Mohammad Al Shehhi, CEO of A.R.M. Holding, talks about the company’s collaboration with Art Dubai and his future ambition to promote Dubai as a centre for art appreciation. 

Tell us more about A.R.M. Holding’s partnership with Art Dubai. What draws A.R.M. Holding to engage in Dubai’s art scene?
We are delighted to be the lead partner of the leading international art fair in the Middle East. For both A.R.M. Holding and Art Dubai, the underlying goal is of empowering our respective communities. Our values are closely aligned, and that makes it so easy to collaborate.

Could you give us a brief overview of this year’s workshops and their goals?
I’m delighted that we could build on the success of the first-ever A.R.M. Holding Children’s Programme, connecting with even more young people across the Emirates. Thousands of UAE school children have had a unique opportunity to grow and develop their interest and understanding of the arts. We had the privilege to provide access to an impressive roster of international artists, with one artist, in particular, I must name. We are so glad to have chosen Cyrus Kabiru to produce the programme, theme and activities – and even design the workshop. His gift of repurposing everyday objects, to create art, is being used to inspire young minds and alter our perspectives.

For 2022, the programme will expand through in-classroom workshops taking place after the fair. UAE schools are invited to provide opportunities for children to grow and develop their interest and understanding of the arts. The activities will be available to over 5,000 children across 80 schools – more than doubling the number of kids involved in 2021.

Can you tell us more about A.R.M. Holding’s Art Collection?
The A.R.M. Holding Art Collection is a unique and singular collection and we hope will be a model in the landscape of corporate art collecting in the UAE. Last year, a number of works from the A.R.M. Holding Art Collection were lent into the Dubai Collection, making A.R.M. Holding the first corporate Patron of the initiative.

Featuring some of the most prominent names in Middle Eastern and international contemporary art, the collection highlights the company’s ethos of building communities as well as being an enabler of multicultural dialogue and innovation. It is a key element within the company’s wider commitment to supporting art and culture in the UAE. It was created to document the history of the city and narrate its cultural identity. We are fully committed to seeing Dubai become an unrivalled destination for art and culture – and the vibrancy of our Art Collection is an integral piece of that steady evolution.

What kind of response have you received for this year’s art fair?
The 2022 edition of Art Dubai has been captivating and engaging. Just a short time after being heavily impacted by the global pandemic, it truly felt like we were back – but even more vibrant than before. I think the past few years have given people a deeper appreciation for art and creativity. We all see things differently now, with a more mindful approach to colour, texture and nuance.

Then there’s the brand-new digital element to the fair. Despite digital art existing since the 1980s, the NFT component is still very nascent, and people are incredibly curious about how it will impact the so-called ‘traditional’ art scene. I suppose only time will tell!

What new features can visitors expect to see in this edition?
Well, let’s start with Art Dubai Digital, which I have already mentioned. It’s a completely new gallery section that will highlight a number of international platforms that work in the digital space. These are somewhat contemporary galleries with projects linked to new media and digital art. We also welcomed e-commerce sites and organisations that are turning existing physical art into NFTs.

How important is it to support new talent from the region and beyond? Could you name some rising stars in this field and their strengths?
It is very difficult to highlight anyone when there is so much talent on display. Art, as you know, is very subjective! With that said, our “Speculative Links” exhibition presented select works from Warehouse 421 and the Salama Bint Hamdan Emerging Artist Fellowship (SEAF). Through painting, textile, video, and photography, the selection reflects a collective questioning of memory to place, time, and a sense of rhythm and repetition.

What is your vision for the future?
Well, we do not wish to grow for the sake of growth. We will be somewhat responsive to trends and discoveries in the art world in the coming years, and continue to champion Dubai as a hub for art appreciation. We are also thrilled at the prospect of seeing the A.R.M. Holding Children’s Programme reach even more school kids across the UAE – showing them what is truly possible with art.