Arts in the Emirate: the Rise of Abu Dhabi’s Underground Scene

Enjoy the eclectic work of regional artists at N2N Gallery
Enjoy the eclectic work of regional artists at N2N Gallery | Courtesy of N2N Gallery
Melinda Healy

Abu Dhabi lays claim to the big names in the art world with the established Louvre Abu Dhabi, as well as a Guggenheim Abu Dhabi set to open in 2025. But scratch the surface and you’ll find a thriving underground art scene.

More than a capital city, Abu Dhabi has developed a reputation as a hub for culture and creativity. The talent pool continues to expand with Emirati and Middle Eastern artists sharing their skills across the city, from the back of cafes to university venues and sophisticated hotel galleries. Here are the best underground art spots in the emirate.

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N2N Gallery

This small, art-filled gallery, tucked away at the back of a cafe in Al Ain Tower, provides an understated, transformative experience out of the Middle East and into the world of European art. With enough wall space for just 12 artworks, this hidden gallery exhibits mostly solo shows. Expect to be welcomed at the door and given an explanation of the show. Then, it’s just a matter of enjoying the intimacy of the space and the talent surrounding you.

N2N Gallery is a tiny gallery in Al Ain Tower that showcases stunning European art
The gallery displays a fusion of artwork from modernism to realism

Etihad Modern Art Gallery

This inviting, residential-style space in Al Bateen is your window into the world of Emirati art. Paintings, photography and other media by rising local creatives is the focus here. The gallery also showcases international works, along with poetry nights and concerts. Renowned for possessing one of the world’s most considered Emirati collections, Etihad Modern Art Gallery is easy to navigate alone, but there are always knowledgeable staff on hand should you need them.

Folklore Gallery

​​What began as a framing business in 1975 is now the go-to spot for original works by local artists. No matter what your taste, you’re certain to find something you’ll love at an affordable price – a piece that will act as a constant reminder of your travels in and around this cultural capital. The unique intricacies of the artworks on display here make for an enriching experience. Find the gallery in Khalidiya, opposite Dana Plaza.

Manarat al Saadiyat

The art scene in Abu Dhabi spans world-renowned museums, centres dedicated to Islamic art and cutting-edge independent galleries. But for thought-provoking works that place the Arab experience front and centre, Manarat al Saadiyat shouldn’t be missed. Recent exhibitions include a visual exploration of the 1990s through a Middle Eastern lens – blending familiar nostalgia with regional pop culture – and a retrospective of the country’s art history. If art galleries aren’t your thing, there is also a programme of film festivals, open-mic nights and pop-up events that celebrate Abu Dhabi’s diverse artistic community.

Warehouse421

Designed to commemorate and acknowledge the creative talents of regional artists and designers in the area, this cultural hub hosts workshops, exhibitions and promotes initiatives aimed at developing talent. A permanent fixture in the Mina Zayed port area, Warehouse421 was named after the old depots here that have been transformed into the vibrant, industrial sites that they are today.

Warehouse421 got its name from the area’s original warehouses that were transformed into a hub for artists and designers to showcase their creativity
Warehouse421 celebrates the work of regional artists by bringing the community together through different artistic routes

The NYUAD Gallery

The first gallery of its kind in the Gulf, this university gallery presents contemporary and historical exhibitions. Positioned at the entrance of the university campus on Saadiyat Island, NYUAD Gallery, which opened its doors in 2014, is modelled on the academic museums of the United States. Aside from supporting the local art community as an experimental space for innovative curation, the gallery also hosts free public programmes and tours.

Salwa Zeidan Gallery

Showcasing works by artists such as Rabee Kiwan and Hassan Sharif, with a focus on Emirati, Middle Eastern and global creatives, this gallery in the Millennium Al Rawdah Hotel is curated by its namesake, Salwa Zeidan, a Lebanese director with 25 years of industry experience. Zeidan reviews and selects every piece herself, ensuring a breadth of talent for all to admire, from up-and-coming artists to well-established names.

Emirates National Auto Museum

In a country that is as much about its cars as it is about its world-beating attractions, this pyramid-shaped museum on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi has plenty of grunt. If you’ve got even the remotest interest in automobiles, expect to be in awe here. Home to as many as 200 cars, from 1967 Pontiacs to a custom-made, two-wheeled, five-storey caravan, this desert “garage” is just a small selection of His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan’s vehicle collection. You’ll understand why he’s affectionately known as the UAE’s King of Cars and the Rainbow Sheikh.

The Emirates National Auto Museum is the place to go for car enthusiasts in Abu Dhabi
Wander around 200 cars belonging to His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan at the Emirates National Auto Museum

Discover a plethora of cultural and natural wonders on your next trip to Abu Dhabi. Start planning your Abu Dhabi adventure today.

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