Ishara Art Foundation will present a programme of exhibitions and events centered 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

Press Conference: 17 March 2019, 10am-12pm
Exhibition Dates: 18 March – 23 June 2019

Today, Ishara Art Foundation announces its 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

For press and interview requests for Ishara Art Foundation please contact Gloria Roberts at Sutton: / +44 (0) 20 7183 3577

Ishara are honoured to have permission from Zarina to adapt a symbol from an artwork for the foundation’s logo. Its local idiom and universal appeal reflects the aspirations of the foundation, presenting uniquely South Asian perspectives to both local and international audiences. The identity has been designed by the award-winning Group Partnership agency in Dubai.

The interior of the warehouse space has been designed by Rahoul Singh of RLDA in New Delhi, with bespoke lighting design from DPA Lighting Consultants, creating a flexible exhibition and working environment ideal for the care and display of contemporary art.

About Ishara Art Foundation

Set across two floors of dedicated exhibition space in Alserkal Avenue, Ishara Art Foundation is a new non-profit organization focused on contemporary art from a South Asian context. We have an expansive definition of the region, which includes the diaspora and overlapping histories of the region around India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Given a wide presence and deep links to South Asia within the Gulf, our programme is anchored in a regional approach and designed to share compelling artistic perspectives with local and international audiences.

Our programming will include new and established practices through monographic presentations, group exhibitions, new commissions and touring exhibitions, developing new dialogues and exploring regional interconnections. Further information about our partnerships and programming will be available when the foundation launches in March.

Driven by a strong commitment to the region and guided by a research-led, intellectually rigorous approach, Ishara will further support and celebrate the presence of South Asian voices within the thriving art and design sector of the UAE.

Ishara Art Foundation is presented in partnership with Alserkal Avenue.

About Smita Prabhakar, Founder and Chairperson

Smita Prabhakar is the Founder and Chairperson of the Ishara Art Foundation. She is a successful entrepreneur with a stellar business reputation built over four decades in corporate human resource management in the region. The Ishara Art Foundation is her contribution to the arts and culture in the UAE, a space to share South Asian culture with the local community and diverse international audiences in the MENASA region.

A collector and patron of contemporary art, passionate about its potential to enliven and encourage a deeper understanding of contemporary South Asia, Smita is currently on the Advisory Board of Art Dubai, a member of the South Asian Acquisitions Committee at Tate Modern, London, and is an International Patron of the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, supporting the V.S. Gaitonde exhibition in 2015.

About Nada Raza, Artistic Director

Nada Raza is Artistic Director of the Ishara Art Foundation. Raza was previously Research Curator at Tate Research Centre: Asia, with a particular focus on South Asia, and led on Tate activity in the region. She co-curated Bhupen Khakhar: You Can’t Please All in 2016, awarded Exhibition of the Year 2016 at the India Today awards in New Delhi and at Eastern Eye’s Arts, Culture & Theatre Awards in London.

Alongside collection building, supervising research and producing public events, she organised displays of work by international artists including Meshac Gaba, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Zarina Hashmi, Sheela Gowda, Amar Kanwar and Mrinalini Mukherjee. Raza was guest curator of the Abraaj Group Art Prize in 2014 and curated a thematic exhibition, The Missing One, for the Dhaka Art Summit in Bangladesh and the Office for Contemporary Art in Norway in 2016. Raza previously worked on international art at the Institute for International Visual Art (Iniva) and at Green Cardamom in London, maintaining close links with the MENASA region. She holds an MA from the Chelsea College of Art and Design and is a doctoral candidate at the Courtauld Institute of Art. 

About Richard Armstrong, Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation

As Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation since 2008, Richard Armstrong leads the Guggenheim Foundation and its constellation of museums, in addition to serving on the Guggenheim Foundation Board of Trustees. Previously, Armstrong was the Henry J. Heinz II Director at Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (1996-2008). He has also held curatorial positions at Carnegie Museum of Art (1992-96), the Whitney Museum of American Art (1981-1992), and the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art in California (1975-79). A native of Kansas City, Missouri, Armstrong graduated from Lake Forest College in Illinois with a BA in art history, having studied at the Université de Dijon and the Université de Paris, Sorbonne.

About Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, Founder of Alserkal Avenue, Alserkal Programming and Alserkal Residency

Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal is the driving force behind Alserkal Avenue, a cultural neighbourhood that houses the most prominent contemporary art galleries in the region. In 2015, he launched Alserkal Programming, a not-for-profit initiative that supports locally-based and international artists through commissions and public programmes. As a natural extension, Alserkal Residency opened in October 2017. Concrete opened in 2017, a space for alternative programming and museum-grade exhibitions. Concrete is the first building to be completed in the UAE by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), founded by Pritzker Prize-winner Rem Koolhaas.

Featured in Surface magazine’s 2016 Power 100, Abdelmonem serves on numerous boards of prestigious art institutions around the world, including the British Museum’s Contemporary and Modern Middle Eastern Art Acquisition Group; the Tate’s Middle East and North Africa Acquisition Committee; and the Guggenheim’s Middle Eastern Circle. He is also a Supporter of the Centre Pompidou International Circle – Middle East. Abdelmonem and the Alserkal family are supporters of the arts and have been awarded the Patron of the Arts award, in 2012 and 2013, by HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

About Alserkal Avenue

Located in Al Quoz, Dubai and established in 2007, Alserkal Avenue is the region’s foremost contemporary arts and culture neighbourhood. Alserkal Avenue hosts 16 contemporary art galleries and not-for-profit spaces and over 40 creative businesses, cultivating a vibrant community of visual and performing arts organisations, designers, and artisanal spaces that has become an essential platform for the development of the creative industries in the United Arab Emirates. At the intersection of art, culture and commerce, Alserkal Avenue is a driving force that brings the community of Dubai together to support and encourage a creative economy.

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