For the last seven years, Art Dubai has developed a series of non-profit, commissioned works to exhibit alongside the fair. They present an opportunity for visitors to engage with artists often informed by or from the region, who create new works and performances intended to question the fabric of an art fair. In the next three pieces, FNND asks three of the project artists some questions: Doa Aly, Sreshta Rit Premnath and art collective Nile Sunset Annex.
For 2016, independent curator and writer Yasmina Reggad, who was tapped to lead the projects and commissions, invited Doa Aly, Sreshta Rit Premnath, Massinissa Selmani, Lydia Ourahmane and Areej Kaoud, Moza Almatrooshi, and Jumairy, as well as the art collective Nile Sunset Annex. Reggad, whose research area is currently focused on the politics of futurity, has aptly titled the series of commissions Into the Unknown, meant as a catalyst to bring forth questions underlying the “mechanism[s] of the production of our fantasies, expectations and projections triggered by this young, 44-year-old federal state [of the United Arab Emirates]”.
Commenting on the Art Dubai Project for 2016, Reggad notes that the “commissioned artists have developed or made use of speculative approaches engaging with conjectures and hypothetical narratives anchored in the present, to research and discuss topics such as architecture, cartography, safety, sleep, constructed speech and labor.”
NILE SUNSET ANNEX
Nile Sunset Annex is an evolving production and dispersion outfit for contemporary art. Founded in 2013, it is a small self-funded art space that puts on exhibitions of artists’ work in a flat in Cairo, but its members also act as publisher, art collector, archivist, editor, technician, as well as artist, author, barmaid and curator, when necessary. Its current iteration consists of Taha Belal, Jenifer Evans and Andeel.
FNND: Your collective, Nile Sunset Annex, works across a number of platforms—from editors and archivists to barmaids and curators. Can you tell us a bit about your project at Art Dubai and the levels upon which you will be engaging with the other projects through a “publication” format?
Nile Sunset Annex: Our previous publications have each taken a different format, from a vinyl record to ceramic tiles to a 3D-printed sculpture. For Art Dubai, we’re making a series of multiples called 70 Artist Toasts (titled في صحة الفنانين ٧٠ مرة in Arabic). We have developed one object in relation to the work of each the other seven artists in the section, and are making an edition of 10 of each object. The second component of each piece is a shaped text printed on thick paper, on which the object will be displayed upon. The process has been quite intuitive. We went through the Art Dubai project proposals and looked at the other artists’ previous works, and we also reached out by email to each artist to ask if they wanted to be involved or share their thoughts. Through this we came up with both the object, including its form and materials, as well as the text for each artist. Two artists had more active input in the text we wrote for them—Areej Kaoud and Jumairy.
NSA: Because we are a small, self-funded operation, in general we develop our programing by taking on artists and projects we are really excited about and that we can manage logistically around our full-time jobs.
For Art Dubai, we had a series of Skype calls with Yasmina Reggad and, after our initial proposal didn’t work out, she suggested the idea of publications. We love producing publications, so we agreed straight away. We decided to work with different craftspeople in Cairo to make them, as we have relied a lot on local skilled workers for previous exhibitions and publications.
FNND: You are based in Cairo, working from an apartment space. How much of the artists’ and viewers’ engagement with this physical space relevant to your working practice as a collective? Is there an intended or unintentional meaning to the use of a more intimate context for your projects?
NSA: We have always been interested in embracing the semi-domestic feel of the room and not trying to make it like a white cube. The artists we have exhibited in the space have embraced that, although no one has actually made work that explicitly responds to the domesticity of setting. We like to think that viewers often resonate with the intimacy of it—they frequently stop for a drink with us—but on the other hand, having such a small, semi-public space keeps us under the radar of the state and means our audience tends not to be huge.
NSA: Good question. We think we are yet to find out exactly how the process of making this piece will manifest itself in the future, but each time we have done a project outside our space it has been a revelatory learning experience. For example, when we curated an 11-artist group show at Cairo’s Gypsum Gallery last year, it enabled us to map out the interests and modes of presentation we had developed over the previous couple of years by doing what we do on a much larger scale and with a better budget. When we did an exhibition as a collective at San Francisco’s Haines Gallery in 2015, and because the show was an artwork that functioned as a mini-retrospective, it was a way to step back and assess our activities and a bit like taking a photograph of them. For Art Dubai, it is the first time we are creating a series of publications/multiples, and the first time we are doing anything at an art fair, so it is bound to impact future projects.
FNND: What is in the future for Nile Sunset Annex?
NSA: We are currently hosting an exhibition by painter Ahmed Nosseir, until March 26. After that, we are considering putting on a show of the Art Dubai multiples, and we are planning two solo exhibitions by Taha Belal and Jenifer Evans, respectively, in May and June. We haven’t shown exhibitions of our own work in the space, so that will be fun. We are also working on a glossary project for the Mophradat [formerly the Young Arab Theatre Fund] website, and are planning to start a collaboration with French artist Benjamin Seror soon.
Originally written for Art Asia Pacific.