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With new platforms, artists explore opportunity to escape COVID-19 shock


Progenitor’, ‘5×5 ft, acrylic on cretextured canvas 2019, by Segun Aiyesan

With two separate platforms — grant offering and competition — African artists now have windows of escaping COVID-19 economic shock. The grants programme is a regional specific opportunity for African artists while the art competition, though based in UAE, extends to participants beyond the Middle East.

Making its debut and conceptualised by Art And About Africa, the grant project themed Art: An Essential Need include, a process that asks participating artists to share their thoughts and works virtually.

The contents collected, according to the organisers, will be used in creating “an e-Book available on a Crowdfunding platform together with limited edition prints and original works from guest artists.”


In its third year, Dubai UAE-based Art Jameel Centre just launched a new art competition, which replaces the drawing and painting version of the previous editions. The new competition, called Art Jameel Commissions: Digital, is said to have been generated amid the current global “exceptional circumstance” has requested entries from artists across the world.

“Through an Open Call, Art Jameel is inviting artists to respond to the brief for this exciting opportunity – specifically, artists from or based in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey and those around the world (regardless of nationality) who have sustained and demonstrable links to, and a meaningful understanding of, the wider ‘Middle East region’.” The open call, which started from April 13, ends on June 10, 2020.

The information also request artists to propose projects and artworks of ‘engaging’ contents that inspire “interactive experiences for online audiences.” The media statement reads: “The commission focuses on the theme of ‘Time’ – thinking through how our usual concept of time has been challenged by technology and circumstance, and even at times appeared to be cancelled, lost or frozen.”

While the winner of Art Jameel Commissions: Digital gets a prize of $7,500, with other benefits, Art and About Africa’s Art: Essential Need give grants to artists through collective funding.


The guideline for the African artists-focused grant explained that the money collected in exchange for the e-Book, limited edition prints and original works from guest artists, will create the ‘Emergency Grants’. All participating artists, the organisers assured, would benefit equally from the process and proceeds.

“Despite the feeling of impotence in the face of a deadly invisible virus, and the needed self-enclosure to fight it, we believe it is necessary to engage in something concrete and take the actions we can, even in an unclear future,” stated co-founder, Lidija Khachatourian. “At Art And About Africa, we find it really important — now more than ever — to be highly receptive and invest the majority of our efforts into transforming, for the better, the radical economic situation that is rapidly changing our society.”

Khachatourian, a gallery owner with quite an experience, specialing in promotion of artists in Africa, noted that as global lockdown spreads, affecting the world economy, the African communities are more vulnerable, specifically, in the areas of rising cost of living. Art and artists, she warned, cannot be insulated from the global reality.

“As the platform which aims to provide as much information on contemporary art from the African continent as possible, we decided to launch #ArtEssentialNeed, the Emergency Grants,” Khachatourian announced. “Art in all its forms such as music, movies, visuals, and much more, has been helping us all during our time in quarantine.” She asked: “But, Who is helping the Artist?” Khachatourian explained that with contribution, in exchange for the publication and the artworks, it is possible to empower artists using their art to sustain them now as well as endure into the future.


Winning work from Art Jameel Commissions: Digital will be selected by what the organisers described as “an esteemed jury.” The process goes through the summer period, with the work to be launched and exhibited online for at least six months from 2020-21. List of jury includes: Nadim Samman, Curator for the Digital Sphere at KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin; Finnish word, living media and sound artist Jenna Sutela; Ben Vickers, publisher and Chief Technology Officer at the Serpentine Galleries, London; and members of Art Jameel’s curatorial team.

Antonia Carver, Director at Art Jameel Centre, Dubai, UAE, explained the focus of the competition: “Today’s announcement reflects both a continuation of Art Jameel’s longstanding interest in supporting practitioners to make new works, often for the public realm, and an inherent innovation in approach.” Carver, a former director at Art Dubai, said the commission also encourages artists to challenge existing concepts of digital art, the impact of our daily online lives and the temporal nature of the human experience.”

Apart from the monetary prize for Art Jameel Commissions: Digital, a “dedicated production budget” is included to be promoted online for the project. “The winner will also receive curatorial support, during the production process and launch, with technical mentorship as well as support in collaboration with MIT J-WEL.” The prize winning work, according to the details, “will enter the collection of Art Jameel.”


Listed among the goals of the Art And About Africa project is “to show to the artists’ communities that we care about them and we got their backs so that they can continue producing art, the same art that has always been so essential in our lives.” Also, the project hopes for a deep involvement from all people, a collective call to action for Art: To Artists – to speak out and re-think the role of Art against the alienating effects of Covid-19, presenting words and works to be collected in the e-Book.

The conveners appealed to everyone for contribution by buying the eBook, so that proceeds raised can help the artists to continue creating art today. Going forward, a physical exhibition has been planned for the project after the global situation improves for business friendly activities. The date and venue of the exhibition will be decided ahead.


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