UAE arts festival features Israeli works for first time
Curator Sharon Toval brings together works representing Israeli mosaic of identities
Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.
When Rakfaf, the Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival, opened Friday night in Dubai, it included its first collection of Israeli artworks, “Longing Be-longing: On Post-Orientalist Influences in Contemporary Israeli Art,” curated by Sharon Toval from Tel Aviv.
Rakfaf is a community arts festival that showcases the work of local and emerging artists, displaying the works of more than 150 artists from 45 countries in this year’s festival, February 4 through March 31.
Israel’s participation this year happened thanks to the Abraham Accords, said Toval, and through the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research that funds the event.
“The sheikh visited Israel before the agreements,” said Toval, who is currently in Dubai for the festival.
With this year’s festival focused on a mosaic of identities, Toval wanted to present Israel through artworks that show its mixed society, particularly those that can be connected to the Emirates’ Arab identity.
“I wanted to find what we have in common, that was my starting point,” said Toval.
The artists’ works being showcased include the work of a female Druze artist, as well as a documentary photographer who took portraits of Bedouin sheikhs in the Negev over the course of three years.
“They just fell on their faces when they saw it,” said Toval. “They picture Israel as this high-tech place where everything is new and shiny. So it was important for me to show things as they really are.”
Other artists represented at Rakfaf include the video works of Dafna Shalom as well as artist and actor Raida Adon, whose works focus on her own yearning for Palestine and which have been shown at the Israel Museum.
One of the Israeli works includes audio from prayers at a Moroccan synagogue in Israel, the sounds of which are both familiar and odd to the locals, said Toval.
For Toval, born in France and raised in Israel — and who is the curator for the Isrotel Hotels chain and manages The Lab Art space TLV — being in the Emirates has offered surprises as well.
“People are so surprised to hear that I’m from an Algerian background,” said Toval, whose parents are Algerian Jews. “I tell them that I grew up French and Israeli and suddenly someone identifies me according to my parents’ roots — and it’s so weird! But it’s a place to start making contact and to find common ground.”