First-of-its-Kind Museum Breaks New Ground in Dubai

First-of-its-Kind Museum Breaks New Ground in Dubai

With ties to SUV royalty, the Jameel Arts Centre is ushering in a modern vision of Arab art and culture.

With ties to SUV royalty, the Jameel Arts Centre is ushering in a modern vision of Arab art and culture.

Text: SAMUEL ANDERSON

In November, the Gulf’s first independent contemporary art museum opened its doors in the heart of Dubai. The Jameel Arts Centre, sparkling and sleek in its grand context (the Palazzo Versace hotel is next door), was spearheaded by the Jameel family, longtime importers of Toyota Land Cruisers to the region. Despite subtle ties to both SUV culture and pop royalty (the Jameels are also known as Rihanna’s potential fam-in-law, though Hassan Jameel is not involved in the museum) the Centre’s inaugural exhibit, “Crude,” traces the impact of oil to everything from nu-yuppie hypebeasts to environmental crises. With these subversive yet illuminating themes, coupled with a roster of mostly Arab, generation- and regime-spanning artists, “Crude” makes clear the Centre’s transparent vision of modern Middle Eastern society.

Curator Murtaza Vali started envisioning the exhibit in 2013, two years before the 10,000-square-foot complex broke ground. While clearly emblematic of the region, "Crude" is particularly well-timed today, when what washes up in the news cycle paints a strikingly discordant picture of Mid-East modernity. These conditions are, in some ways, ideal for viewing the show’s visual centerpiece by Lebanese sculptor Rayyane Tabet. The serene but fragmented scrap-metal rib cage, and abstract take on the Trans-Arabian Pipeline, illuminates the often shadowy business of oil harvesting, “materially, conceptually, and phenomenologically,” says Vali. “Tabet’s project repeated this essential linearity of the pipeline in different ways,” he adds. “A pipeline is essentially an abstraction; a straight line imposed on the landscape in search of profit.”

Multiple artworks offer variations on the oil theme. As the ultimate driver of any industrial revolution, the car takes on multiple forms, from Monira Al Qadiri’s ouroboros-like Flower Drill, an oil drill lacquered in the holographic paint used in car customization to uberNEON II, Raja’a Khalid’s neon car cover bearing a slight resemblance to Off-White SS19—possibly by no accident. “[Khalid’s work] critiques a newly emergent yuppie lifestyle by combining executive perks like chauffeur drive Ubers,” says Vali, “with trendy athleisure fashion and fitness routines.”

Earlier works include pioneering Emirati conceptual artist Hassan Sharif, whose Slippers and Wire (2009) Vali calls a “wry monument to the region's accelerated petromodernity,” and photographs by Latif Al Ani, considered the father of Iraqi photography, that were originally commissioned by the Iraq Petroleum Company as corporate propaganda.

In paralleling the histories of art and oil in the Middle East, “Crude” seems to illuminate an unlikely synergy between the two—that they’re there even if you can’t see them. Vali’s hope for the future of the Jameel Arts Centre mirrors this holistic vision: “As an institution dedicated to fostering civic life through free access to art,” says Vali, “I am hopeful that the Center will begin to repair our somewhat frayed social fabric.”

Steel Rings, from the series "The Shortest Distance Between Two Points" (2013) by Rayyane Tabet (courtesy: Art Jameel)

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