Russian-Ukrainian war seeps into Art Dubai fair

At the VIP preview at Art Dubai yesterday, one stand stood out for its subtle but courageous political statement in a country where freedom of expression is restricted. Tbilisi, Georgia-based gallery Artbeat covered its booth table with a Ukrainian flag, and Georgian co-founder Natia Bukia also wore a matching blue and yellow outfit. “For me, it was very difficult to come [to Dubai] after being totally frustrated with what is happening in Ukraine and unable to focus on anything else,” Bukia says. “My main fear was exactly that here it would be ‘business as usual’ and how could I deal with that. That’s why for me it was so important to make some kind of statement to express how I feel and where I’m in it emotionally, but also to remind people what’s going on in Ukraine and what needs to be on everyone’s mind right now.

But the angst of war in Europe seemed far from the minds of visitors when The Boss premiered last night. The champagne flowed and the mood was on as Art Dubai celebrated a return to its usual lavish Madinat Jumeirah hotel after the pandemic forced it to hold all-digital or smaller in-person editions during of the last three years. Many gallerists mentioned the fair as a “welcome distraction” from world politics.

An installation view of the Gallery Artbeat booth at Art Dubai 2022 Image courtesy of Artbeat Gallery

Bukia says that despite fears that Art Dubai officials will object to her political statement, no one in the team has contacted her so far. When asked to comment on Bukia’s stand, a spokesperson for Art Dubai said The arts journal“The fair strongly supports the right of its participants to express their support for Ukraine and for our part, we will donate 25% of all ticket sales this year to help the plight of Ukrainian refugees.”

A few people, especially British expats, thanked Bukia for her silent protest. “There was a Ukrainian girl who came to thank me for my support, she had tears in her eyes. I almost cried too,” Bukia says. Coming from a former Soviet country that has also been the victim of Russian attacks, such as the 2008 war, she says she and her fellow Georgians know all too well what the Ukrainian people are going through. Although the Artbeat gallery almost exclusively represents Georgian artists, she says the gallery also wants to support and represent Ukraine.

Although there are no Ukrainian or Russian galleries at Art Dubai this year, an installation of works by Russian artist Marina Fedorova, supported by art incubator Sputnik Partners, stands prominently in outside the room where the Global Art Forum discussions are taking place. place, close to the new digital section of the show. Called Cosmodreams, the presentation includes paintings, sculptures, a video and a virtual reality environment. “With works that vividly express the beauty of outer space, Fedrova explores the role of technological progress in our lives and its impact on our planet, the muses of social adjustment and the legacy that future generations will inherit from us,” a project statement said.

A Matryoshka doll with the Soviet hammer and sickle symbol is part of the Cosmodreams installation by Russian artist Marina Fedorova, exhibited at Art Dubai Photo: Aimee Dawson

At the front of the show stands a sculpture in the shape of a matryoshka doll dressed as an astronaut adorned with the Soviet hammer and sickle symbol. “I don’t understand how these people are so insensitive in these kinds of situations. For them it’s nostalgia but for so many nations [the Soviet period] was a horror story,” says Bukia.

When asked if Art Dubai thought it was appropriate to place such images in a prominent location at the fair given Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine, a spokesperson said: “Dubai is home to a wide range of peoples and cultures and we welcome and exhibit artists from all over Marina Fedorova is an independent artist and her participation is in no way an endorsement of Russia or its actions in the conflict in Ukraine Sputnik Partners declined a request for comment.

Despite recent reports As wealthy Russians flock to Dubai amid Western sanctions, there seemed to be few people present at Art Dubai’s VIP preview. Bukia also felt that there were “much fewer than in previous years”. But if Russia continues to be cut off from the West, the Russian contingent could be much larger at future fairs in the Emirates.

Bukia plans to keep her Ukrainian flag on the Gallery Artbeat stand for the duration of the show. She is also developing plans to further support the Ukrainian cause. “I’m thinking of organizing a residency for Ukrainian artists and maybe organizing a collective exhibition with Georgians on how Russia continues to attack our cultures,” she says.

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