The Gulf Art Guide is a resource for artists, curators, collectors, journalists and other people interested in cultural developments in the Arabian peninsula. It offers an inventory of opportunities in arts and culture in the wider Gulf region, with a focus on visual arts.
The Arabian peninsula is undergoing crucial transformations at present, and the region will certainly play an important role in the future. Artists, as seismographs that register tremors deep in the earth, express the evolution of society in their work.
One can learn a lot about how the region is evolving by studying its art world. This art world is varied and quickly gaining in complexity. However, many misunderstandings about art in the Gulf perdure. Those involved in this scene feel its potential, but in the rest of the world the prevalent view is that the Gulf art world is superficial. To caricaturize it: the Arabs from the Gulf are an uncultured people who are using their sudden oil wealth to acquire ‘cultural capital’, and thus gain some respectability in the rest of the world. They are blindly buying Western art and attempting to stamp a local art world out of the desert with their money. We feel the need to provide a counter-narrative rooted in the region’s history and culture.
To counter this view we felt the need to structure this guide around an essay. The essay provides a general overview of the art world today, the cultural history of the peninsula, and country-by-country analyses. The point of the essay is to provide the context (cultural, social, political) of the Gulf art world, and thus to understand it better. This should help collectors, curators and other art professionals make more informed choices. We also hope it will inspire artists and other creative thinkers to deal with the region intelligently.
The developments sketched in the essay have guided the selection of places and organizations mentioned in the guide. We believe that each of them illustrates in its own way current developments in the region. We have decided not to focus on individuals (artists or otherwise) but on structures instead. Where such individuals illustrate or effectuate such structural changes, we provide portraits of them in the margins.
We hope to expand the Gulf Art Guide steadily; not only add more places but also new functions – the site in Arabic, interactivity etc – according to the desires of its users. We thus need your feedback – by e-mail or on our Facebook page.
The Gulf Art Guide is a project in development. The first phase has been wholly supported with Dutch public funds. We hope it will encourage fruitful collaboration between the Dutch and the Gulf art worlds. This explains the focus on cultural exchange with the Netherlands. In the next phase we hope to bring the Guide to the Gulf, to further develop it there.
The Gulf Art Guide is an initiative by two experts on the Middle Eastern art scene, Robert Kluijver and Neil van der Linden. It was commissioned by the Mondriaan Fund in December 2011 and launched in 2012. SICA/the Dutch Center for International Cultural Activities provided the technical support for this website which was developed by Danial Kashani of Cubex with the technical supervision by Kai Bergin of Human Connection.
Finally, a word about geography and politics: we have avoided qualifying ‘the Gulf’ with any geographical claim by the countries bordering it. This website actually deals with the Arabian peninsula, including the Saudi west coast. The term ‘Gulf’ is therefore used here as in ‘the Gulf countries’ or the ‘Gulf Cooperation Council’ – and because Yemen so far has not joined the regional art boom.