After Nyne x Art Dubai 2017: Behind the Scenes with Fair Director Myrna Ayad

For the first part of After Nyne’s Art Dubai series, our editor Claire Meadows meets fair director Myrna Ayad

An an independent arts writer, editor and consultant based in Dubai, Ayad was Editor of Canvas, the premier magazine for art and culture from the Middle East and Arab world, where she worked for eight years (2007-15), managing the editorial division which included newspapers, supplements and books for art and luxury clients.

She is Editor of Art Scene UAE: Visual Arts Practices in the Emirates (Canvas Central, forthcoming, 2016) and Contemporary Kingdom: The Saudi Art Scene Now (Canvas Central, 2014). Among the publications which she has project-managed are Art, My Passion: The Collection of Their Highnesses Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Sheikha Salama Bint Hamdan Al-Nahyan (2008), the Emaar International Art Symposium (2007) as well as those for clients such as Bulgari, Van Cleef & Arpels and Christie’s. With a Bachelor’s in Business Administration with emphasis in Advertising from the American University in Dubai, Ayad has spent over three decades in the UAE.

Myrna, take us back to the start of your career. What drove your passion for art?

A combination of having grown up in Dubai and been exposed to so many cultures, and also having great travelers for parents. Later, I worked for a boutique Dubai publishing house that operated three weeklies, one of which documented the nascent art scene. I then joined Canvas magazine, where I spent about a decade covering the regional art scene. I enjoyed discovering and writing about art from the MENASA because it offers an unparalleled, alternative history, identity and other facets to understanding and appreciating these regions.

When did you know you wanted to make it the focus of your career?

When I joined Canvas magazine in 2007, incidentally the year Art Dubai was launched. I knew then that this was a passion and a responsibility. I’ve been lucky because I was (and still am) a witness to this art market unraveling in the MENASA.

What is it, in your opinion that continues to make art relevant to people’s lives?

It betters communication with the other, understanding of the other (and self), tolerance and appreciation for the other. It provides a greater, more thoughtful reading.

What has been your most memorable project to date?

Right now, helping put together Art Dubai’s 11th edition with a formidable team of people.

Tell us what we can expect from Art Dubai this year

One of the most exciting aspects of our 11th edition is that it is our most globally diverse to date, with 94 galleries from a record 43 countries participating and works by over 500 artists will be exhibited. We are delighted to welcome Latin American energy coming from first-time participants from Uruguay, Chile, and Peru as well as a freshman participant from Algeria and our largest ever contingent of Iranian galleries. Art Dubai very much mirrors its host city in terms of its multiculturalism and we are delighted to welcome more countries.

We are excited to see The Room transform into a Surrealist landscape and gastronomic experience under the Beirut collective Atfal Ahdath and of course, the unveiling of the 9th Abraaj Group Art Prize, as well as a host of new and diverse programming. In our efforts to widen our digital reach, we have revamped our website and launched Art Dubai Portraits – a series of short films that offer perspectives to the lives and workspaces of artists that are connected to the fair through its programming or participating galleries; we debuted with Beirut-based Palestinian artist Abdul Rahman Katanani and will be presenting two Portraits on a monthly basis. Our performance-only Commissions programme will no doubt enhance and punctuate visitors’ experience, ultimately contributing to their overall art fair encounter. Five artists will perform across various venues, one of which will be a tribute to the late Hassan Sharif by Yasmina Reggad and Lana Fahmi. We also present the inaugural Art Dubai Modern Symposium that will be led by art historians, academics and curators to widen the narrative around modernist practices in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia – regions whose 20th-century works show through Art Dubai Modern. The Global Art Forum, titled Trading Places and led by the indefatigable Shumon Basar, will tackle the exchange of ideas, narratives, concepts and goods.

What makes the art scene in the UAE stand out from other countries?

It is young but it is very much the heart of the regional art scene and its galleries showcase predominantly art from three main regions, the MENASA. In a very short period of time, the country has achieved so much on a cultural level – being at the forefront of the regional art scene, becoming a global art hub, having a permanent pavilion at the Venice Biennale (art and architecture), attracting major auction houses, welcoming new galleries, foundations and museums and being home to a growing multicultural collector base. The country is cosmopolitan, home to a multitude of nationalities and its geographic position also allows it to be a gateway in the Middle East between Asia and Europe. It is also where three of its cities are culturally active in distinct ways – Sharjah, home to the biennial and the Sharjah Art Museum, Maraya Art Centre, Barjeel Art Foundation; Abu Dhabi, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, NYU Abu Dhabi and Warehouse421; and Dubai, the commercial hub with the galleries, auction houses and Art Dubai, that is also focused on community programming on a year-round basis.

What advice would you give to visitors to this year’s event?

Pace yourself, there’s a lot of see, experience and discover. I hope audiences leave Art Dubai inspired, enlightened, rewarded in the sense that they are happy to have discovered something, learnt something new, met and conversed with like-minded people and wanting to come back for more.

What have been the highlights of bringing this year’s event to fruition?

It’s been an incredible learning experience and among the many highlights was traveling to cities such as Tehran, Beirut, Cairo, Tunis, Jeddah, Riyadh and Doha and engaging the region a lot more. Brainstorming artists to profile for our inaugural short film series, Art Dubai Portraits, and watching the first one on Abdul Rahman Katanani. Thinking about major topics surrounding modernist practices for our inaugural Art Dubai Modern Symposium. Listening to Shumon Basar regale us with his conception of the Global Art Forum’s theme on trade. Receiving Atfal Ahdath’s proposal for The Room. Seeing Meriem Bennani’s renderings for Ghariba/Stranger, her concept for the Art Bar. Getting updates on Rana Begum’s winning work for the ninth Abraaj Group Art Prize. Reading proposals for our performance-only Commissions. Seeing the next batch of graduates for Campus Art Dubai. Welcoming new practitioners to the Art Dubai Fellowship. There are countless highlights, but that’s a few!

After Nyne readers receive 25% discount on Art Dubai tickets online, available for purchase here using promocode AD55

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