Painting through a pandemic: The UAE art scene - GulfToday

Painting through a pandemic: The UAE art scene


Combo photo shows artworks done by Zambian artist Victor Sitali.

by Manjula Ramakrishnan


With the UAE in partial lockdown and with art exhibitions in physical venues having shut their doors for the past several weeks, how does the art scene in the UAE look?


Has Covid-19 managed to kill creativity? Far from it, vouch several UAE based artists. 


It is a time for introspection for some, a time to interact with fellow artists on a virtual platform for others and for sure a time to experiment with their craft. This sagacious conversion of a challenge into an opportunity is the resilience our UAE based artists exhibit.


Has income dipped due to event cancellations and drop in commissioned projects? The answer regretfully is yes.


But there is always a ray of light and this has come in the form of certain government and non-government initiatives to keep the flock together and reassure them that their work is still valuable to the art and cultural landscape of the county.


summaya2 Combo photo shows artworks done by Sumayyah Al Suwaidi.


For Sumayyah Al Suwaidi, it is a time to hone in on her entrepreneurship skills; for Victor Sitali, it is a time to ruminate and chart out a blazing future. Faissal El-Malek is finding time to connect with co-artists, something that has always been part of his wish-list.  As for Ghanem Younes, “no virus can keep us down for long.”

Here is what they have to say.




“When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Covid-19 personally pushes me to make more art and not allow these circumstances to weigh me down.


Besides, the art fraternity attempts to stay on course with plenty of initiatives to do with virtual exhibitions and thus make art accessible for the public.


For example, The Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation put up the Common Grounds exhibition that I was part of, which was entirely virtual, where people can interact and explore the artwork by various artists online.


Al Serkal Avenue website too gives you an entire list of online exhibitions. Hence Covid-19 cannot dampen creativity!


ad11 Artworks of Emirati artist Ghanem Younes.


“I design spatial art and this is made for the sole purpose of being experienced physically, hence for my work, an online experience might not give the same feel.


As a result income is affected as there is not sufficient demand for art at the present. However, I am confident there will be new ways to mitigate this challenge for it is hard to keep us down for long.


“Creative tools might become a problem for some, but sketchbooks are rather easy to find. In addition, digital tools like Wacom tablets /iPads are also readily available. I therefore try to be optimistic, convert this into an amazing opportunity and maintain focus on my work rather than worry about the Covid-19 situation.


What I cannot change is the virus crisis; what I can change is my attitude towards it.”




“When we cannot go out, I guess we go within. I am using this time of limited activity to introspect and decide on the future of my art.


It is a time for reflection and self-analysis to chart a way forward. Besides, I do a virtual tour of all the fantastic museums and galleries in the world, a pleasure I have never found time for before!



victor1 Artworks of Zambian artist Victor Sitali.



“Virtual exhibitions are happening, but while the world is turning to technology, for me as an artist it is all about the excitement of standing for hours in front of an artwork, admiring the strokes, colours, lighting, shades and being able to physically connect with a painting.


“We are creative people and financially it has been a disruptive time for us artists, for I work on commissions and during lockdown, assignments are few and far between.


But we still need to pay our rents and bills! My work is mainly with charcoal and sourcing tools for working from home is also another uphill battle.”




“I am both an artist and an entrepreneur; hence for me it is a time to prioritise my responsibilities and have a clear design for my future.


Yes, majority of the artists have been affected financially, but artists, musicians, performers and others like us do not let Covid-19 stop our creativity; we are still coming up with beautiful works and sharing them online with the rest of the world.


sumayyah1 Combo photo shows digital artist Sumayyah Al Suwaidi's artworks.


As a digital artist I spend my time on my PC, drawing on my tablet and I can work non-stop while listening to my favourite music or watching TV.


“In fact, one of my curated exhibitions ‘Common Ground’ which opened at The Cultural Foundation, Abu Dhabi last January is now available to visit on their virtual platform. This would be the route for my next curated exhibition too, to enable people to view artworks and support the community of artists.


“As for virtual exhibitions, it is a question of mind set. They are very effective, albeit the experience is different.


During a physical visit to an exhibition, you mingle with the artists, the curator and even share ideas with fellow art collectors and enthusiasts, which technology cannot offer.


Due to the current turn of events, income of artists is largely affected for freelance assignments get cancelled and artistic projects are postponed. But the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi is supporting artists by hiring them to create videos of tutorials and workshops for their virtual platform and to make artists’ lives sustainable.”




“It is a good time to have a vivid imagination; yes, some of my projects, trips and classes have been delayed, but I am happy to be safe and healthy and this should be everybody’s priority now! But nothing stops you from being busy.


fasel Palestinian artist Faissal El-Malek showcases his artwork.



There are virtual programs happening everywhere, from talk shows, film screenings, access to collections and exhibitions. You can virtually ‘travel the world’ and that is the bright side.


“I have made a short meditative drawing tutorial for Art Jameel program; Sharjah Art Foundation is hosting some great screenings and Cinema Akil has great recommendations and access to films.


A friend Sarah Al Mehairi has started a series of artist talks every Monday that I look forward to, hence it is quite easy for any creative person to stay involved with the artistic community.


“Being creative is definitely a big part of how I’m keeping busy and happy. Both through my personal work but also through the Salama Bint Hamdan Emerging Artists Fellowship program that I’m currently part of.


We are having some online classes and prompt’s to keep us going with our work. It’s great to feel connected to my peers. I’m also having fun with fellow artists working on collaborative projects. It’s been quite busy!


“It is amazing that initiatives are launched to help artists during such unprecedented Covid-19 times.


One great initiative is by Art Jameel that aims to help artists affected by Covid-19 both in the MENA region and in the UAE and supported by Dubai Culture.



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