With a section dedicated to Hong Kong, the 15th edition of the UAE capital’s art fair is well in tune with the overtures being made by Middle Eastern art scene’s towards Southeast Asia.
Recent months have seen a markedly increasing presence of Middle Eastern art in Southeast Asia, a burgeoning cross-border artistic relationship that promises a critical shift away from Euro-American centrism in the global art world. The ongoing Taipei Biennial features a host of major and current names from the Arab world, including Samia Halaby, Jumana Manna and Natascha Sadr Haghighian, while the recent Sea Art Festival in Busan hosted work by Saudi Arabia’s Muhannad Shono. Monira Al Qadiri and Ali Cherri are presenting work in an expansive exhibition at Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum, and this month Qatar Museums and the Yuz Museum opened what is billed as “the first large-scale exhibition of contemporary art from Qatar to be showcased in China.”
The 15th edition of Abu Dhabi Art (ADA) brings a slice of Southeast Asia to the Middle East, with one of its four Focus sections dedicated to Hong Kong and featuring nine galleries that reflect the region’s historical and contemporary artistic landscape. With this section – along with the others under the ‘Focus’ banner, including Latin America, Women Artists and Sustainability – ADA once again displays an institutional thinking aimed at engagement with developments on the international scene that extend beyond the purely commercial scope of buying and selling. The fair itself has played an important role in this respect, with last year’s edition featuring seven galleries from Southeast Asia and with newcomers from Singapore (Cuturi Gallery) and Hong Kong (Leo Gallery and de Sarthe) present this year.
As ever, this approach shines through also in ADA’s special exhibitions, including Beyond: Emerging Artists, which this time around highlights emerging artists Samo Shalaby, Alhama Jaralla and Latifa Saeed. Shalaby’s What Lies Beneath is a visual standout: an entryway framed with red magic-show curtains leads to a dark room displaying meticulously detailed figurative paintings that explore the psychology of the self, an “endless visual carnival where everybody wears a different mask and plays a different role”. The Gateway exhibition, Hashel Al Lamki’s Maqam, is likewise a treat for the senses. Spread across an expansive hall and adjoining alcove, the show offers a comprehensive survey of the Al Ain-born artist’s practice spanning sculpture, painting, film and photography.
Curated by writer and independent curator Chris Wan Feng, the Focus: Hong Kong section includes the emerging Square Street Gallery showing recent works by Amy Tong and IV Chan, who contemplate notions of motherhood and lineage through the medium of textiles. Tong’s lyrically titled You And I, 1995, We Walked Through A Meadow to Love (2023) explores the artist’s compulsive habit of picking at the skin around her fingernails, intensified in the wake of her grandmother’s death. The work comprises 31 textile-printed photographs of her wounded fingers stitched onto a large, draping piece of fabric cut into the pattern of a camisole, a garment often worn by her grandmother. Chan, meanwhile, presents a series of sculptures consisting of hard plastic toys wrapped in soft fabric tied into organic forms, reflecting on the physical relationship between a child and their toys when the mother is absent. “For the most part, the West has had its say in contemporary art. ‘Art history’ is a signifier for European art history,” says the gallery’s associate director Aaditya Sathish. “We were drawn to exhibit in the Middle East because we’re interested in interacting with other regions that are in a similar position as us with respect to the West.”
Also featuring new works is THE SHOPHOUSE, in a duo exhibition produced especially for ADA and entitled A Moonlit Stroll. Hilarie Hon exhibits a selection of paintings encased within boxes that can be opened and closed like shutters. Depicting gloomy twilit landscapes, the works continue her ongoing study of celestial bodies in deep blues and greys alongside glowing oranges and yellows. “Hong Kong is filled with tall buildings and we rarely see stars. I’d never been to the desert before or seen such a spacious sky,” explains the artist, a first-time visitor to the UAE capital. “These paintings are based on how I’d imagined the stars in the Abu Dhabi desert.” Stars also appear in Chan Wai Lap’s drawings displayed opposite, formed by Middle Eastern architectural motifs reinterpreted as swimming pool tiles.
A regular fixture at ADA, Rossi & Rossi is part of both the Focus and Modern & Contemporary sections in this edition. “We’ve always tried to bring works to Hong Kong that you don’t already see there. We represent a lot of diaspora artists from this region, like Siah Armajani and Fereydoun Ave,” says Charles Fong, speaking about the gallery’s flagship space, of which he is the director. With its participation in the Focus section, “the reverse thinking became true. This is in the vein of what we do as a gallery – transferring ideas and images from place to place.”
Abu Dhabi Art runs until 26 November 2023