Shalini Passi in Conversation with Chloe Vaitsou, International Director of Art Dubai

Chloe Vaitsou, formerly the head of audience development at Frieze Fairs, is the international director of Art Dubai.

Along with Pablo del Val, Vaitsou has been seminal in overseeing the expansion and transformation of Art Dubai as it moved away from having a singular directorial focus.

Chloe Vaitsou, International Director of Art Dubai

As the International Director of Art Dubai, how do you view the relationship between the arts in South Asia and the Middle East; what contrasts and comparisons do you see?

South Asia shares extensive cultural affinities with the Middle East - these similarities include historical, familial, cultural and religious bonds dating back hundreds of years, yet they also have distinct ways in which each region’s visual traditions have articulated identity, faith, and experience. In today’s globalised context, cross-cultural engagement is becoming more fluid and open, and dialogue and collaboration streams take on a committed urgency to be meaningfully activated. The UAE’s geographical, trading and investment proximity to South Asia makes it a fertile ground for these kinds of cultural similarities and contrasts to become apparent.

Dubai saw the launch of the Ishara Foundation this year, the first non-profit foundation in the Gulf region for contemporary South Asian art, focusing on the shared histories between India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Currently at the Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai, Kolkata artist Prabhakar Pachpute explores ideas around industry, land and labour, through an ambitious installation, whose second iteration we were delighted to have presented at Art Dubai in March.

Solaroca by Opavivara, Art Dubai Commissions, Art Dubai 2019
Courtesy of Photo Solutions

What other regions do you see as being key to developing the audience for Art Dubai?

With a regional and international scope, and mirroring Dubai’s role as a meeting place of cultures, Art Dubai is committed to cultivating a culture of discovery, offering exciting new global perspectives and broadening conversations about art beyond traditional western-led geographical scopes and narratives. A diverse and international mix of art audiences visits Art Dubai to experience the quality of content showcasing the rich cultural heritage and contemporary art practices of the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa, and extending to territories across the broader Asian continent, Sub-Saharan territories, Latin America and Oceania.

I understand you're working closely with Pablo de Val on the upcoming edition of Art Dubai; how involved are you from a curatorial perspective?

Pablo del Val and I are the co-Directors of Art Dubai, and as a directorial duo we define the identity, direction and strategic development of the fair, as well as curate each edition’s experience for our participants, guests and partners. Pablo is the Artistic Director, looking after the fair’s programming and defining each edition’s content tone through the targeted scope presented by participating galleries, each edition’s selected section curators and ambitious production objectives. My role as International Director is to develop the fair’s global profile and positioning, develop key private, commercial, institutional and non-profit partnerships and drive messaging and engagement strategies across different audiences. We both work closely with our gallery clients to ensure a sustainable, productive and vibrant commercial framework for them to operate in.

Artist Hamra Abbas, Represented by Canvas Gallery (Karachi), Bawwaba, Art Dubai 2019
Courtesy of Photo Solutions

What are you most looking forward to at the next edition of the fair?

I am delighted that for the upcoming edition of Art Dubai we will be working with seven international independent curators, each delivering cutting edge content and strong contextual frameworks in their individual gallery sections and across fair non-profit programming. They all bring their own expertise, depth of knowledge and research interests in specific non-Western practices across visual and performing arts, as well as community engagement programmes and discourse creation.

Mumbai-based Nancy Adajania will be curating Bawwaba, the Arabic word for ‘gateway’, a section offering visitors a curated reading of current artistic developments and cultural exchange in peripheral hubs. For 2020 artists from Vietnam, Pakistan, India, Argentina and Brazil, among others, will be showcased. Curatorial duo Sam Bardouil and Till Felrath will be curating Modern, a unique platform presenting museum-quality works by 20th century masters from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa, and as such a very unique proposition for the experts and the curious. Johannesburg-based Kabelo Malatsie will deliver her vision around this year’s Residents section, which will host artists from the Sub-Saharan continent to the UAE. Healing and togetherness will be explored through an ambitious Performance programme, curated by Athens-based Marina Fokidis, while Art Dubai's 2020 Commission activates immersive ecologies, curated by Paris-based Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez, in partnership with the Jameel Arts Centre. Emirati independent curator Munira Al Sayegh returns to Art Dubai to oversee the second edition of UAE NOW, an exhibition focusing on local artist-run and grass-root platforms, and their important contributions within the region’s evolving cultural landscape.

Experimenter (Kolkata), Art Dubai Contemporary, Art Dubai 2019
Courtesy of Photo Solutions

How do you envisage featuring South Asian art in the next edition of the fair?

We have a multitude of exciting South Asian platforms that will be showcased at Art Dubai 2020, the details of which will be announced in the coming months. We have always seen the fair as a window to South Asia, not only because of its geographical and cultural proximity, but also our commitment to showcasing artistic excellence from the region, through strong representation of South Asian artists, galleries, curators and discourse. Last year we were honoured to have been the first press announcement platform for India’s pavilion in Venice, and to be able to share the exciting news with the world. We look forward to developing extended synergies with the region in the long-term.

Grosvenor Gallery (London), Art Dubai Modern, March 20, Art Dubai 2019

This is a time of transformation and growth for Art Dubai. Do you anticipate that the experience will be different for the collectors attending the fair?

Art fairs serve a purpose; that of providing their host cities with an opportunity to shine, and for the UAE, March during Art Dubai week is the most exciting time to visit. This is a transformative time for the Art Dubai, and with the 2020 edition’s updated program and strategic development, there will be a multitude of cross-disciplinary cultural experiences to discover. Art Dubai is also part of a vibrant, dynamic, and growing local art ecology, operating in close collaboration with galleries, museums and institutions that are the heartbeat of artistic production in the region, which makes for a unique encounter for attending collectors. For 2020, the fair also coincides with Dubai World Cup, making it a Super Week for local and visiting audiences, and with sneak previews to Dubai Expo in the lead up to September’s launch, we are hoping to nurture existing audiences and gain new ones.