Changing Stakes: Contemporary Art Dialogues with Dubai presents artworks by eight noted international artists in order to consider the present day position of Dubai as a nexus of culture, capital and migration in the Gulf region and in the Middle East. Guest curator Srimoyee Mitra has assembled this exhibition based on her interest in the impact of current infrastructural developments in the city, mapping their effect on how Dubai’s history and culture are being shaped. Dubai has gained heightened visibility due to its rapid economic growth, development and cultural promotion worldwide. Changing Stakes is the first exhibition in Toronto to focus on art practices addressing the dramatic rise of the city.
Over the last two decades Dubai has exploded on the world stage as a paradise of luxury and leisure. Marketing itself as an exclusive oasis for limitless consumption, it became an icon for extreme-capitalism and unrestricted development projects in the 21st Century. Its ambitions manifested themselves in the rapid rise of large-scale constructions across the city that transformed its landscape from a modest port surrounded by an arid dessert to megaluxury housing projects, business districts, malls, hotels, parks and golf courses, an artificial coastline and islands with idyllic sandy beaches. Every building was new and many held records for being the world’s largest, tallest and most technologically advanced. While the booming oil and housing markets fueled these developments to capture the imagination of tourists, investors and the high-end expatriate workforce, they did not address crucial challenges and questions of transparency, sustainability and spatial divisions that isolated different parts of it based on socio-economic, cultural and racial lines.
Participating artists Haig Aivazian (Chicago/Dubai), Abbas Akhavan (Toronto), Amir Berbic (UAE), Lamya Gargash (London/Dubai), George Katodrytis (UAE), Armin Linke (Berlin/Milan), Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen (London/Copenhagen) and Hajra Waheed (Montreal) use a range of materials from tourist brochures and billboard advertisements to personal photographs, films and videos, as well as magazines and other found ephemera to investigate how notions of a place are constructed by the absence and presence of images in the popular psyche.
The Chronicle of Dubai’s Dramatic Embrace of Modernity
1958 to 1990 and beyond
By looking at Dubai’s post-oil and late 20th century urban history it is easy to understand its rulers’ desire to make a city for the future. What Dubai has accomplished in the 21st century should then be no surprise. This is a desert city with an incredible desire to modernise itself.
It all starts in 1958 when Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al Maktoum becomes the ruler of Dubai at the young age of 30. He quickly understands the potentials of his small city-state and he has a clear vision of what is required in order to transform Dubai into a modern city. During a session in his daily Majlis (lobbying with nationals) he delivers his memorable aphorism, ‘What is good for the merchants, is good for Dubai’. In 1959 he commissions John Harris, an architect from the UK as Dubai’s first town planner. The plan reveals grids of roads and directions for growth, only. This plan guided Dubai’s modest early development until the discovery of oil in 1966. In 1969 during a visit to the Ruler’s Majilis, John Harris witnesses the presentation of a ‘jam jar full of oil’ to Sheikh Rashid. Oil is finally tapped. From now on, the city engages to a full throttle with hospitals, schools, and a more ambitious master plan. In 1970 the New York World Trade Centre is completed. In 1971 Harris submits a second and extended master plan for Dubai. The same year the independent United Arab Emirates is formed. In 1972 Sheikh Rashid commissions John Harris to design the Dubai World Trade Centre, which is completed in 1978. In 1979 Queen Elizabeth opens the building, 39 stories high and the tallest in the Middle East.
The city is finally born.
above: General exhibition view
above: Installation of archived material by George
above: World Trade Centre, Dubai, 1978