Artistic exchange: Art Basel Hong Kong

As 10 Emirati students return from an art exchange to Art Basel Hong Kong as part of the Sheikha Manal Art Exchange Program,Vision explores the aims and objectives of the scheme

It is only two years old, but when Art Basel Hong Kong kicked off earlier this month with 245 galleries displaying work from across the globe, The New York Times proclaimed that this exciting new fair had attracted “the art world’s attention”. And the sense that Hong Kong was the place to be was not lost on 10 female Emirati undergraduate students aiming to nurture their artistic potential into, hopefully, a career.

They were in Hong Kong as part of the Sheikha Manal Art Exchange Program, which in the past has sent students to Art Basel in Switzerland and Frieze in London to experience art and culture in a global context. After a hiatus while HH Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum established her Cultural Office, the initiative was restarted this year, with the intention of providing young Emirati women exposure to global art trends and foster cross-cultural understanding.

This was important to see, because it helped the students draw parallels between Chinese and Middle Eastern artists – both of whom are deeply influenced by their history and culture

Mona bin Kalli, Director, The Cultural Office

“Art fairs offer a wealth of experience and knowledge to students who are contemplating a career in the arts,” says The Cultural Office’s director, Mona bin Kalli, on her return from Hong Kong. “The most rewarding part of the journey was the opportunity to enjoy art on an international platform, which was good as it was always conceived as an eye-opening art excursion that would empower the students to think differently.”

Bin Kalli thinks it is crucial that curriculums get out of the classroom and include real-life experiences such as these. To that end, the students didn’t simply soak up the art they liked. A private tour of the fair included meetings with gallerists, artists and speakers, while the program also visited museums and educational establishments in Hong Kong to understand more about art practice and history.

“Hong Kong's rich history includes arts from the early eras of China, as well as the birth and early growth of the city,” explains bin Kalli. “This was important to see, because it helped the students draw parallels between Chinese and Middle Eastern artists – both of whom are deeply influenced by their history and culture. I was especially pleased to note our students connecting contemporary art styles seen at Art Basel Hong Kong to some of the artists from the past.”

Mona bin Kalli
Mona bin Kalli believes real-life experiences are a crucial part of the curriculum

The idea is that such connections won’t remain as thoughts jotted down in notebooks, but act as real inspiration. This edition of the Sheikha Manal Art Exchange Program culminates in October with an exhibition of students’ work inspired by the “collective creative experience in Hong Kong,” as bin Kalli puts it.

“After that, we look forward to new destinations,” she says of the future. But wherever the program goes next the intention is clear: to introduce aspiring young Emirati minds to the beauty of diversity and the importance of art.