Artists’ quarter: why Dubai’s Bastakiya area is in the frame

Dubai’s historical Bastakiya district is emerging as a key hub for the local and international arts community

With its wind towers, cobbled streets and vintage homes Bastakiya is not only one of the oldest sites in Dubai but also home to a burgeoning art scene. Emirates Airline Festival of Literature moved its headquarters to one of the Bastakiya houses recently, while the Sikka Art Fair is this month using the site to showcase talent from across the Emirates.

But it’s not just local art that is making headlines; Bastakiya is fast becoming a creative hub for a flurry of international artists thanks to the efforts of Art Dubai, arts centre Tashkeel and the Delfina Foundation, which currently offers artists up to three-month residencies at Bastakiya’s House 44. The Foundation also gives them studio space, at House 11, to share with three Emirati artists.

“We aim to promote exchange and experimentation, and to offer a space where residents – artists, curators and writers – can reflect on what they do, position their practice in a global discourse on the arts, create career-defining research and commissions, and network with colleagues,” says Aaron Cezar, Director of the Foundation, which offers residencies in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

The Foundation works with artists at different stages of their careers and many who have completed residencies have gone on to win major awards such as the Abraaj Capital Art Prize, and participate in leading international art events such as the Istanbul and Sharjah Biennales. In addition residents’ works have also been acquired by major public and private collections, from Dubai’s Salsali Private Museum to London’s Tate galleries.

“Partnership is essential in our work and we have had the privilege of working with leading organisations such as Ashkal Alwan, The Townhouse Gallery, Serpentine Gallery, Tate, and the V&A to name a few,” says Cezar.

“As a non-commercial organisation, we do not have formal relationships with galleries but many of Delfina’s current and previous artists are represented by a string of participants in Art Dubai including Aaran Art Gallery, Rose Issa Projects, Kalayan Galleries and Paradise Row.”

With Art Dubai taking place this week, the resident artists are busy transforming House 11 into an exhibition space where they can display their work and network with collectors and participating galleries.

As Bastakiya’s reputation as an international creative quarter and career launch pad for its artists in residence grows, the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority is looking to nurture its talent further by developing a space to host artists year-round.

Additionally, the Delfina Foundation hopes to expand its activities. In the last two years it has developed more opportunities in the Middle East for international residencies with partners and is launching a major collaboration with ArtSchool Palestine for eight residencies and an exhibition across London and Ramallah with the support of the British Council.