Ishara Art Foundation set to open with shows by Shilpa Gupta, Zarina in Dubai's Alserkal Avenue

Ishara Art Foundation has announced its new art space in Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue, opening to the public on 18 March 2019.

Jaideep Sen Published :  30th January 2019 07:23 PM   |   Published :   |  30th January 2019 07:23 PM
Shilpa Gupta's Altered Inheritance (detail)

Shilpa Gupta's Altered Inheritance (detail)

Ishara Art Foundation has announced its new art space in Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue, opening to the public on 18 March 2019. Offering two floors of exhibition space, Ishara will offer a generative platform for contemporary art and present a dynamic programme that will build on the shared histories, continued presence and cultural contribution of South Asian voices in the Gulf. 

Ishara will be the first independent institution dedicated to expanding knowledge and understanding of contemporary South Asian art and artists in West Asia. The inaugural exhibition will present leading artists Shilpa Gupta and Zarina.

This registered non-profit arts organisation will produce and host free exhibitions in a focused environment, allowing a wide range of local and international audiences to engage with emerging artists and established practices in an open, informative and exploratory format. 

With close proximity and links to South Asia, and taking advantage of the UAE’s growth as a cultural hub, Ishara will establish a new meeting point for artistic and intellectual exchange across the region. 

Committed to the role of art and culture in fostering understanding, Ishara will contribute to the vibrant local arts scene and participate in strengthening the diversity of the arts and design community.

The Ishara Art Foundation is established by Smita Prabhakar, collector and patron, based in the UAE for four decades and passionate about contemporary art and artists from South Asia. Her collection forms the backbone of the exhibition programme, which will include loans, new commissions and touring exhibitions.

Artistic Director and curator Nada Raza and Smita Prabhakar, Founder and Chairperson of Ishara Art Foundation


The Ishara logo, a synthesis of the square and circle, is based on an ideogram by Zarina to describe the word aasman, sky. This is one of 36 images from Home is a Foreign Place (1999), a key work in the Prabhakar Collection.

An ishara is a gesture, an indication or signal, a word common to several languages spoken around the Indian Ocean including Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, Persian and Swahili; the foundation views it as an invitation to be culturally rooted and accessible to the world.

Highlights:

  • Ishara Art Foundation will present a programme of exhibitions and events centred on contemporary art and artists from South Asia.
  • The independent non-profit foundation will offer a permanent venue for exhibitions and events opening on March 18, 2019 in partnership with Alserkal Avenue.
  • Inaugural exhibition by leading artists Shilpa Gupta and Zarina to challenge conventional understanding of identity, borders and belonging.
Zarina. Sky, from the portfolio Home is a Foreign Place, 1999 Portfolio of 36 woodcuts with Urdu text printed in black on Kozo paper and mounted on Somerset paper. Edition of 25 and 5 Roman Numeral sets. Image size: 20.32 x 15.24 cm. Sheet size: 40.64 x 33.02 cm © Zarina; Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York. Work is part of the Prabhakar collection, Dubai


Smita Prabhakar, Founder and Chairperson of Ishara Art Foundation said: “My desire for brilliant work by South Asian artists to be more widely recognised is at the heart of this project. I hope the UAE’s cosmopolitan audiences will appreciate and absorb these artists and their works through our permanent space and dedicated programme, allowing cultural voices to enrich our understanding of each other.”

Ishara Art Foundation is a not-for-profit foundation with Abdelmonem Alserkal as Honorary Chairman of the Board of Trustees, which includes locally recognised figures from art and business, Myrna Ayad, Hoda Barakat, Mustafa Hashemi, Abdul Hamid Juma, Colm Mcloughlin, Samer Saifi, Rajan Sehgal, and Abdul Fattah Sharaf.

Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, Founder of Alserkal Avenue, says: “The UAE shares a long and rich history with South Asia, and its contemporary art deserves to have a home in the UAE. We are proud to partner with Ishara Art Foundation to create a space dedicated to supporting South Asian artists.”

The Ishara team is supported by an Advisory Board chaired by Richard Armstrong, curators Maya Allison and Sandhini Poddar, and acclaimed artists Bharti Kher and Chittrovanu Mazumdar, bringing expert guidance from international and regional art world professionals.

Shilpa Gupta. Detail from Altered Inheritances - 100 (Last Name) Stories, 2014. Installation, Site specific Courtesy: GALLERIA CONTINUA, San Gimignano / Beijing / Les Moulins / Habana. Photo: Ela Bialkowska. Work is part of the Prabhakar collection, Dubai


Richard Armstrong, Director, Solomon R Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, stated: “The Ishara Art Foundation will be a distinctive voice in the contemporary art landscape in Dubai and the UAE. The Guggenheim has long been committed to both the UAE region and to South Asia as a source of great artistic achievement. We are gratified by the growing interest in and appreciation of South Asian art and artists and look forward to the ideas and exchange that will be catalysed by this addition to the dialogue.”

Nada Raza, curator and specialist in South Asian art, returns to Dubai as Artistic Director of the Ishara Art Foundation. She will curate the inaugural exhibition and develop the curatorial framework for the foundation.

Zarina. Home is a Foreign Place, 1999. Portfolio of 36 woodcuts with Urdu text printed in black on Kozo paper and mounted on Somerset paper. Edition of 25 and 5 Roman Numeral sets. Image size: 20.32 x 15.24 cm. Sheet size: 40.64 x 33.02 cm © Zarina; Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York. Work is part of the Prabhakar collection, Dubai


Artistic Director Nada Raza, commented on the launch of the foundation: ‘‘I curated my first exhibition in Dubai in 2005 and have closely followed the steady development of the arts scene in the UAE. I am excited to be back, and to shape the artistic direction of a permanent space with more sustained access to the contemporary art and artists of South Asia. Ishara will be a new locus within the thriving arts and culture sector in the UAE, establishing our place within a wider community.”

The foundation will launch with the exhibition Altered Inheritances: Home is a Foreign Place (18 March – 23 June 2019) a conversation between Shilpa Gupta and Zarina, hinged around two key works by both artists from the Prabhakar Collection.

The exhibition features work made from the 1970s to the present and will navigate notions of belonging and borders with nuanced, poetic and personal evocations of how geographical dislocation transforms ordinary lives. 

Its reference points are around the borders of South Asia, but with an awareness of migration and mobility as globally resonant experiences in our times. Further details on Ishara Art Foundation and their exhibition programme will be announced in the coming months.

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