Design

Dubai art and design festival returns after two-year hiatus

For the next week, wherever you turn in the narrow alleyways of Al Fahidi, you will likely run into some art. After two years of pause owing to the pandemic, Sikka Art and Design Festival (formerly Sikka Art Fair) is back for the 10th year.

Named after the passageways between low-rise structures in the historical neighborhood close to the Dubai Creek (still called by most long-time residents as Al Bastakiya), the festival brings together visual artists, performers, designers, musicians and other creatives to present artworks , concerts, murals, poetry readings and film screenings.

There is an added vibrancy to the neighborhood thanks to outdoor art installations, carefully designed shading and signs, as well as brightly-colored seats in front of the main stage and around the courtyards.

Despite the absence, Sikka this year proves that it is still one of few places to see what ideas young and emerging artists in the UAE and the region are thinking about and how their interests are changing. The program has been strengthened by the team of curators Maitha Al Zaffin, Kamla AlOlama and Shamma Almheiri, with the support of artist Giuseppe Moscatello, who have brought together more than 250 participating artists for the festival.

Scroll through the gallery above for more pictures from Sikka 10.

Compared to previous editions, Sikka 10 features more multidisciplinary practices, from design-based work to tech-driven art, as well as more immersive installations that combine multimedia works, from video, photography and research-based projects.

Al Fahidi’s tenants, including the long-standing XVA Gallery and Tashkeel studio, are also participating by putting on their own exhibitions during the festival.

On opening day on Tuesday, crowds made up of tourists and locals navigated the winding alleys leading to gallery spaces (what used to be houses), courtyards and rooftops where works by artists such Ayesha bin Haider are on view.

Ayesha bin Haider with her series of textile works inspired by henna designs.  Antonie Robertson / The National

Bin Haider’s project takes traditional henna patterns as inspiration for a collection of textile works. Using linoleum blocks to stamp layers of hand shapes and henna patterns on cloth, the artist says she wants to “document traditional henna in a contemporary way”, discovering that over generations designs have become increasingly minimal.

“I love everything about henna — the smell, the patterns,” she says, also saying that she inherited this interest from her mother and grandmother. To begin her project, she asked them about popular designs in their day, one of which was Gemsa (also the title of the work), where the henna would be placed in the middle of the palm and then spread by closing the subject’s fists.

An installation work, The people of my mother’s garden, by Abdulla bin Suqat, on the other hand, is less about tradition and more about the fantasy world of Plump’s Topia. Towering white flowers, handmade from tracing paper, fill a room where ethereal music composed by bin Suqat plays. Projected onto the scene are clips of leafy pathways and forests, filmed by the artist in areas such as Khawaneej, plus animated bougainvillea, pressed and hand-painted to resemble butterflies.

Abdulla bin Suqat with his project 'The People of My Mother's Garden' at Sikka 10. Antonie Robertson / The National

Over the years, bin Suqat has built up these fictional narratives that center on the relationship between a mother (named Queen Alara) and her child. He conceived the idea for the work following a 2013 series of portraits of female figures.

“I was obsessed with princesses and queens, specifically,” he says. “I wanted these women to exist in a different world so no one could question the concept. Then I started realizing that each character reflected something that I was going through in my own life and they helped me through it,” he explains.

The artist, who participated in Sikka in 2018, says this year’s event includes a stronger line-up of artists and programming.

“There are so many interesting artists this year. It’s very different from last editions. Going through Covid, I think they realized that there was something they needed to change, and they really elevated their thinking during that time.”

Sikka is also showcasing design projects, including an exhibition on creations by seven students from the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation that look at the circular economy and human development.

There’s also an installation on modular furniture by Omar Al Gurg, whose brand Modu Method is known for its minimalist and quirky aesthetic.

Omar Al Gurg at his exhibit 'Swalef' at Sikka.  Antonie Robertson / The National

His work titled Swalef takes the form of a model Emirati house, from a terrace and garden area to a living room and bedroom, all created using one piece of furniture made from glass reinforced concrete. One unit looks like an arched stool, and many pieces can be placed secured together to form benches, shelves and beds.

Having shown at Dubai Design Week and 1971 Design Space, Al Gurg says Sikka is helping bring newer audiences to his practice.

Though trained in architecture, Al Gurg says he found interior design to be more fulfilling. “Architecture projects take time. I wanted to work on something that was more instant and that people could interact with on a more intimate level,” he says.

As with any art event as of late, NFTs and digital creations have also made an appearance in sections such as From Desert to Mars, where artists such as Kristel Bechara and Kaiwan Shaban have borrowed elements from science fiction to produce futuristic visions of the UAE.

Turn into another room and you’ll be met by a virtual reality demonstration and other tech-driven artworks, including the Mandarinizer by Jack B. Du. An artist and education at NYU Abu Dhabi, Du studied interactive media arts at NYU Shanghai and has been bridging the world of code and software with art. “I wanted to use technology in a creative way,” he says.

In Mandarinizer, Du’s custom software transforms moving subjects, picked up by a camera and exhibited on a screen, into a flurry of Mandarin characters. Sikka marks the first time that he has shown his work in the UAE, where he has been living for four years.

Until March 24, the festival is also hosting film screenings and concerts, as well as design, new media and art workshops led by local creatives. After two years of germinating, Sikka is back in full-force with a wider remit and more meticulously curated presentations.

Sikka Art and Design Festival is free and open to the public until March 24. More information is at sikkaartandesign.com

Updated: March 16, 2022, 3:15 PM

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