over 90 schools across Dubai. 


The 2023 event also marks the 10th edition of Campus Art Dubai (CAD), Art Dubai’s flagship initiative to develop the region’s future cultural leaders and another core component of our extensive year-round education programme – the focus this year will be on public art. 


There will be a series of high-level ‘Collector and Modern Talks’, presented in partnership with Dubai Collection, the first institutional art collection in the city and for the city, asking such questions as “what does it mean to be a digital art collector today?” and “what does it mean to be an art patron?”.


This year, we’re pleased to be partnering with Christie’s, to bring its first regional Art+Tech summit to the fair. This is the sixth iteration of the summit, which is held in conjunction with Christie’s annual summit in New York. During the one-day conference, we will hear from artists who are incorporating technology in their practices, alongside discussions with global leaders, innovators, artists and visionaries looking at current challenges and future opportunities to collaborate. 



We understand you have some exclusive artwork commissioned for the event under the Art Dubai Commissions platform – can you tell us more about this?

Our fair features perhaps our strongest-ever gallery lineup and our commissioning represent the breadth of discourse that is happening in the region. We also believe that is important to have a performative and live element and have chosen this year to commission 10 artists whose work celebrates this breadth of artistic practices across South Asia. Universal human themes such as hope, community and connection are, arguably, more important than ever. We are working with artists from participating Art Dubai galleries and South Asia’s leading institutions to explore these themes, which will be brought to life with daily performances and food-based experiences. 


One example is Moza Al-Matrooshi, a multimedia conceptual artist based in Sharjah, UAE, who examines traditional cooking and baking pastries in her artwork that centre around storytelling and power in social dynamics. Other featured artists will include Rathin Barman, a visual artist based in Kolkota, Gunjan Kumar, a textile artist from India and Bangladeshi artist Tayeba Begum Lipi who creates paintings, prints, videos and installations articulating themes of female marginality and the female body. The programme is developed in close collaboration with leading institutions that are playing a key role in supporting artists and artistic production in South Asia. Partners include Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation in collaboration with Britto Arts Trust, Ishara Art Foundation, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Kochi-Muziris Biennale and Samdani Art Foundation. 



Can you tell us about the digital art elements at this year’s fair and why it’s important to focus on this?

Innovation has always been a cornerstone of Art Dubai, reflecting both the spirit of our home city and the rapid changes that happen in the creative world as artists are increasingly both adopting and adapting new technologies. It will be the second edition of Art Dubai Digital, which is our annual snapshot of what is happening in the digital art world at the current moment. It’s a place that is breaking down the traditional models in many areas, and the art world is no exception. It’s such a fast-moving and rapidly developing space – we want to reflect this energy and creativity. Art Dubai Digital aims to build bridges between the world of art and technology by exploring how artists are using new, immersive technologies to collapse the boundaries of the traditional art world. 


We will be working with some of the very best names in crypto art including the Lian Foundation, founded by Fiorenzo Manganiello, an expert in blockchain technology, which will showcase a selection of artworks that bridge the gap between physical and digital. It also includes our friends at MORROW collective who will present ‘UAE First Immersion’ featuring new works by artists including Coldie, Colborn Bell, Monaris, Bryan Brinkman, Kirk Finkel and Raphael Torres, some of the leading names in crypto art from the USA who came to Dubai in November for a residency. We also have the Punk6529 Museum of Art, which has one of the largest and most valuable NFT collections in the world, presenting its core project, the Open Metaverse, while artists from Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka explore the theme of disruption in the format of digital videos, images and NFTs. 



What in your opinion is the future of the digital art sector and art in the metaverse? 

A physical meeting point will always be important, but it is incredibly important to embrace the impact that digital and the metaverse are having and will continue to have as the technology is adopted. Art sales are increasingly common online and, whilst artists using new technologies isn’t really new – the way artists are pushing the boundaries of these new technologies is incredibly exciting. That’s why we feel it is important to focus on the digital trend – together these platforms are challenging and pushing forward new models for artistic production and support. As with any sector, there will be elements of trend and fashion that will come and go, but the technology and creativity are here to stay. Institutional models will need to adapt as audiences engage with them in different ways. 



How is this year’s edition helping to support artists in the region?

This year we are celebrating ten years of Campus Art Dubai (CAD), which is our flagship initiative to support the region’s cultural leaders of tomorrow and a core component of our year-round education programme. The 2023 edition features two main strands, the first, CAD 10.0 Professional Development, which will offer placements for artists at Art Dubai and other leading UAE cultural institutions, including Alserkal Avenue and Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai, and 421 in Abu Dhabi. The second element, CAD Public Art, will build sector knowledge and capacity in the developing field of public art commissioning. CAD was the first programme of its kind in the region and over the past decade, we are proud to have expanded the programme to be a leading incubator of talent for artists in the region. 


Art Dubai 2023 will be hosting over 120 participants from more than 40 countries, including artists from across the UAE, including more than 17 Emirati artists, and will be showcased by seven galleries. We are also proud to have a strong Iranian presence this year, and welcome 23 Iranian artists, many of whom are young and/or female.



How would you assess the art scene currently in the UAE and how do you think it has developed in recent years? What more would you like to see done to continue this development?

We have come so far in a little over 15 years. Before our first Art Dubai event in 2007, I doubt that many would have considered the UAE a global art centre. Mirroring the economic rise of the region in recent years, and the UAE government’s commitment to supporting art and culture, the UAE has become a key creative and international cultural hub, with more artists than ever calling Dubai home. It is now firmly established as the link between East and West and is a platform for regional artists to receive international exposure. 


Today, we have a thriving art scene and have seen a large number of collectors from all over the world base themselves in Dubai and international galleries opening spaces in the Emirate. For example, the commercial gallery Perrotin, founded by Emmanuel Perrotin, opened its first space in the Middle East in Dubai in November 2022, adding to its prestigious list of locations in New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo. International contemporary art gallery, Galleria Continua, is also featuring at Art Dubai this year and opened an exhibition space inside the most the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah, and now offers eight spaces in art capitals across the world.  


This year’s art fair features 21 Dubai-based galleries, more than ever before, reflecting the continued growth of Dubai’s artistic ecosystem and the Emirate’s increasing importance as a global creative and cultural hub. 



How do you think Art Dubai is different from other art fairs in the region and globally? 

We believe we play a role that is more than an art fair – we’re an institution in our own right and we want to be the moment that brings all the key players together. As the landscape of international art fairs changes, Art Dubai continues to play a significant role in highlighting and assisting the cultural ecosystems of the global south, and the program this year completely represents this region’s increasing importance, vitality, and vibrancy. A key element of this is showing top-quality art and artists that you simply will not see at any other art fair, and showcasing them first. 



What are your top three highlights at this year’s event that our readers should look out for?

There are so many artists across all genres that there are highlights for everyone. It would be unfair to mention any one, two or three. I would say that our fair is about exploration, discovery and innovation. It can open all minds but opening children’s minds to the wonders of art is a central part of what we do at Art Dubai. Artistic and creative education from an early age is so important and we encourage children of all ages to come and explore the whole programme, from our galleries to our commissioned programme. We also have a lot of fun and exciting workshops and entry is free to children (aged 18 and under) and university students.



On a personal level, what types of artworks are you drawn to? 

I come from a family of art collectors so art was instilled in me from a young age. I am drawn to all art – I find it endlessly fascinating to learn how artists create as they do.



Are there any emerging or established artists you are particularly interested in at the moment?

I travel a lot, which is an important part of my job, but a key part of my role is seeing the great art on offer here in Dubai. I recently saw “Dwelling in the Gap”, Shaikha Al Mazrou’s second solo exhibition at the Lawrie Shabibi gallery in Al Serkal Avenue. She is considered to be among the most dynamic and promising artists of her generation from the UAE and she will be a big draw to this year’s fair. Another fantastic artist to follow is an amazing sculptor called Claudia Comte from France, who is exhibiting at Art Dubai with Spanish Galería Albarrán Bourdais in this year’s Contemporary section. 



What is your vision for Art Dubai in five and ten years? 

As the global art fair landscape continues to evolve and new centres emerge, I believe our model will have increasing relevance – we are a sustainable, innovative and independent institution that foregrounds practices from geographies that have historically been under-represented in the mainstream Western art world. Although there has been progress, there is still a lot to be done in terms of foregrounding these perspectives and giving voice to diverse communities and the artistic centres and movements of the Global South. The notion of what defines the Global South is also shifting, and we will need to change with it so our founding spirit of innovation and adaptability will continue to be important. We are also grounded in our home city of Dubai and in line with its spirit of thinking outside the box we continue to produce cultural initiatives that push boundaries and redefine what an art fair can and should be.  



What is the biggest challenge the event faces today?

In recent years, live events like ours that attract an international audience have seen many challenges, so flexibility, adaptability and nimbleness will continue to be important. Dubai is a rapidly developing and expanding place, where the whole world comes together – this creates a huge opportunity for us. Making sure that art and culture, and creative and critical thinking continue to be at the heart of that will be both essential and a huge challenge – one we are determined to overcome. 


The 2023 edition of Art Dubai will run from 1st to 5th March. Click HERE for more information.