Art Dubai, the leading international art fair in the Middle East/North Africa/South Asia launches its eighth edition on Wednesday March 19. Now a major player in the region’s art community, it welcomed 25,000 visitors last year and looks let to grow on the 75 galleries from 30 countries  again this time around.

Running from March 19-22 at Madinat Jumeriah, it offers live performances as and projects as well as the traditional stand-and-stare galleries.

We’ve compiled your definitive guide below, complete with interviews with major players, and hints and tips on ‘art speak’ and getting the most of the four-day festival.

First things first. Has it been a while since you last set foot in an art gallery? Take a quick refresher course to learn the lingo

Conceptual: If you walk into a gallery and find a single light bulb dangling from the ceiling, the chances are the artist was influenced by conceptualism. This arts movement prioritises the artist’s inner process over the final piece produced. There was actually a lot of thought that went into that light bulb’s placement

Commissioned work: This is a piece of art produced by an artist at the request of a patron or institution. Commissioned work is often an artist’s dream because it means they are getting paid to create what they love.

Modern: Don’t mix this up with contemporary. Modern technically refers to art produced between the 1860s and 1970s, although this is sometimes debated in the art world. In Middle Eastern art, modern usually describes work produced from the 1940s onwards.

Contemporary: Contemporary is the new modern. This category pertains to art produced recently that is current and fresh.

Antonia Carver, Art DubaiAntonia Carver, Art Dubai fair director

What are you most excited to see at Art Dubai this year? It’s almost impossible to choose just one thing. We have a few new developments at the fair this year, and seeing Art Dubai Modern come to life will be particularly exciting. It will feature 11 solo and two artist exhibitions of rare masterpieces from the 1940s to the 1990s, and is something quite unique.

What else is new this year? We’ve really stepped up our public programming this year. There are talks, tours, book launches and children’s workshops happening on the hour and half hour, all day, every day.

What advice do you have for Art Dubai newbies? There is something for everyone. Art Dubai is the most diverse and most accessible of art fairs. The works for sale range from under Dhs1,000 to more than Dhs3 million, while the not-for-profit programme features more than 12 specially commissioned artists’ projects. For the latter, the artists are asked to create works that are interactive, that draw in audiences, so they are a great place to start.

Sama Alshaibi, Art DubaiSama Alshaibi, artist. Originally from Iraq, Sama is associate professor of photography/video art at The University of Arizona. Her work often uses the female body to ask questions of nationhood and can be found at the Ayyam Gallery’s booth at Art Dubai.

What work you will show at Art Dubai this year? I will be showing four large-scale photographic works from my project Silsila (‘chain’ in Arabic). It is an on-going project that incorporates photography, video/object hybrids, etching on glass embedded into light boxes, wood sculptural elements, sound and sand.

Silsila features images of the desert and the oasis. What does that mean in your work? Not much grows in the desert. It is a space that recycles upon itself, reforming itself, and repeating itself. It is very easy to lose one’s way. To survive in the desert, respect and mindfulness is paramount. That is the backdrop of much of my work.

Kamrooz Aram, Art DubaiKamrooz Aram, artist. Winner of the 2014 Abraaj Group Art Prize, the Iranian painter is represented by Dubai’s Green Art Gallery.

Did winning the Abraaj Group Art Prize give you the freedom to take risks? I like to think that I take a risk with each new project, otherwise the studio would be a very dull place, only concerned with production and not discovery. That said, I did try things that I would not have been able to on my own budget. The results are very exciting for me.

What’s the vibe at art events in Dubai? In my experience with openings in Dubai, they tend to be a little more chilled out than New York. People actually want to talk to you about the work and they ask a lot of questions.

What’s it like seeing your work at Art Dubai? I don’t like to be around my work, especially when someone is talking about it. I prefer to have conversations about my work directly with the viewer, not overhear them at a fair.

Ramin Salsali, Art DubaiRamin Salsali, collector. Ramin Salsali has collected art since the age of 21. His space, the Salsali Private Museum, is the region’s first private museum and brings his extensive collection and commissioned works to the public.

Whose work and which galleries are you most looking forward to seeing at Art Dubai this year? In the Art Dubai exhibition spaces: Gazan artist Hazem Harb at the Athr Gallery’s booth and Gil Hector and Sara Rahbar at Dubai-based Carbon 12.

What are you doing at your own space? We’re presenting a solo show by Iranian artist Amir Hossein Zanjani, which will include a commissioned installation made up of 700 pieces depicting the individual faces of soldiers from around the world.

Have you ever been intimidated by the art world? No one should ever feel any hesitation when it comes to art. All questions are allowed and any comment is welcome.

What does the Dubai art community need to do in order to get more people interested in the scene? I believe art galleries in Dubai must unify forces to bring art to the people rather than expecting the people to come to them. The collectors need to take on the responsibility of guiding the public to the galleries and wider art scene.

This giant exhibition hall features galleries from around the world. Come face to face with an original red-dotted Yayoi Kusama painting at Victoria Miro and admire pop culture photographs of Cairo billboards by Lucien Samaha at Lombard Freid Gallery. Everything is for sale here (don’t be afraid to ask for pricing information), although some of the prices may make you want to lie down.

Cinema Opera (Cairo Billboards), Lucien Samaha
Infinity Nets, Yayoi Kusama

Cinema Opera (Cairo Billboards), Lucien Samaha Infinity Nets, Yayoi Kusama

Take a step back in time and visit the Modern zone, a new programme devoted to Middle Eastern and South Asian modern art from the 20th century. In this section each gallery presents one or two influential artists. Be sure to check out Dubai-based Lawrie Shabibi’s booth to spend time with 1970’s work by Lebanese powerhouse Nabil Nahas. It’s extraordinary how current his geometric abstracts still feel today.

Untitled, Nabil Nahas

Untitled, Nabil Nahas

Each year at Art Dubai, Marker focuses on a distinct geographical area or theme. This year pays homage to Central Asia and the Caucuses and is curated by Slavs And Taters, a collective of artists who call home anywhere east of the former Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China. They’re admired for their unexpected, playful and clever take on the world. The space will present a variety of works from sculpture to drawing and will also host an education programme.

Left: A Woman With A Pie, Hsar Gassiev. Right: Yeni Aqavanin Dogulmasi (The Birth of the Artichoke), Tahir  Salahov

Left: A Woman With A Pie, Hsar Gassiev. Right: Yeni Aqavanin Dogulmasi (The Birth of the Artichoke), Tahir  Salahov

Abraaj Group Art Prize
Arguably the most prestigious art honour in the Middle East, the Abraaj Group Art Prize is awarded annually to five artists who submit proposals to create unprecedented works of art to be unveiled at Art Dubai. Nada Raza curates this year’s exhibition.

Untitled (Angelus Novus), Kamrooz Aram

PS No car? No problem. Hop on the ArtBus and travel between Art Dubai, DIFC, Al Fahidi and Al Quoz. The exterior of the bus, run by Art In The City, is designed by UAE artists Afra Bin Dhaher, Mark Ganzon (known as Cloud88) and Hala Makhlouf, who have left special mementoes inside the bus for passengers to discover. Dhs50. Tel: (04) 3417303.

Art bus, Art Dubai

March 19 to 22
Art Dubai, Madinat Jumeirah, Al Sufouh Road, Dubai, Dhs50.

March 19, 1pm to 4pm
Art Dubai ladies preview

March 19, 4pm to 9.30pm
Opening night (invitation only)

March 20, 4pm to 9.30pm
Art Dubai Programme and Gallery Halls

March 21, 2pm to 9.30pm
Art Dubai Programme and Gallery Halls

March 22, Noon to 6.30pm
Art Dubai Programme and Gallery Halls

Word by Dana Lorch