Hala Khayat, Regional Director at Art Dubai Shares What to Expect From the 2021 Edition

Lindsay Judge   |   15-03-2021

Art Dubai will take place in a physical fair format this March against all odds. After a year hiatus thanks to COVID-19 the fair returns with new concepts and a new home.


Produced in accordance with the highest safety protocols this year’s event will take place at DIFC in a purpose-built destination, bringing together over 50 local and international artists from 31 countries. The 14th edition will have a strong focus on artists from the Middle East and the Global South, and for those unable to physically participate a Remote Participation Programme will allow galleries who are unable to travel, to virtually represent their artists.


Art Dubai 2019

Held in the strategic partnership with Dubai Culture, Art Dubai 2021 will feature 50 leading Contemporary and Modern galleries showcasing a diverse selection of artworks, artists and practices, reflecting the multicultural identity of the city. The fair will take place from 29 March to 3 April 2021.


This season’s event is sure to be unlike any other. As well as a brand new location, there are new concepts and fresh ways for galleries to showcase their artwork and interact with the public.


The event won’t just showcase traditional types of artwork but will also invite innovative artists to showcase new ways of being creative, and it’s set to provide some special moments for guests. One of the people who have worked over the past year to bring the event together is Regional Director of Art Dubai, Hala Khayat.


Khayat is a Middle Eastern art specialist, writer, curator, art collector and philanthropist, with a background in fine arts and design. Originally from Syria, Khayat’s main role as a senior art specialist for Arab, Iranian and Turkish art was to curate and manage auctions, from finding exquisite works of art in many places regionally and with collectors internationally, to overseeing the production of the catalogues. In an area where written data is scarce, she developed the research criteria for top Middle Eastern modern artists establishing key relations with the artists’ estates.


Since joining Art Dubai she has worked closely with the team to develop strategies for local and regional engagement with collectors. As Art Dubai aims to continue fostering regional relationships, her extensive expertise in the Middle East helps to drive the growth and development of sustainable long-term engagement. Here we find out what to expect from the upcoming fair and some of the artists and galleries to look out for in the region.


Art Dubai 2019


What can we look forward to with this year’s edition of Art Dubai? 

There’s a lot to look forward to this year; the fair will feature 50 leading contemporary and Modern galleries from 31 countries, showcasing a diverse selection of artworks, artists and practices, reflecting the multicultural identity of the city. We are very pleased with the final mix of artists being presented at the fair this year, with a strong presence of regional artists alongside works from international artists.



We know this is one of the first major physical events since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic – what have been the biggest challenges in bringing the event to life? 

Art Dubai 2021 will be the first international art fair to take place as a physical event since the pandemic began and whilst we have had to adapt to the current circumstances, we feel a keen responsibility to support our industry during these challenging times. Both our community and galleries have shown a strong desire to be a part of a physical fair, emphasising that there is such value and privilege in seeing art in person. The re-configured format of Art Dubai’s 14th edition, held at Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) in a purpose-built venue will ensure the highest COVID-19 safety protocols, creating a secure, safe and flexible environment for participants and visitors and enabling us to continue to support the galleries and artists who are always at the centre of our efforts.


The fair has several safety precautions in place such as daily testing of participants and staff, a new app to help manage visitor numbers, flow and experience, digital tools replacing physical collateral and a revised fair layout to ensure increased social distancing. Additionally, international galleries unable to attend in person due to travel restrictions will be able to take advantage of Art Dubai’s Remote Participation Programme, enabling them to send works for display on site and connect virtually with visitors at the fair.


Art Dubai 2019


What are some of the highlights we should look out for and are there any new elements to this year’s edition that we haven’t seen before? 

Art Dubai continues with the tradition of being a place of discovery of talent of all generations and it’s very exciting to see that participating galleries will be exhibiting a large number of three-dimensional works as well as new generations of painters that are approaching figuration in many various ways. We are seeing new works coming to the surface that explore the issues the world has experienced over the past year.


We will be unveiling the artwork ‘Rakhm‘, which means ‘incubation’ in Arabic, by Saudi-based Fahad Bin Naif; winner of the third edition of the Ithra Art Prize. Bin Naif’s art installation aims to conceptually preserve a nursery as both an urban typology and its ‘incubatees’, as an environmental micro-economy. The title of the installation mirrors both the sensitivity and urgency of the content, safely and carefully incubating an intelligent green infrastructure. ‘Rakhm’ is a Polytunnel nursery that mimics the existing urban nurseries in the Kingdom with endemic plants and flowers instead of conventional foreign houseplants. Unlike most nurseries, however, the viewer can only experience the exterior of the nursery, which mirrors the general local approach to xeriscaping wherein local foliage is not an environmental or aesthetic priority. The experience of the viewer from the outside also highlights the notion that contextually there is very little interaction between local human inhabitants and local plant-life and the importance on an environmental level of changing this narrative.


Are there any artists that you have been particularly impressed or inspired by this year? 

There is a wide variety of extraordinary artworks from all over the world to be discovered at the fair this year and with many of the new works influenced by our recent reality. I am also really impressed with the figurative work from African galleries coming to the fair, and looking forward to seeing the works in person.


TAFETA (London) Art Dubai Modern, Art Dubai 2019, Courtesy of Photo Solutions


What inspires you the most about Middle Eastern Art? 

One is always inspired by his or her region, as without the roots we cannot grow. The Middle East is steeped in such a rich history and this is apparent in the artwork that we see too, whether from the past or present. Today, there is a an open-mindedness and complexity to artistic practices regionally which I believe will help establish its artists on the international stage in years to come, in a world in which we are all eager to discover new ways of seeing and thinking.


What do you look for when discovering new artists or artworks?

I look for that elusive balance of a distinct point of view, impeccable execution and the ability to stir emotion within me. At Art Dubai, we strive to champion diversity in all its forms, and as such not only strive for diversity but also for a presentation including the varied Global South geographies that the fair promotes.


ATHR (Jeddah), Art Dubai Contemporary, Art Dubai 2019, Courtesy of Photo Solutions


In your opinion what makes an artwork special or successful? 

Art is very personal and resonates with people in different ways, but I think that artwork that evokes emotion and moves its audience to have the ability to become timeless. Art is unquestionably influenced by the world we live in, and Art Dubai visitors will have the opportunity to see how artists’ creations capture our recent reality. I think now more than ever we have come to understand what privilege it is to experience artworks in person so the ability to visit an exhibition should be cherished and we hope our visitors will enjoy it.


What was the first piece of art you owned?

I was gifted a small work on paper by a Syrian artist from Aleppo, named Badawi when I was 12 years old. Of course, I have since gone on to collect more pieces, but this is one that I will always cherish.


What inspired you to get into this industry? 

I grew up in Damascus, a beautiful and ancient city, and was surrounded by history and fine art; Mesopotamia, Assyrian, Byzantine and Islamic Art – its influence is everywhere and I think this inspired me more than I know. I also took a keen personal interest from an early age; I love visual books and art books and am fortunate to have a good memory for imagery, which helps a lot in this industry.


Experimenter (Kolkata), Art Dubai Contemporary, Art Dubai 2019, Courtesy of Photo Solution


What are your thoughts on the growing art scene in the region and what would you still like to see happen? 

Dubai continues to innovate like no other, and this is apparent and reflective in the artwork that we are seeing too. The UAE is celebrating 50 years of its establishment this year, yet the art scene is still relatively new in comparison, so I’m excited to see the industry grow and to work with Art Dubai in expanding the cultural ecology of the region.


How do you think museums such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi are helping to grow the region’s art community on an international scale? 

Museums, such as Louvre Abu Dhabi, are important to any city and play a significant role in shaping its cultural identity. The Louvre is recognised by people the world over and so Louvre Abu Dhabi has a great responsibility and opportunity to leverage this awareness and showcase artwork from the region to educate visitors and inspire the next generation of art lovers.


How do you think events such as Art Dubai do the same and what would you like to see as the response to this year’s event? 

Since its inception in 2007, Art Dubai has played a central role in developing Dubai’s vibrant and expanding art scene and giving a platform to existing and emerging artists from the region. Throughout our unique programming, both educational and social, and by inviting collectors from around the world we hope to enable as many galleries and artists as possible to connect with art buyers.


In terms of the response to this year’s event, as the arts sector has, like so many others, been so heavily impacted by the events of the last 12 months we would love to see our participating galleries sell all of their artworks – this is the most impactful way that people can support artists and the cultural community.


The Third Line (Dubai), Art Dubai Contemporary, Art Dubai 2019, Courtesy of Photo Solutions


What advice would you give to upcoming artists in the region and what support is there for aspiring artists? 

My advice would be to stay close to your roots and to work hard to find your unique voice within the art world. Artists are often sensitive people and perceive and express the world around them in different ways, artists must keep exploring and educating themselves about art from other geographical areas and art history so that they can present new ideas and reimage older concepts. It’s important to believe in your ideas, and if there is someone from the industry that can act as a mentor that often helps too.


The fair will take place from 29 March to 3 April 2021.