By Sonya Rehman
Dubai-based Hetal Pawani is the Director of the well-known art space, thejamjar, established in 2005, that offers artist residencies, art workshops, performances, screenings, art sessions for children and more. This week, Hetal speaks with Masala! Magazine about thejamjar, Artinthecity – a fantastic art project she spearheaded a few years ago and the local art scene in Dubai.
In your opinion, how has the art scene in Dubai evolved over the years?
From the early days when we were one of five arts establishments to about 40 arts spaces, the scene has definitely grown to being the biggest in the region especially for Middle Eastern art. Art Dubai has been a huge contribution in marking Dubai on the map as an arts and culture destination, as have property companies with a focus on culture like Alserkal Avenue. The Dubai Culture and Arts Authority have been active contributors in many ways. The industry has been growing quite rapidly since we started, with newer models offering opportunities for artists to get involved and the public to engage with the arts. The scene is still young with missing components and opportunities to fill.
What’s ArtintheCity all about?
It’s a cultural project that was established in 2007 to create awareness about the arts and cultures scene in the UAE through a guide called the ArtMap, a website and the ArtBus. The project started with the idea of covering the MENA region and now includes countries in the GCC. Our next issue launches Jordan and will soon cover many other Middle Eastern and North African countries.
ArtintheCity has an Art Bus too, right?
That’s correct. The ArtBus is a programme that takes place annually. It commissions UAE based artists to create artwork for the ArtBus through a call for applications. Three routes over three days, the ArtBus takes residents and tourists on guided tours of the city’s active arts spaces, allowing the ease of finding the galleries, taking away any inhibitions that often prevent people from experiencing art in this city.
What’s lacking vis-a-vis the art scene in the region, particularly Dubai? What’s your take?
There could be more art education in public schools, an affordable arts college, public art policies and programmes, good arts writers, a young and growing collector base, and easier access for artists to live and work in this city.
What do thejamjar’s artist residencies encompass?
We do a call for artists to apply for opportunities to use our project space as a base to research and create new work for a period spanning two to three months that can lead to a work-in-progress or a completed body of work to be presented. In the process, we have an ongoing discussion with the artist, invite writers, curators, professors and other artists to do studio visits that help the artists engage in a dialogue and bring newer, different perspectives. Many things happen in a residency, where we also promote the artist to local press.
In addition to being skilled with a good aesthetic sense, to me, artists are brilliant minds that delve into research uncovering untold stories or personal narratives incorporating the context of the environments they live in or their experiences. This, combined with layers of fiction and mystery, can be fascinating.
What speaks volumes of their practice is their commitment to being an artist, where they continuously make work, often stepping out of their comfort zones, experimenting with medium and form and looking for development opportunities on their own or through curators. I also see a focused artist as also someone who seeks professional representation with a gallery. While I value a Fine Arts Degree, there are some exceptions where self-taught artists have done really well for themselves. Defining ‘good’ artists is a very personal choice. There are great commercial artists as well who do commissions for projects, where experience, skill and adaptability count.
What do you foresee for the local artist community and the art scene in the years ahead?
I am an optimist and do feel that Dubai offers opportunity to create something new and fill essential gaps. I foresee diverse models of arts organisations, fairs, and events in the years ahead. Also, more patronage and corporate support for the arts – this will be crucial for sustainability. I envision artists being able to live and work in the UAE on their own visas and have affordable studio spaces. Lastly, I see an increased focus on arts education and public art.