Art galleries in Dubai strive to both preserve and showcase local culture while exposing audiences to exciting contemporary work. Housing some of the Middle East’s most fascinating collections of fine art, sculpture, film, photography and other media, these galleries deserve to be celebrated for their ambition, accessibility to all and historical importance.
Co-founded by Princess HRH Reem Al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia and Emirati Safa Al-Hamed, this gallery dedicates itself exclusively to fine-art photography – the first of its kind in the region. The Empty Quarter is home to works by several regional artists alongside world-renowned names such as Steve McCurry, Marc Riboud and Al-Moutasim Al Maskery. Among its most popular exhibitions was Dubai 1962 Story, in which Japanese photographer Yoshi Kawashima captured Dubai before its oil boom, showing a range of rare images – from the ruler Sheikh Rashid in his palace to those of souks and abras. The collection was buried away in Tokyo for nearly 50 years before it was brought back to Dubai.
Located on the Jaddaf Waterfront, the Jameel Arts Centre is an independent organisation that supports arts and heritage in the Middle East. Sitting inside a bright-white building made up of cubic structures with large windows overlooking the waters of the Dubai Creek, the gallery hosts solo and group exhibitions by artists such as Chiharu Shiota, whose past show looked at the journey of life and all that it entails. The centre also has several gardens; a library with books, theses and artist files in both English and Arabic; and a vast outdoor amphitheatre that hosts an array of concerts and film screenings in winter. Complete your visit by heading to the on-site café for a healthy treat.
Custot Gallery, founded by Stéphane Custot in 2016, promotes modern and contemporary art in Alserkal Avenue, the cultural centre of Dubai, and showcases the likes of Jean Dubuffet, Nicolas de Staël, Pablo Reinoso and Bernar Venet. Visitors can also see works by French artist Fabienne Verdier, as well as rare photographs by British photographer Nick Brandt, who captures East Africa’s natural world, which is disappearing due to humankind.
Husband-and-wife duo Kourosh Nouri and Nadine Knotzer founded Carbon 12 in 2008, helping make Dubai’s contemporary art scene what it is today. It showcases regional and international creatives, such as Tehran-born, New York-based artist Sara Rahbar. The mixed-media artist collects vintage materials and assembles them to create contemporary textiles and sculptures, which have a strong connection with the history of the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Housed inside a converted villa in Jumeirah, The Workshop is a multipurpose space that includes a gallery, an antique shop, a café and an interior design studio. Fann A Porter, the gallery housed within, highlights local and regional up-and-coming artists in some of the most beautiful exhibitions in town. Among those represented at Fann A Porter are painter Nidal Khaddour, who takes inspiration from the “sociopolitical state around him”, and New York-based painter Juri Morioka, who finds inspiration in Zen.
Founded by Natalya Andakulova, this gallery specialises in art from Central Asian artists and seeks to build relationships between creatives from Central Asia and the Middle East. Inside, tourists and residents can catch a glimpse of Alexander Barovsky’s photographs, including Gypsy Madonna, a beautiful lithograph depicting a mother and child from the Mugat, a nomadic people from across Central Asia. Also on display are paintings by Timur Ernst Akhmedov from Uzbekistan, whose work is surreal and fantastical and delves into notions of identity.
While interning at the Guggenheim, Sunny Rahbar wondered why there weren’t many Arab and Iranian artists shown in international galleries, so in 2005, Rahbar, along with Claudia Cellini and Omar Ghobash, co-founded The Third Line, which opened with a group photography exhibition. In 2016, the gallery found a new home in Alserkal Avenue, in a vast 771-square-metre (8,300-square-foot) industrial space with two levels. Art lovers can delve into the work of Hassan Hajjaj, a London-based Moroccan artist whose kitsch colours and striking photography combine popular culture and high art. Other well-known artists represented are Abbas Akhavan, Farhad Moshiri and Fouad Elkoury. In addition to exhibitions, the gallery hosts educational programmes, a monthly book club, film screenings and pop-up shops.