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DUBAI: The 15th Art Dubai fair at the Madinat Jumeirah, its long-time home, was its most international and biggest show to date, with 104 galleries from 30 first-time participants.
Among the newcomers was a group of African galleries, adding to the fair’s already strong showing of art from the continent, which also includes African artists taking part in Art Dubai residencies.
African collectors, businessmen and curators of art from Africa also attended.
“My sense of the fair is that it acted as a regional meeting point for several artistic influences,” Baraka Rumamba, a Congolese entrepreneur, real estate investor and founder of Yetu Management, an organization that promotes Congolese work, told Arab News. “The opportunity for representation of African artists is indeed huge and it is the reason why we are keen to present contemporary artists from Congo at next year’s edition.”
Earlier, on March 8, Efie Gallery, the first African-run art gallery in Dubai, opened in the new Al Khayat Art Avenue, a development of the Al Quoz district — a new facet of the developing creative and cultural sector in Al Quoz.
Founded and run by Ghanaians Valentina, Kobe and Kwame Mintah, Efie Gallery’s mission is to promote, protect and preserve art from the African continent. Alongside the exhibition space, the gallery hosts a studio and residency program and will use this platform to build collaboration and exchange between the UAE and Africa.
It opened with a show of one of the continent’s leading talents, Ghanaian artist El Anatsui.
“We were amazed by the art scene in Dubai and the opportunity and it made sense for the gallery to start here as opposed to somewhere in the West. People talk about African art or art from Africa evolving as a way to deconstruct the narrative as to how it has been previously represented or showcased,” Kobe and Kwame Mintah told Arab News. “Here in the Arab World, art from Africa is a newer experience and showing here, in the East, allows us more of a platform to construct the narrative.”
At Art Dubai, new participants from Africa included Rhizome, Jahmek contemporary art, and Rele Gallery. The latter was showing large paintings and self-portraits by Nigerian artist Anthonia Chinasa Nneji, which quickly became a hit with fairgoers. The self-portraits examined the relationship between women, religion, health and society in Nigeria.
Several works sold for about $18,000. Nneji had previously taken part in a residency at Art Dubai in 2020.
“Anthonia did the residency two years ago and greatly enjoyed her time and had never had a chance to show here and be present, so we thought this was a great way to participate in the fair and also give her the chance to show her work,” said Adenrele Sonariwo, founder of Rele Gallery. “There is a deliberate focus on art from Africa at the fair.”
Also in attendance was Loft Art Gallery from Casablanca, which returned after a seven-year hiatus, showing works by Moroccan-Belgian photography Mous Lamrabat, known for his fashion-infused images laden with cross-cultural messages, Marion Boehm’s mixed-media works revealing African subjects, and pieces by pioneering mixed-media female artist Malika Agueznay. There were also works by the eminent late artist Mohamed Melehi. Works were selling in the range of $7,000, up to the triple digits, for Melehi’s work, which garnered much attention among collectors.
Yasmin Berrada, co-founder of Loft Art Gallery, believes Art Dubai offers a great opportunity to bring artwork from the Arab world and Africa together to an increasingly international crowd.
Elsewhere, there were works by Nigerian Victor Epuk, now based in Washington DC, known for attempting to reimagine the ancient Nigerian communication system, on display at Tafeta, a gallery focused on art from Africa that has regularly participated at the fair, based out of London. Epuk’s work was selling in the range of $10,000-70,000.
Akka Project, based in Dubai and Venice, also participated for the third time in the fair, showing works by emerging and established Kenyan and Zimbabwe artists, including Charles Bhebe, Cyrus Kabiru, and Kelechi Charles Nwaneri. “Dubai serves as a great bridge and access to artists from the African continent,” said founder and director Lidija Khachatourian.
Accra-based Gallery 1957, which now has a location in London, participated for a third time at the fair with a solo booth of works by Nigerian Modupeola Fadugba, with prices that ranged between $35,000 to $52,000.
“We did really well with Modupeola’s work the last time we came to the fair in 2018 and we wanted to work on a solo presentation of her work, so we decided to bring her again with a new body of work,” the gallery’s director, Victoria Cooke, told Arab News. “The main difference is that all these works are on canvas whereas prior we had brought works on paper, and she transferred her burning technique now onto canvas and seeing how it works.”