In Conversation With Antonia Carver

BY Anna Brady / May 30 2017 / 19:15 PM

During Art Dubai in March, the fair’s former director, Antonia Carver, in her new role as director of Art Jameel, announced the opening of a major arts centre in Dubai and acquisitions partnership with The Met. Here Carver speaks about the new centre and what is next for the organisation

In Conversation With Antonia Carver
Image courtesy of Serie
Interior rendering of Jameel Arts Centre Dubai
In Conversation With Antonia Carver
Image courtesy of Serie
Rendering of the entrance to Jameel Arts Centre Dubai

In addition to unveiling a new long-term acquisitions partnership with The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, focused on Middle Eastern art, Carver also revealed that the non-profit organisation will also open a contemporary arts institution in Dubai in Winter 2018. Construction of the Jameel Arts Centre, a 10,000 square metre, non-profit multi-disciplinary space designed by Serie Architects on Dubai Creek, is already underway.

Antonia Carver spoke to Harpers Bazaar Art about the new centre and gives further insight into  Art Jameels ambitions both at home and abroad over the coming years.

Antonia Carver. Image courtesy Clint McClean

Harper's Bazaar Art: How does your role as director of Art Jameel compare to that at Art Dubai, and to being a journalist?
Antonia Carver: I loved working for Art Dubai – over the six years I was there, one fair became a multi-faceted initiative across commercial and non-commercial, and as the Art Dubai Group, we launched another four fairs and festivals; it was very intense, and mirrored Dubai’s own explosive growth as a cultural destination. We were constantly striving to create a balance between being meaningful locally, and claiming a place on the international stage. Being a journalist forces you to develop a 360-degree view of the art world, and to think about the ways exhibitions and works are experienced by all kinds of audiences – which is all acutely relevant to my role at Art Jameel.

HBA: How has the UAE’s art scene developed, and in what ways do you want to see it grow?
AC: The arts scene here across the UAE has developed in quite a post-modern way – non-linear, circulatory, at speed, occasionally disjointed. In Dubai in particular, this growth has been organic in nature, and driven by a series of such dedicated and passionate individuals, working across the commercial and non-commercial sector. So many pivotal moments and players – where to begin! I don’t think it’s possible or preferable to isolate the emirates and refer only to Dubai, as the way the arts scenes have developed is in conversation with each other, and this seems even more pronounced going forward, thinking of the leadership roles played by Sharjah Art Foundation, Art Dubai and Saadiyat Island and the Sheikha Salama Foundation. In Dubai, much of the history and foundations in the contemporary art sector at least were paid by galleries – Green Art Gallery and The Third Line in particular. The Courtyard, designed by Dariush Zandi, changed both Al Quoz and the way art was exhibited. And of course at the centre is the artists – those from here and those that have made it a frequent stopover.

Rendering of the interior courtyards at the Jameel Arts Centre Dubai. Courtesy of Serie.

HBA: What is next for Art Jameel?
AC: We’ve opened a Project Space in (and with the support of) Alserkal Avenue – this is a space to experiment, show works, to test out and discuss ideas with our audiences, ahead of the opening of the Centre in winter 2018. There are three key strands of programming – Collection Focus, showing single works from the Jameel Art Collection, allowing audiences to engage in depth with artist’s practices (including, so far and currently, Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, and Hazem El Mestikawy; Research Studio, a series of work-in-progress ideas presentations, developed in-house and with our research colleagues across the arts, education and heritage; and then spotlights on Collaboration – guest exhibitions and other initiatives that we develop with our partner organisations. Some are one-night-only talks; others week-long residencies; others 6-week exhibitions. All are free and everyone’s welcome! 

HBA: Will you be holding shows of historical art alongside contemporary art at the new centre?
AC: Currently our focus is primarily on contemporary art but more generally, Art Jameel has a whole strand of programming dedicated to heritage, including arts institutes in Cairo and Jeddah, and city preservation, and were interested in exploring how to create links between ancient, modern and contemporary practices.

Interior rendering of Jameel Arts Centre Dubai. Courtesy of Serie.

HBA: Will the programme include artists from other regions?
AC: We certainly have a commitment to supporting artists from the Middle East and neighbouring countries and regions, but not exclusively so. One of our main curatorial thematics – threads that prompt ideas and focus our programming – looks at ‘confluence’, asking what happens, in cities like Dubai and Jeddah, when people from across the world are brought together, when they exchange goods, ideas, languages and art practices? We’re fascinated by meeting points, and the act of sharing and exchanging experiences, in general – which, at the end of the day, is what art essentially is in itself. This is leading us to look at artists who are interested also in these ideas – many of whom have minimal connections with the Middle East.

HBA: Regarding the Met acquisition partnership, will you be contributing to discussion on the choice of works, or will the curators be left to decide independently?
AC: We so respect the curators at the Met – we work mainly with Sheena Wagstaff and Clare Davies and of course ultimately, the decision on works is theirs – they’re thinking of a wide set of parameters when it comes to selecting crucially important works, that also fit with the remit and approach of the Met and its audiences. Having said that, the dialogue with the Met is open and collaborative, and we’re very much enjoying conversations with them about potential works and artists.

The Art Jameel Project Space in Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, is currently showing a major work, Alif Beh, by Egyptian artist Hazem El Mestikawy until 22 July. For more information see