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Artwork Removed from Gallery

Emily Meredith / 23 March 2009

DUBAI - When Art Dubai opened on Thursday, a collage from California-born artist Ala Ebtekar hung on an inside wall of Dubai-based gallery The Third Line. When the festival closed at 6pm on Saturday, concerns over cultural sensitivity had resulted in the
work’s removal.

Ebtekar’s acrylic and ink images of weaponry and Al Buraq, the horse in Islamic tradition, overlay annotated pages from a prayer book.

Just before 2pm, Art Dubai co-founder Ben Floyd and Bader Alansari, an events director at Madinat Jumeirah who works closely with Art Dubai organisers, visited The Third Line Gallery’s booth where the workwas displayed.

After several minutes of debating concerns that stemmed from use of the prayer book pages, the work was taken down. Alansari said there was no formal complaint made to prompt the removal.  Floyd said the decision was made by the gallery.

“Gallery owners know what are the cultural sensitivities in this region and they respect them as they do in any country,” he said.

All the artists at The Third Line are from the Middle East or have their roots in the region, according to Tarane Ali Khan, the gallery employee in charge of public relations and media.

The artists who make references to Islam typically do it “in a tasteful yet humorous way, if any,” said Khan.

Khan said the gallery tries to be sensitive when its materials may reach a wider audience, such as when it sends press releases or prints look books, while still being true to the artists’ work. “We go through the content and we make sure it goes with the show.”

The UAE does have laws on publication. Imported publications undergo a vetting process to ensure images that may cause offence, such as ones depicting nudity, are blacked out before the magazine reaches the wider market.

Earlier this month, the Emirati International Festival of Literature received international attention when Canadian author Margaret Atwood pulled out of the festival believing that a Geraldine Bedelle novel featuring a homosexual was banned.

The literature festival organisers said they had declined to debut the novel at the festival but said that it had notbeen banned.


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