July 10, 2017

The UAE’s Emergence as a Hub for Contemporary Art

Louvre Abu Dhabi rendering courtesy of TDIC

Since the early 1980s, the United Arab Emirates has been a contributor to both the regional and global conversations about contemporary art. Situated at the nexus of East and West and connected to the Middle East, North and East Africa, Iran, South Asia, and Central Asia, it is a commercial, trade, financial, and transport hub. In the past decade, the UAE has emerged as a regional arts center with global reach, shaped by the efforts and achievements of individuals and institutions and influenced by geopolitical events. This paper describes a pivotal period in the life of a country that is making an important investment in art and culture.

The UAE’s three main cities – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah – have developed distinct yet complementary art ecosystems defined by the leadership and character of each emirate. Abu Dhabi, the capital city, is focused on large-scale museum developments, international partnerships, and long-term capacity building. Dubai has leveraged its trade and finance infrastructures to become a regional hub of the art market. And Sharjah deepens the engagement in arts and culture with a content-rich local international art scene. The developments in the arts across each emirate are bound together by a desire to engender unique and enriching experiences for local audiences and to create a contemporary art scene that is culturally rich, intellectually engaged, and connected to the global art world.

This paper highlights some of the cultural luminaries that built the contemporary art scene in the UAE as well as the museums and institutions that have served to regionalize and internationalize it. The decision to build these institutions reflects the UAE’s commitment to broadening the country’s economy, thereby establishing new opportunities. However, greater investment in higher education and training for arts professionals will be necessary to meet the ambitions of institutions being planned. Enhancing conditions for artists to work and live in the UAE will deepen the cultural landscape and firmly establish the country as a hub for artistic production and exchange.

The AGSIW Gulf Arts and Culture Series

The past five years have witnessed tremendous growth in the creative fields in the Gulf Arab states. This paper is part of AGSIW’s Gulf Arts and Culture series, covering these advances and evaluating their impact: on social change, and on the global perception and representation of the Gulf Arab states.