ACAP winners and curator


In October 2010, 5 winners out of 100s of entrants were singled out for what is considered the world’s most generous art award – The Abraaj Capital Art Prize.

Led by one jury-selected curator, these winners were given just five months to create and prepare their artworks (based on their initial proposals) for the opportunity they had each vied for – a final showcase of their creations at Art Dubai 2011.

So on Tuesday, the 15th of March 2011, the final and much-anticipated artworks of Hamra Abbas (Pakistan), Jananne Al-Ani (Iraq), Shezad Dawood (India/Pakistan), Nadia Kaabi-Linke (Tunisia) and Timo Nasseri (Iran) were unveiled.

Khaleejesque managed to catch up with this year’s ACAP official curator Sharmini Pereira after the launch.

KT: First off, why don’t you tell us a little about the prize.
SP: The Abraaj Capital Art Prize is a fairly new venture by private equity group Abraaj Capital, inaugurated with the intention of empowering and highlighting often under-represented, yet talented, contemporary artists from the MENASA region. The prize is unconventional in that winners are selected on the basis of their proposals, as opposed to finished works of art. The prize money ($120,000 per artist) is then distributed to the five winners, giving them the opportunity to create in reality their initial proposals, to be ready in time to be displayed at Art Dubai. The perception usually, and which isn’t actually the case, is that a huge sum of money is awarded to the winning artists, and funding for the actual production is a sum on its own.

KT: And how did you find yourself being appointed the official curator for this year’s ACAP?
SP: There’s been a change in the application procedure for ACAP from previous years. Instead of an artist and curator applying together as a single entity, this year it was decided that one curator will be in charge of all 5 winners collectively. I’ve applied three times previously, each time alongside an artist, but never managed to make it as a winning entry. This year I was invited to curate, so you can say that I was fourth time lucky.

KT: What then, is your background in the art field, to be chosen for such a significant undertaking?
SP: Well, I graduated from the University of Edinborough in the UK with a degree in History of Art. My first dabble as a curator was for an exhibition in the National Art Gallery of Sri Lanka when I was 23, even though I was still not entirely sure what curating was at the time. It was an interesting venture as this exhibit was a collection of works of artists from a Sinhala middle-class background, as opposed to the exhibits of the upper-class English speaking elite, who at the time dominated the art scene in Sri Lanka. Ever since then, I’ve always worked independently, and have managed to keep at it for the next 20-odd years. 3 years ago I set up the Raking Leaves Foundation, an organization that commissions artists to produce art projects in the form of a book, with the intention of establishing an entirely different vehicle through which art can be showcased and appreciated.

KT: What has your role as the curator entailed?
SP: My role as a curator was primarily to provide the artists with the support needed to see their artworks through, and to advise them should their ideas require refining. Most of the support from my end however, came in the form of the book I conceived for the ACAP – ‘Footnotes To A Project.’ The idea of documenting in a book format the procedure involved in the making of each artwork, stemmed from my work with the Raking Leaves Foundation. This 536-page soft-cover book is a collection of indexed black and white images, laid out in such a fashion that it documents the process by which the final artwork came about. Pictures that went into this were sent through to me by each artist for their own narrative, and not necessarily in the form of professional photo shots either. So this is where we most worked together, in the formulation of their ‘photo-stories’ into a book that was to be launched along with their artworks at Art Dubai.

KT: It must have been difficult to be involved so closely with 5 different artists, and yet to maintain a stance of neutrality – especially since they’ve each got their individual artistic personality?
SP: My job here never required me to ever be a mentor as such, but more of an over-seer. Besides, I could never get as involved, as each proposition has been severely researched by each artist, and is completely their own to claim – the very reason they won the prize I suppose. So although I was assigned to oversee, I would never get involved in the intricacies of the discussion.

KT: How has the experience been so far, for both you and the artists you’ve had to work with?
SP: It’s been extremely trying for the artists, as each work has its own set of challenges to be faced with during implementation. There was also an immense amount of pressure in completing in time for the deadline, as it wasn’t just the creation involved, but the logistics of having to have the exhibits transported as well. For at the end of the day, to these artists, it’s not just about being given the exposure of showcasing their artwork. It’s more about being provided with the support and backing to see to the finish an idea that they would never have fathomed as possible otherwise.

KT: So what has the feedback been so far, now that the final artworks have been unveiled?
SP: Over the course of the past couple of days we’ve received some incredibly positive feedback. Visitors have been able to read the work as a unified exhibit, and I’ve been told that the calibre of work by the artists bypasses previous editions of the prize. In fact, conversation was brought up on the idea of preserving these pieces in a museum once their tenure at Art Dubai is through, which in itself is quite the compliment.

Compliments well-deserved we think, as the ACAP winning artworks fall nothing short of extraordinary. If not for the numerous other exhibiting galleries and activities in store, a viewing of these five installations will in itself make your visit to Art Dubai worthwhile.

The winning entries of the Abraaj Capital Art Prize 2011 are on display at the Madinat Jumeirah during the course of Art Dubai. Admission to Art Dubai is Dhs.50, tickets for which are available at the door.

For more information on the ACAP, or for details on how to apply for next year’s edition, visit

– Shaahima Fahim

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