The rhythmic sound of Emirati drums and tambourines emanated from the narrow alleyways of Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood and thin streams of people wove in and out of the network of pathways. The central square, full of brightly coloured beanbags, was filled with people relaxing and listening to live music and some were even on the rooftops admiring art from above. It was the opening night of the third edition of Sikka Art Fair, the only event dedicated to entirely commissioned works from Emirati or UAE-based artists and, as the cool wind blew in from the adjacent creek, the whole fair had a relaxed and creative vibe.
“Sikka is a great and much-needed initiative in Dubai,” says Camille Mallat, a Canadian filmmaker who has set up a photo-booth at the edge of the main square and will be making a short film every day featuring members of the public who use his booth. “The first flowers of culture come through art, and culture is what makes life worth living.”
Before performing her own composition, Jacob’s Home, as the opening act for the music programme, Layla Lacole, an Emirati pianist and singer, said she was nervous but really excited about the opportunity.
“This will be the first time I have played to the public and it is really a unique chance. I have been working in the industry for 10 years and there has never been anything to push us in the direction of getting music out there before.”
Lacole is one of 15 musicians working with the renowned musician and producer Kamal Musallam for live performances throughout the 10-day event. Immediately after the fair, each one of the artists will go into the studio with Musallam and contribute one track to a CD to be released in May.
“It adds another dimension to the fair that used to be focused only on visual arts and it offers a great platform for these artists,” he says. “I launched my career from Dubai and after 11 years I am now in a position where I can give back. We want to create opportunities for original music to circulate around town.”
As Lacole’s dulcet tones circulated around the central courtyard, behind her and through a small door, the journey continued. In a small house, one of the many dedicated to artistic purposes throughout the fair, was an exhibition entitled The Archive of Mohammed Kazem. Kazem, currently a somewhat ubiquitous artist ahead of his forthcoming solo show representing the UAE at the Venice Biennale, has been practising contemporary art since the 1980s. At Sikka, there was a curated collection of newspaper articles, video interviews and biographical information telling the story of his career.
Down another alley and towards the Bastakiya Mosque, a collection of start-up initiatives, designed to engage the visitor in active participation, were also tucked away in adjacent houses.
Omar Adaoui, who founded The Animation Chamber with Lina Younes, said anyone was welcome to participate in the shooting of a short animated film based around the story of a Bastakiya lullaby. They can draw or make characters, edit the film or simply watch and listen to some of the workshops taking place daily. “We just want people to play around and get excited. Animation is an overlooked genre and we are thrilled to be able to present it like this.”
In the XVA Gallery nearby, an exhibition called The Infusion of Impossible Things housed a piece by Colleen Quigley and Debjani Bhandwaj that ignited the senses. The Perfume Cloud was a room filled with suspended bottles of musk and a heady aroma within which to take in the pencil drawings on the wall. In the next house and the ideal place to round off the evening was the open studios exhibition from the Artists-in-Residence (A.i.R) Dubai. In a joint venture between Sikka’s organiser Dubai Authority for Arts & Culture, Tashkeel, Art Dubai and the Delfina Foundation, these artists have been working on their pieces for three months and from video to photography and sound installations, their musings on Dubai were on full show.
“Dubai is a fascinating place to work,” says Dina Danish, who took footage of the general public in The Dubai Mall aquarium and then inserted sports commentary over the top. “Everything is perfect like the picture of it; Dubai is like retouched reality.”