The winners of the Abraaj Capital Art Prize’s (ACAP) fourth installment were announced this morning, with works due to go on display at Art Dubai in March 2012.
The prize is awarded to artists from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, and began in 2008. This year’s selection of winning applicants is Taysir Batniji (Gaza), Wael Shawky (Egypt), Risham Syed (Pakistan), Raed Yassin (Lebanon) and regularly collaborating duo Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige (Lebanon).
ACAP is the only art prize that rewards proposals specifically. Artists apply with a detailed proposal for an ambitious work that can be realised with funding of $120,000 (Dh441,000) from private equity firm Abraaj Capital. The winning applicants then research, conceptualise and build their final piece over the next nine months.
After the completed works have been on display at Art Dubai, they will enter Abraaj Capital’s permanent collection. No stipulation is made in terms of medium, as the 2011 lineup showed, which included video works, sculpture and installation. “ACAP allows these artists to realise their potential and take it to the next level,” said Frederic Sicre, a partner at Abraaj Capital, speaking at the announcement, and referred to the artists as "cultural entrepreneurs".
This year’s lineup features some big-hitters of the regional art scene. Egyptian Wael Shawky has exhibited extensively, with shows across Europe and the Middle East. Shawky also pioneered MASS in 2010, a residency-based initiative that invites young artists to work and exhibit in a space in Alexandria.
Khalil Joreige and Joana Hadjithomas share their place in ACAP this year, and regularly collaborate together on works that explore the ways history and memory are shaped by events in the region. They created the white rocket sculpture sited in the courtyard of Sharjah Biennial this year, following research into the largely forgotten Lebanese space program of the 1960s and 1970s. “I consider myself a researcher, and this new project will continue that,” said Joreige.
He noted that the funding allowed the artists to think ambitiously when they were conceptualising their project. “It’s only thanks to ACAP that this work can be realised.”Joreige and Hadjithomas have also produced a number of successful films over the last 10 years, including Je Veux Voir (I Want To See), which starred French cinema legend Catherine Deneuve alongside artist/actor Rabih Mroue.From Pakistan, Risham Syed is an interesting addition to the lineup.
Syed is a painter predominantly, but incorporates textiles into her work to explore notions of cultural inheritance and authenticity in her country.Savita Apte is chair of ACAP, and introduced the lineup by saying that over 300 artists applied for the prize this year, up from 250 last year. “We then assembled a shortlist of 30 proposals from that, and researched each thoroughly before settling on the final five.”
Apte went on to say that the format of ACAP 2012 differs slightly from previous outings in that a curator position was also selected for: “We wanted a curator who could feed into each artist. We wanted someone who could challenge them and be a bridge to what is being produced in the region and to make it more internationally known.”Nat Muller, an independent curator and critic based between Rotterdam, Netherlands and the Middle East, has been chosen for the role. She, like the artists, applied for the position with a proposal and was accepted from a robust pool of applicants. In addition to her work in Europe, Muller has previously taught in Beirut and at the American University of Dubai and is on the advisory board of Ramallah-based web project Artterritories.
All of the artists remain tightlipped about details of their projects until they are unveiled in March, and are contractually bound to maintain that secrecy throughout the production process. Last year’s final works were markedly experimental, however, including a video and sculptural piece exploring the counter-culture movement in 1960s Morocco, created by Shezad Dawood.