Art night at DIFC gate village during Art Dubai. Photo courtesy of

Dubai International Finance Center (usually called DIFC) is a sprawling highrise zone just off Sheikh Zayed road. It is a free zone for international finance. As the DIFC website proclaims, “DIFC has been designed as a ‘city within a city’ that provides a complete range of business and lifestyle facilities for today’s professionals” and in the list of facilities offered to financial professionals wishing to set up shop in DIFC, art galleries figure prominently. These galleries are located in the Gate Village, a separate building complex connected to the rest of DIFC by two bridges. This village is an outdoor space.

DIFC has become the second art hub after Al Quoz, and like its industrial cousin, DIFC keeps growing – although the possibilities for extension are limited. For example 2012 saw the opening of the RIRA gallery, while Cube Arts is expected to open in 2013 – as a non-commercial space for the development of the Emirati arts community – as well as Hunar Gallery’s Ajyad. With the exception of The Farjam collection, art spaces here are commercial.

The Gate Village also houses the offices of the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, Art Dubai and Brownbook Magazine. There are a few nice places to eat and drink here (with alcohol), the quality and prices matching the location.

The galleries have joined forces, encouraged by DIFC, to organize ‘art nights’ regularly, in which several galleries open new shows at once. Cuadro hosts residents under its galleries, and engages in art education for its clientele, similarly to Art Sawa and especially the Farjam Collection. Other galleries like XVA host artists talks  or other live events, while besides Christie’s, the Ayyam Gallery and now also the international Opera Gallery organize auctions, aimed at different audiences. Altogether DIFC is a lively place. It does, rather obviously, have a markedly more commercial character than Al Quoz and Alserkal Avenue.

The following galleries are based in DIFC:

  • Ayyam Gallery: this Syrian gallery is an off-shoot of the larger Ayyam Art Center in Alserkal. The DIFC gallery is used mostly for solo shows of major Arab artists, such as (recently) Oussama Diab and Khaled Takreti. See the entry under Alserkal Avenue for more information about the gallery.
  • Art Sawa specializes in contemporary Arab art. The founder, Amel Makkani, moved from collecting with her husband to opening an art gallery in Al Quoz in 2008. Like Ayyam, in 2011 she opened a branch in DIFC where her gallery’s commercial activities are concentrated, while the enormous hangar in Al Quoz (opposite 1×1) is used for art community activities (including contemporary dance workshops), larger exhibitions and the storage of her impressive collection. Among the many Arab artists Art Sawa has shown over the years are Mahmoud Al Obaidi, Zena Assi and Mohammad El Rawas.
  • Cuadro Fine Arts: this gallery is the initiative of Bahrain’s illustrious Al Shroogi banking family, notably Fatima, the founder, and her children Bashar and Alaa. The revenue made by the gallery’s sales is reinvested in Cuadro’s non-commercial activities, including hosting resident artists in studio spaces underneath the gallery and educational activities for both the gallery’s artists and its public. Cuadro, being the first gallery to establish itself in DIFC (in 2008), has thus never ceased to invigorate and professionalize Dubai’s art world. The new gallery manager, Roberto Lopardo, has several years experience teaching photography at AUD, the American University in Dubai. Cuadro works with both Arab and foreign artists, including Manal Al Dowayan, Alex de Fluvia, the Dutch Diederik Kraaijeveld and the young Emirati Kholoud Al Sharafi. The enormous gallery space often holds 3 to 4 exhibitions at once.
  • The Farjam Collection. Dr. Farhad Farjam is one of Dubai’s most prominent collectors. His collection consists mainly of Islamic art, but includes iconic works of some of the Middle East’s most prominent artists such as Farhad Moshiri, Mona Hatoum, Parviz Tanavoli, Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, Safwan Dahoul and others. The Farjam collection’s international art collection is also impressive, including works by Basquiat, Gerhard Richter, Andreas Gursky and many others. Being an art patron of note (having supported for example the creation of Bidoun Magazine), Dr. Farjam established the venue in DIFC in 2009 to allow the public to learn about art, with themed exhibitions from the collection accompanied by educational programs for children and adults, guided tours and art talks. The emphasis is on Islamic and contemporary Middle Eastern art.
  • The Empty Quarter is Dubai’s first photography gallery. Established in 2009 by Saudi artists/photographers Reem Al Faisal and Lulwah Al Humoud, the gallery was managed successfully by the Lebanese Elie Domit and the Dutch photography curator Hester Keijser, with ground-breaking exhibitions until mid 2012, when a management shake-up occured. It remains to be seen which orientation the new team will give to the gallery. The website has a useful glossary of terms used in photographic art. Together with their Emirati business partner Safa Al Hamed, the gallery’s founders plan to open Cube Arts, a three-story non-commercial art space in DIFC, in 2013.
  • Elie Domit meanwhile started a new initiative in photography curating, East Wing, first opening in Qatar, with as of March 2014 a branch in Dubai, at the Limestone House, also in the DIFC.
  • Artspace is one of Dubai’s older galleries. It was established in 2003 by Maliha Tabari, and moved to DIFC in 2011. It is the first Dubai-based gallery to open a branch in the West, with a gallery in London inaugurated in May 2012. The gallery works with contemporary Arab artists, many of them veteran – like Adam Henein, Kamal Boullata and Mouneer Al Sharani – and some younger ones like Shadi Al Zaqzouq and Hani Zurob. Artspace also has a successful art consulting branch.
  • Opera is an international gallery with branches in London, Paris, New York, Hong Kong, Singapore etc. There are two branches in Dubai: one in DIFC and the other in Dubai Mall. Opera specializes in international masters, from Auguste Rodin to Mr. Brainwash via Roy Liechtenstein and Damien Hirst. The manager at DIFC, Betrand Epaud, has spent many years in Dubai and knows the market well. Opera has recently started holding auctions.
  • The Rira Gallery opened in 2012. The entrance to the gallery is from the street level (opposite the visitor’s car park entrance). Rira specializes in contemporary Iranian art and has an alliance with Gargash Enterprises, the company that imports Mercedes and is related to an originally Persian family influential in Dubai. The art shown vacillates between decorative and sometimes daring, like upcoming Iranian artist Dana Nehdaran’s Esther’s Children, a work by this young Iranian artist on Jewish history in Iran.
  • Christie’s set up shop in Dubai in 2006, at a time when few experts believed in the potential of the local art market. Their foresight was amply rewarded over the following years; since opening Christie’s Dubai has had total sales exceeding 200 million USD. Directed by Isabelle de la Bruyere, Christie’s has become an influential player on the market, especially by setting values for regional artworks, and thus of the regional contemporary art market as a whole.
  • The Brownbook magazine, which has its office next to the RIRA gallery, opened a coffee shop in the middle of the Village Gate, the Magazine Shop, where, as the name indicates, arts magazines are on sale.
  • The DIFC branch of the XVA Gallery has been closed and is now concentrating on its location in Bastakiya.
  • In a slightly different field the Rug Company sells indeed rugs of high quality design, traditional ones and contemporary designs, like rugs designed by Alexander McQueen.


Written by: RobertK Last modified: 14th Apr 2014
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