The Abraaj Group Art Prize (until 2013 it was named the Abraaj Capital Art Prize) was launched in 2008. Abraaj Capital is a private equity manager founded in 2002 by Pakistani born, Dubai resident Arif Naqvi. It grew to become the largest private equity firm in emerging markets by 2012 and Arif Naqvi was asked by the UN Secretary General to join the Global Compact board, as recognition of his firm’s commitment to corporate governance and social responsibility.
Arif Naqvi is also a collector of contemporary art and the Art Prize was designed as a way to support the production of high quality work in the ‘MENASA’ region (Middle East, North Africa and South Asia). Initially three prizes were awarded to curator-artist teams, but since 2011 the prize goes to one curator and five artists. Proposals are selected rather than finished work, and the artists complete the work together with the curator, who also organizes the exhibition premiering during Art Dubai, and writes the catalogue. The artworks become part of the collection of the Abraaj Capital Art Collection, which pursues an active policy to show them around the world.
The prize is one of the highest in the artworld; originally 1 million dollars were distributed to the three winning teams, now the artists receive about 100.000 US$ to produce their artworks.
Curators can apply between 1 October and 31 December, and the winner is announced in May, i.e. ten months before the presentation at Art Dubai. The application form for curators can be found on the ACAP website here. Artists have to be nominated by one of the nominators between 1 November and 31 January, and the winners are announced in August, so they have seven months to complete their works. The selection of both the curator and the artists is made by a committee. The list of the 2012 committee can be found here. The curator can come from any country of the world (in 2012 it was the Dutch curator Nat Muller), but the artists must be of the MENASA region.
The lists of both the nominators and the selection committee reads as a ‘who’s who’ of the Middle Eastern contemporary art world, and this explains why the winners of the prize have consistently been among the major artists of the region: Hamra Abbas, Jananne Al-Ani, Nazgol Ansarinia, Kutluğ Ataman, Kader Attia, Vartan Avakian, Taysir Batniji, Zoulikha Bouabdellah, Shezad Dawood, Hala Elkoussy, Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige, Iman Issa, Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Huma Mulji, Timo Nasseri, Marwan Sahmarani, Hrair Sarkissian, Wael Shawky, Risham Syed, Rayyane Tabet and Raed Yassin. Curiously, no artist from one of the GCC countries has ever won the prize.
- The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture – Open Calls as of March 2015
- Some of the first favourites at Art Dubai.
- Sheikha Hoor Al-Qasimi to be the curator of the UAE Venice Biennale 2015 pavillion
- First edition of the Gulf Music Festival at the Archive, Dubai
- And an interesting question mark from Isabelle van den Eynde