Championing Middle Eastern art on the international stage has always been at the heart of Egor Sharay’s efforts in the field. The media personality wears multiple hats, serving as an editor, journalist as well as an art and culture consultant in Dubai over the last 14 years. His work in the field has earned him a Golden Visa, bestowed upon him by Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (DCAA).
In the last decade alone, Egor provides his expertise through art consulting and drumming up creative cultural strategies for media channels. And it all comes down to his philosophy, which is, art and culture are a means to enhance cross-cultural dialogue and foster socio-economic change.
Egor also regularly writes reviews and articles for magazines and catalogues on Middle Eastern and Central Asian art and culture. He is a well-reputed speaker and moderator on digital media and new communication tools throughout the Middle East, Eastern Europe and CIS.
How long have you lived in Dubai and what can you say about the growth of the city in terms of art and culture?
I have witnessed the successful implementation of the Dubai government’s strategy of building a creative economy and society by living here for almost 15 years. After writing about art in the Middle East for over a decade and directing and supporting different cultural initiates and art fairs, I have a lot to say about this creative field in the UAE. Whether it’s bringing world-class exhibitions to life or managing the programming behind the scenes, all these efforts have brought Dubai to a completely different level. Over the last few years, creative individuals, art experts and galleries have come together to stimulate innovation in real sectors of the economy, leaving behind an amazing social imprint by enhancing knowledge and fostering cultural exchange. All these factors anticipate the future in the UAE, as we say, “next 50 years”. Why 50? Last year, the United Arab Emirates celebrated its Golden Jubilee. Highlighting the achievements of the nation from the last 50 years, the main focus was on the plans and ideas for the next five decades. And art clusters, cultural society and the creative economy will play an even bigger role in the future as catalysts for sustainable economic growth, driving innovation in the UAE. On this occasion, a line of new initiatives by the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority was approved by the Government, which will definitely contribute to advancing Dubai’s creative scene and achieving a positive economic and social impact.
Could you please name some of them?
‘The Dubai Framework for Cultural Statistics’ is one of the most important initiatives that sets a comprehensive, local statistical framework and classification of the domains and activities of the creative economy in the emirate in accordance with international standards. This is an example of the support that art and culture received from the government. Another example is The Dubai Collection, which is a recent initiative launched by DCAA and supports the vision for the future of culture in Dubai. The Dubai Collection is the first institutional art collection in the city and for the city. Those 80+ art pieces and artefacts from the Dubai Collection were carefully selected and bought from different auctions and fairs for over 20 years. The quality and level of those arts are exceptional. Like France has its national collection from the Louvre and like Russia has its Hermitage collection, now Dubai has its very own art treasury.
What are your favourite art galleries? Any hidden spots we should know about?
Did you know that there are more galleries in Dubai than in any other city in the MENA region? One of the latest additions to Dubai’s cultural scene is Galloire Art Gallery. Dubai’s galleries play a big role in the local and regional art scenes, sadly, this is often overlooked. Originally Russian, I was born in Uzbekistan, where my great grandparents came from St. Petersburg following the Russian Emperor’s decree to establish the first University in Central Asia. So, Andakulova Gallery in DIFC is very close to my heart as it presents exhibitions from artists hailing from the Central Asian region.
Dubai’s art history has been accomplished through its galleries, which predate non-profit exhibition sites, such as the Jameel Arts Centre and Alserkal Avenue Foundation’s pop-up spaces.
There is also a lot to see at the Etihad Museum. The Dubai Collection exhibition I mentioned earlier, for example, can be found here. The first initiative of its kind, Dubai Collection features the works from the private collection of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai. If you recall, the Louvre and Hermitage collections were also established by the emperors and rulers at that time, you will understand the importance of the Dubai Collection established today.
What is the last exhibition you attended and what artworks stole your heart?
In February 2022, I visited the official opening of the physical space of Galloire Art at City Walk, Dubai. Founded in 2021, this contemporary art gallery was a digital platform representing emerging and famous artists, such as Daniel Canogar, Addie Wagenknecht, Xavi Sole Mora and Anne Spalter. These artists are pioneers in their field, working at the forefront of digital art and its intersection with traditional art. Galloire Art simply reflects these beliefs as it connects the digital and physical extensions of our life.
What do you like the most about the Dubai art scene? What do you think is missing?
Over the next few years, I can clearly see the UAE becoming the region’s biggest cultural hub and one of the world’s most preferred destinations with Dubai hosting an entire eco-system of art, with artists residencies, special commissions and dedicated studios. Last year, the Dubai government launched Al Quoz Creative Zone, a new hub for creative businesses, including those involved in the visual arts, cinema, music and cultural heritage. These initiatives align with HH Sheikh Mohammed’s vision to transform the emirate of Dubai into an international destination for creativity and the capital of the creative economy by 2025.
There was a missing point in the creative community. The visa system in the UAE previously limited the freedom of artists, musicians, poets, content creators, etc., in terms of being sponsored by the company they worked for. It is clear that not every creative individual can afford to open their own company or studio and be self-sponsored. But all this changed in 2019, when the first cultural visa in the world, a golden visa system was implemented. This move seeks to maximise the participation of creators, writers and artists in the emirate’s knowledge-based fields and raise the role of Dubai’s cultural and creative sectors in its development process.
The creative economy is very important for the vision of the country, what is your opinion on that?
I have participated in many cultural projects in Dubai lately, like the Ballet and Orchestra performances on the stage of Dubai Opera, art gallery openings, creating new content and supporting artists and creative individuals to reach the media and build up their name on the market. All these projects belong to the creative economy and all of them generate money, workplaces and ideas for further development. The Dubai Creative Economy Strategy aims to double the contribution of the creative industries to the GDP of Dubai from 2.6 per cent in 2020 to 5 per cent by 2025. The creative economy contributes just over 6.1% to the global gross domestic product (GDP), averaging between 2% and 7% of national GDPs around the world. According to UN estimates, the creative economy industries generate annual revenues of $2.25 trillion and account for 30 million jobs worldwide. In 2021, the Dubai government launched the Dubai Creative Economy Strategy with the aim of transforming the emirate into a preferred destination for creativity from across the world and capital of the creative economy by 2025, in order to achieve our vision for a future economy based on knowledge and innovation.
Are you excited about Art Dubai? Any galleries you are looking out for? Any favourite artists?
100 galleries from 44 countries! This year’s edition of Art Dubai will be the most extensive edition of the fair to date. People here are very interested in the global art scene and not just in the Middle Eastern region. Art Dubai has become one of the world’s most globalised art fairs and played a significant role in introducing art patrons from the Middle East. Did you know that Art Dubai typically brings in AED120 million to the city, and 45% of galleries’ annual sales depend on the business they do during the week of Art Dubai? This year, Art Dubai Digital – a new section – will feature a curated selection of 17 top international galleries and platforms. And one of the many things I’m looking forward to is that this year’s fair will bring the most famous Russian speaking artists from different CIS countries, including Russia, Georgia, Kazakhstan. Featured on the programme is Aspan Gallery (Almaty), Gallery Artbeat (Tbilisi) and Window Project (Moscow). You can explore the effects of technological advancements on our lives and the environment with an interactive installation by Marina Fedorova or see the most exciting and innovative artists working in the digital space today, such as Uta Bekaia and Denis Davydov.