A 'Window' of creativity

“95% of art in Dubai is decorative and commercial. Artists want to sell rather than promote the real meaning of art which is to be progressive,” claims Dariush Zandi, owner of Total Arts Gallery. He has made it his mission to promote local art and culture and raise the art world in Dubai to an international standard.

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By  Charlotte Butterfield Published  May 7, 2006

“95% of art in Dubai is decorative and commercial. Artists want to sell rather than promote the real meaning of art which is to be progressive,” claims Dariush Zandi, owner of Total Arts Gallery. He has made it his mission to promote local art and culture and raise the art world in Dubai to an international standard. This month, Total Arts is showcasing a groundbreaking new exhibition set to revolutionise the region’s art scene. 16 local artists are displaying works in the fields of photography, video, system art, conceptual art and installation. Despite receiving critical acclaim in Europe and America, this is the first time the artists involved in ‘Window’ have ever had their work displayed in a gallery in the UAE. “This exhibition reveals what is different in the UAE plastic arts experience. It is a Window that overlooks the eternal question of art. It is also a gateway and a new memorandum on the nature of the many art galleries in the UAE that are increasingly offering works of a commercial nature. The time has come for breaking the monopoly of certain artists, and indeed a certain audience, in art galleries across the Emirates. The role of an art gallery must transcend the narrow concept of profit and become a tool effective in the spreading and adaptation of a serious, visual culture,” says Mohammed Kazem, head curator. The artists’ work is unlike anything that has been seen before in Dubai, however Zandi is adamant that cultural innovations are taking place all the time here. He feels that these are constantly overlooked while developments in the economy and the construction boom take centre stage. Indeed, looking around the almost empty room at the opening of ‘Window’, it seemed impossible not to acknowledge that had the launch been for yet another new building, the room would have been packed. “We sent 220 invitations to the press about the launch of this exhibition — where are they all?” The artists agree that almost complete lack of coverage given to their work in the region’s media makes it hard to attract visitors and adds to the problem they face of a lack of interest among audiences. Zandi stresses that artistic developments are equally important as other changes currently occurring in the region: “People here paint camels, deserts, scenery, things they see in front of them — it’s very basic art. To go from that to what we are exhibiting here is quite amazing. This goes too for the rest of Dubai. Everything is under construction. But art is also moving, change is happening so quickly and drastically — we all need to see it.” The design community in Dubai needs to acknowledge that a new wave of artistic interpretation is occurring, and it is vital that they, along with the media and the public, support it. Kazem describes his students’ relationship with art as one that “requires many sacrifices, particularly in a society where artistic traditions are not so well established, and a plastic arts movement was not conceived until approximately thirty years ago.” However, despite the struggles currently faced by artists in the UAE, Zandi is positive about the future. “Like everything else in the UAE the art scene has gone through dramatic changes in quality, quantity and variety in the last few years. Our artists are on a path of establishing a new era to produce innovative, strong works of art in every sense.” ‘Window’ will run until May 15th 2006. www.courtyard-uae.com

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