Morteza Zahedi’s Untitled work, seen at XVA Gallery.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Since 2003, XVA Gallery, Dubai, has been championing contemporary Middle Eastern art in the UAE and on the international art scene. Located in Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood where historical wind towers and large, shaded courtyards create a sense that one has travelled back in time, it specialises in contemporary works from established and emerging artists from the Arab world, India, and Iran.
The gallery exhibits and sells art both locally and internationally, collaborating with other galleries and participating in global art fairs, such as Art London, SH Contemporary, and Art Basel Hong Kong, in order to expose Middle Eastern contemporary art to the world at large. In addition to the gallery, the adjacent XVA Art Hotel features additional exhibits for art lovers to see.
Featuring ten individually designed suites or rooms, it is ornamented with three wind towers and two courtyards and a cool lounge for solace-seeking guests. XVA Café, a “best kept secret” and part of the complex, serves freshly-prepared vegetarian food, including salads, soups, cheesecake and a legendary mint lemonade. You could ask multi-Michelin starred chef Gordon Ramsay, who names XVA as his favourite café in Dubai, for confirmation. XVA also offers art consultancy services and project management for companies and individuals. Experts connected to the gallery assist with installation arrangement, exhibition planning, acquisitions and collection management. Grace Hauser, XVA Gallery Director and also founder of Oda Concepts, a global boutique creative consultancy, provides the ABCs of XVA to Gulf Today.
How has the COVID pandemic affected XVA Gallery? As gallery director, what is the silver lining in the dark cloud?
Recent circumstances have affected everyone in different ways. For us, COVID-19 gave us a chance to take a step back and view XVA in a new light. It challenged us to refresh the brand creatively, to refine our voice, which is something that we, as a team, relish. The situation has also allowed us to launch our online XVA Boutique, which has been something that we have wanted to do for a long time and we are very excited with its progress. The day-to-day schedule of XVA has resumed with the launch of our Summer Exhibition, Fifty°, curated in celebration to reunite our visitors with art, allowing conversations and creativity to flow throughout XVA once again.
When studying Art History at college, which region did you specialise in? Why?
During my studies, I developed a special interest in 17th Century Dutch Still Life. I was drawn in by the initial simplicity of each piece that, with exploration and research, evolved into a tapestry of symbolism and history.
What is the synergy between the hotel and the gallery?
XVA Hotel and Gallery have always been completely in time with each other, acting as one. The vision for XVA was to create a community atmosphere for artists and creatives alike to innovate and communicate. Our hotel rooms are styled in tune with our represented artists’ works: the whole building is used as a gallery space to merge the two together. There really is no point in the brand where XVA Gallery stops and the XVA Hotel begins — the two are intertwined with one another.
Who are your favourite artists?
I am very interested in Impressionism, specifically the works of James Whistler and Berthe Morisot. The depiction of light as ever-changing with time is something that drew me in, paired with the thin, delicate brush strokes and beautiful landscapes of Impressionist painters.
How has Oda Concepts, your company, helped brand XVA Gallery?
I grew up in and around XVA after my mother, Mona Hauser, founded it in 2003. I saw my consultancy, Oda Concepts, as an opportunity to elevate XVA to stay up to date with modern marketing practices. Because of my own personal attachment and experience with XVA, the brand’s essence has always stayed the same. Oda Concepts has been used as a helping hand to promote and refine the vision of XVA.
As someone who has studied art, do you think sufficient attention is paid to art academically in the emirates?
The attention to the study of art in the Emirates has progressed substantially. However, it still has room to expand in the coming years, until it is recognised as a major subject in Emirati curriculums. As I am passionate about the study of art, it brings me joy to see the attitude towards the subject evolving.
According to you, are millennials more/less interested in art? Has digitalisation lessened interest in handmade works?
In my opinion, the rise of artistic digitalisation has only made millennials and younger generations more interested in art. Because of the sharing capabilities of social media, as well as the digital gallery tours that have been made available online due to the pandemic, art has only been made more accessible around the world. Digitalisation has also helped to broaden skills and ideas throughout the world, despite our physical distances. For example, I have noticed a surge in handmade creative outlets due to the lockdown period, such as embroidery, knitting, or painting. People no longer need to only learn creative skills from family or friends, but can learn them on their own digitally. I think this opens doors for these crafts to be used more widely by people who wouldn’t normally have access to the knowledge.
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