Ruwais and assorted desert, UAE
I had the rather unique experience of accompanying an art gallery director on her day-long installation relocation in the vast deserts of the UAE. From sun up to sun down, we were on the road, moving the installation from a desert resort to a University. We were close to the Saudi border two times that day, in the South and again in the West.
The woman I accompanied was the lovely Megan Horsman, hailing from London, England. As I have said, I am including representatives from the dominant non-Arab nationalities that I encountered (well that one does encounter, really) in the UAE. Megan has lived in Dubai for a few years now, having come from London where she was working at an auction house. She is director at XVA gallery in the FDIC in Dubai, a gallery that is doing a great job at giving a voice to artists from the Middle East.
The exhibit being moved that day was one by a young woman from Saudi Arabia. She had won a grant to produce this work, which is basically large geometirc shapes made out of highly reflective metal. The installation interacts with the environment in which it lives, and appears different at different times of the day, and when the weather changes. You behold it in completely different ways depending on where you stand, at what time, etc. It was originally displayed at the Sharjah Biennial, but had been moved to this beautiful desert resort. Our task was to supervise the breakdown, shipping, and re-assembling of the installation.
It was cool to watch Megan work her magic as we got to the installation's new home and the piece was reassembled. Her whole demeanor changed as she put on her game face. She walked around on the lawn in the hot, hot, sweaty sun and had little pow-wow's with her iPhone which housed the images of the installation's previous set-up. She knew what she was going for and directed all hands on deck accordingly. She had the responsibility of making sure this piece of art was the way the artist had originally intended, and she took it really seriously. She is a really laid-back fun woman, but she also definitely knew when to put her director's hat on.
Megan lives in Dubai with her husband, who is also a Brit, and who does video work. She said that they were just wanting a bit of an adventure, and they decided to give Dubai a try for a while. She has built a very full life there, busy with art events and friends, both ex-pat and local. She seemed to conduct her life there just as comfortably and fully as if she had been in her country of origin.
I was surprised to find such an expanding and even exploding art scene in Dubai. Money is being spent on art. I mean that in the sense that galleries are popping up and it is the commercial art hub of the Middle East, but also that the interest in and acquisiton of art is really thriving. That definitely took me by surprise, but it was a pleasant surprise. I met many Arab female artists during my time in Dubai, and it was really great to see female artists flourishing there. And I was really happy to get a peak into what that world is all about. And also to see so much desert! A unique day indeed.