Art Goes On In Dubai Despite the Pandemic

Despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Dubai’s arts district Alserkal Avenue managed to survive by continuing to hold exhibitions, some online and even a few on-site events while respecting sanitization measures.

One of the most famous galleries at Alserkal Avenue is “1X1 Art Gallery,” first launched in 1996. What distinguishes it from the other galleries in the district is that it showcases works from both Asian and Middle Eastern artists.

“1X1 signifies a limitless area, it has many possibilities, for a gallery, it’s a space where anything can happen,” Malini Gulrajani, the gallery’s founder, said in an interview over the phone. Last Wednesday, the gallerist held its first opening of the year, with a solo show by Pakistani artist Ghulam Mohammad under the theme “UQDA,” meaning “UNPUZZLED” in Arabic. 

The exhibition showcased 13 pieces of the artist’s work and will run until February 28.

What distinguishes Mohammads artwork from others?

Mohammad cuts out letters and words from second-hand books and translates texts into a language of art. His work is lyrical in its exploration, it is “very delicate and intimate, with its identity that his text had before he cut it out, and after he works with it, it has a new identity that relates to him and his experience in life,” said Gulrajani.

Gulam Mohammad’s artwork. Photo by Nourma Elian, Dubai, January 2021.

“I felt there was a niche here, a requirement for people who live here and do not have access to go all the way to get good art from Pakistan, and so I decided to bring Ghulam’s valued art to Dubai despite the limitations Covid – 19 had posed on us,” said the gallerist. 

Gulrajani’s gallery “usually shifts works from different countries like India and Pakistan, and that certainly has been affected by the pandemic.” said Mark Jabay, the gallery administrator.

To maintain the safety of everyone, the exhibition organizers have set out precautions and guidelines that dictate that only “15 to 20 people are allowed inside the gallery, while they maintain 2 meters of social distance,” Jabay told the MBRSC Post.  

Is it difficult to collect art during this time?

“Art is universal, and sadly, the past few months have been slow for the entire gallery in this avenue, but Dubai remains a great land for all the cultures, and so I bring to it what my eye finds beautiful,” said Gulrajani.

“During the pandemic, we had to resort to online viewing rooms and extensive communication with clients that can’t visit the gallery or travel,” explained Zeina Abedrabo, assistant of the Isabelle Van Den Eynde Gallery.

How did the pandemic affect other galleries’ openings at Alserkal Avenue?

Alternative mechanisms to share exhibitions through online viewing rooms and 360 virtual tours has become more present in museums, galleries and art fairs. However, “the galleries’ sales have been definitely affected by the pandemic, and they are certainly not similar to how they were in 2019, they have decreased recognizably,” said Marilize Van Niekerk, the Executive Assistant at Alserkal Avenue. 

Van Niekerk said that some shows were put on hold for months, like the opening of the Mohamed Melehi show, “The New Wave,” which was delayed since last March until September because of the lockdown. “Unfortunately, Melehi passed away from Covid-19 last October.”

At the “1×1 Art Gallery,” visitors walked around the spcae, exploring the significance of Ghulam Mohammad’s artworks.

Nada Al Momani, an interior design student at the Abu Dhabi University, and Rahaf El Ghosin, an environmental health science student at University of Sharjah, seemed excited about touring an art gallery, although they recognized the risks of doing so at such tough times.
 “I was definitely hesitant about whether or not I should visit this gallery,” said Al Momani, who traveled all the way from Abu Dhabi to Dubai to visit this gallery. “However, the experience itself was quite enlightening and educational, it felt safe as well, the precautions taken helped ease my mind while I was there.”

“During this time, I feel unsure about going anywhere, and I think many people feel the same, but the art gallery is doing its part for the safety of its visitors, which encouraged me to visit despite the Covid-19 situation,” said El Ghosin.

Gulrajani continues to showcase unique artworks in her gallery by opening at least six shows a year. During this unpredictable time, she says, there is still interest in art, both from those who want to buy artworks and others who want to support artists and cultural initiatives.

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Nourma Elian

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