Founded in 2015, Warehouse421 is a home-grown arts and design center located in Mina Zayed, Abu Dhabi. A centre for learning and research, they have a collaborative approach and are committed to supporting emerging talent from the UAE, Middle East, and South Asia.
It is an educational space with a wide range of learning opportunities that will equally engage children, students, educators, artists, and creative professionals to develop their practices and inspire innovation.
The robust program includes hosting and curating exhibitions, presenting and contextualizing local and regional research, and examining cultural practices in an anti-disciplinary space.
Faisal Al Hassan is the Head of Warehouse421 and brings with him over 17 years of experience in cultural production. He oversees the programs, operations, and the overall strategy of Warehouse421.
I sat down with Al Hassan for more insights on Warehouse421 and their post-pandemic plans.
Saira Malik (S.M.): How would you describe Warehouse421?
Faisal Al Hassan (F.H.): Warehouse421 is a creative centre located in Mina Zayed, Abu Dhabi, and is dedicated to supporting, fostering, and nurturing emerging creative practitioners. It is meant for those individuals who want to access art and harness it as an agent for inquiry, education, and growth.
Inaugurated in 2015, Warehouse421 grew into a space that nurtures our own world-class talent, where emerging creative practitioners can develop as curators, artists, designers, writers, musicians or performers across disciplines, while exploring their creative identity in their communities and unpacking the potential of public space as a vehicle for progress.
Warehouse421 sees the creative process as a lens for observation, questioning, critique, and interpreting life. It is a practice of risk-taking, sharing, thinking, reflecting, dialogue, and understanding. Putting education at the forefront of culture, it champions the acquisition of knowledge and aims to support the next generation of deep thinkers, researchers, and practitioners who are engaged with the country and the region.
S.M.: Warehouse421 did not stop working even during closures due to COVID-19. Tell us about the new launches during that time?
F.H.: At the core of what we do at Warehouse421, we are committed to supporting emerging talent in the region, and we are always looking for ways to ensure the sustainability of the creative practices that make up our ecosystem. During the pandemic, Warehouse421 launched multiple relief programs:
Warehouse421 Project Revival Fund which was launched to alleviate disruption affecting creative production in the MENASA region. Thirty successful applicants received the fund.
With the challenges posed last year by the Covid-19 pandemic, Warehouse421 reimagined the residency program structure with the Warehouse421 Homebound Residency Program that enabled practitioners to work on their practices within familiar spaces, broaden the scope of community engagement, while also enjoying the offerings of a residency program: training, mentorship, and resource allocation.
The Warehouse421 Summer Program: Home Edition that offered a variety of “takeout workshops” and “digital talks” bringing a design-focused summer to aspiring creatives and art enthusiasts in the UAE whilst ensuring a safe environment during the challenging times.
S.M.: What is the Capacity Building Program and can you talk about the various open-call residencies that fall under it?
F.H.: The Capacity Building Programs are one of the most exciting initiatives that Warehouse421 has. It basically evolved from insight that we gathered through focus groups and studying the response to Warehouse421’s public programs. Our Capacity Building Programs involve various initiatives that are intended to support creative practitioners and professionals from within the MENASA region who demonstrate a commitment to their chosen field.
The Capacity Building Programs include Design Research Commons, Developmental Exhibitions Programs, Warehouse421 Artist Residency, and Warehouse421 Artistic Research Grant.
Our open-calls for the year 2021 comprise of the Artistic Research Grant, the Curatorial Development Exhibition program in collaboration with the Bombay Institute for Critical Analysis and Research (BICAR), Warehouse421 Artistic Development Exhibition program in collaboration with The Institute for Emerging Art, Warehouse421 Homebound Residency program, and the Internship and Mentorship program. Each plays an important role in supporting the creative ecosystem in the MENASA region.
S.M.: These open-calls are in partnership with various cultural institutions such as the Bombay Institute for Critical Analysis and Research (BICAR) and The Institute for Emerging Art. What role do they play and how were these partnerships forged?
F.H.: Through our partnerships with institutions from the UAE and the region at large, we aim to enhance the experiences of creative practitioners and provide them with multiple learning opportunities.
Some examples of the long-standing partners are; Gulf Photo Plus and Cinema Akil.
Additionally, such partnerships contribute to expanding our access to the largest number of creative practitioners and giving them access to nurturing their talents and supporting their projects and how they evolve.
S.M.: What are some of the landmark achievements of Warehouse421 in these last four years?
F.H.: Seeing artists grow and flourish in their career with the support of Warehouse421, a great example is an artist like Hashel Al Lamki, who had one of his early exhibitions as part of “Community and Critique”, and in early 2020 he opened his first major solo exhibition “The Cup and the Saucer,“ curated by Munira Al Sayegh, the exhibition explored the notions of unity, separation, and individualism, and collectivism.
Talin Hazbar is another example who has been part of the Warehouse421 community from day one and has exhibited multiple times at the Warehouse421. Talin exhibited her work in the “Bayn” exhibition in partnership with U.A.E. Unlimited and also was part of the “Community and Critique” exhibition. She also showcased her work in a solo research-based exhibition “Structures of Impermanence” at the Warehouse421 courtyard.
These are the accomplishments we like to focus on, seeing growth in what we do and in the artists and creative practitioners we are trying to help and support.
S.M.: Are there any other exciting new plans for Warehouse421 that we can look forward to?
F.H.: Aside from the Open Calls, we are currently showing “Total Landscaping” curated by Murtaza Vali, which is part of the “Substructures: Excavating the Everyday” series. The exhibition presents and showcases nine artists’ work as they explore the role of landscape in Gulf urbanism and how plant life is commonly understood, encountered, represented, and consumed in the Gulf.
We are currently planning for our next exhibition “As We Gaze Upon Her,” which will open in September, resulting from our pilot edition of the Curatorial Development Exhibition Program in partnership with Bombay Institute for Critical Analysis and Research (BICAR), this exhibition is a milestone in the research of Banat Collective.
We are also launching our Summer program which will focus on design and includes exciting events and activities including Summer Club for Children and young adults and of course different workshops, studio visits, artists talks, Dukkan421 talk series and podcast series.
Words: Saira Malik
Images: Courtesy of Warehouse421