Versed as you may or may not be with Dubai, you likely know that it’s a city utterly unlike any other. (And no, we’re not just talking about the mind-bending architecture.) Aesthetically, culturally, and geographically, the capital stands as a singular presence within both the UAE and the world at large—a sprawling center of luxury chic and artistic richness set against the sands of the Persian Gulf. Since 2007, Dubai has amped up its worldwide profile by way of the markedly international institution that is Art Dubai, and like its host city, the fair has accrued a distinctive aura, situating itself in welcome contrast to many a Basel.
In the globalized spirit of its environs, the fair seeks to privilege and highlight galleries from the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa, and this magnitude of reach offers an important counterpoint to the pull of Eurocentric tides. 2016 will see the arrival of 94 galleries repping cities as diverse as Tunis, Beirut, Amman, and this year’s “Marker” program—a section of the fair that rotates thematically—will push this worldliness to the fore with a focus on cultural discovery and exchange.
Art Dubai’s annual spate of programming further serves to distinguish it from the masses, offering visitors and city inhabitants alike opportunities to fully engage in its cultural enterprise. Films, commissions, and residencies are naturally given ample room to bloom, but so too are radical components like the fair’s dedicated radio station, which broadcasts daily coverage and sound-based projects across the globe via web streams. The educational interests at the heart of event are perhaps most worthy of note, taking form as a full-fledged school that operates year-round for artists, curators, and writers.
Don’t just take our word for it—if you are prepping to trip it over, you’d do well to dive into some of the buzz that swirled around the fair’s landmark showing last year. Do, though, take a peep at some of our below gallery recommendations, and remember to pack your sunglasses.
Samia Halaby | Ayyam Gallery (Dubai/Beirut)
In its 10th year, Ayyam Gallery rests in comfortable renown, having spent the past decade establishing a roster of both respected artistic figures and bold young upstarts. Palestinian artist and scholar Samia Halaby falls definitively within the former camp, regarded worldwide as one of the Middle East’s foremost contemporary painters. Her exuberant brand of abstraction is marked by a fondness for rich, indulgent palettes, and as avowed color junkies, we most certainly dig.
Orkhan Huseynov | Yay Gallery (Baku)
Yay Gallery proudly reps Azerbaijan’s coastal capital Baku, which, in all its architectural richness and cultural flourish, has often been spoken of as a breezy sister city to Dubai. Among its clutch of featured artists this year is Orkhan Huseynov, whose Muslim Astronauts series has earned praise far beyond the Caspian. In Huseynov’s graphic plexi compositions, Arab signifiers are sent spinning into orbit, bidding viewers to question long-held notions about place as well as space. Beam us up.
Rana Begum | Jhaveri Contemporary (Mumbai)
UK-based artist Rana Begum will be brightening the walls of Art Dubai by way of Mumbai’s Jhaveri Contemporary, whose focus lies in the cultural ties and traditions of South Asia. Variously tagged as Minimalist and traced back to Op-Art’s mind-boggling best, Begum’s work toys with such vocabularies while defiantly breaking free of them, mining the world of possibilities inherent in geometric form. Seductive but not slick, ecstatic but considered, her best hits like a shiver up the spine.
Mark Barretto | 98B COLLABoratory (Manila)
Mentioned above, the 2016 edition of Art Dubai’s shapeshifting Marker program will set its sights on the Philippines, featuring a diverse spread of work hand-plucked by curator Ringo Bunoan. The work of graffiti-fluent Mark Barretto will be gracing the section courtesy Manila space 98B, an artist-run initiative founded in 2012 by Filipino artist Mark Salvatus. Rooted firmly in street and site, Barretto’s tense plays of figuration and abstraction feed neatly into Marker’s ambitions, all while (literally) dripping with style.