Sunny Rahbar is of Iranian origin and was raised in Dubai, UAE. Rahbar graduated from Parsons Schools of Design in 2000 and worked at the Guggenheim Museum, New York before moving to London where she worked at Sotheby’s on the contemporary decorative art sale. She moved back to New York in 2001 where she was involved with the launch of eyestorm.com’s New York gallery space. At the end of 2001, Rahbar returned to Dubai and worked independently with young and emerging artists. She was involved with numerous private and public art projects with a determined goal to foster a platform for the promotion of a rising generation of artists in the region. In 2003, she took up the position of resident curator at Five Green, known as the first creative lifestyle showroom in the UAE, and curated several exhibitions. Rahbar decided to move one step further and provide a concrete foundation to the ideology that she had worked towards. In 2005, with her two partners Claudia Cellini and HE Omar Gobash, she co-founded The Third Line in Dubai – a contemporary art gallery focused on building an internationally recognized platform for artists relevant to the Middle East region. Rahbar and her partners also expanded into non-commercial endeavors, art advisory programming as well as publications, having produced several artist books to date. Most recently, Rahbar partnered with Rajat Malhotra to form Sun/Ra - a creative artistic enterprise – and is currently – and is currently collaborating on a curated exhibitions programme with On Stellar Rays gallery in New York.
Sunny your greatest inspirations and influences?
I have always been inspired by individuals who have stood up in the face of adversity, to push through against all odds, and to stand by what they believe, even in the darkest moments.
I do know that it's the reason i continue to do the work that I do.
I chose to defend the artists that I work with, to defend their work, and to stand beside them, I do believe it takes courage to devote your life to your art. It's not an easy path and most artists are not recognised for their work until much later in their lives, and some not even in their lifetime. It may not seem like the most relevant profession to many, but I do firmly believe that artists are telling a truth, our truths as they encounter it. I don't know many other professions that do this day in and day out.
Most interesting exhibition or installation at Third Line so far?
There have been quite a few that I have loved along the way, but I think the first times will always stand out to me; for example the first time we showed a video installation in the gallery, was possibly the first time that had happened in a gallery context in the gulf, that was Laleh Khorramian's show in 2008.
Another show was the first time we showed just one large wall installation which was Farhad Moshiri's work, a knife installation with the word "thank you" / "shukran" in Arabic.
Another show that always stands out is Abbas Akhavan's solo in 2012 when he created a replica of the coastline of Dubai in Faux gold leaf, on the gallery wall, and we sold parts of the wall as you would sell real estate, and prices were set as such too, the more we sold the more expensive the next pieces would cost. At the time a very timely work that reflected what was currently happening in Dubai and its real estate market.
Most interesting response so far?
I think any reaction is a good reaction, and the worst is indifference, then I feel something has failed, either in the work or in the viewer. But failure is always a good starting point.
How does the art world differ in Dubai than in other parts of the world?
It’s perhaps a microcosm version of the art world at large and comes with its share of the good, the bad and the ugly.
With increased globalization, and a lot of regional exchange, you see familiar faces in Dubai all the time. With 10 years in to full time programming, and the rise of many other commercial and non-commercial art spaces and publications, the Dubai art scene is still in its early stages. It is grows and shrinks like an organism and lot of people – writers, artists, curators – fly in and out all the time to add to it. However, it’s not as transient as it used to be, which is great. But it still has years to go before it truly begins to mature.
Sunny you were one of the first people to put Dubai in the map for the art world, what were some of the big challenges you faced doing so?
We started without there being any reference and framework of a similar model in the UAE. We were working with building blocks and a lot of mistakes taught us some lifelong lessons. But most all, the challenges allowed us to push for multifarious solutions – that perhaps are not standard at all for a young commercial set up anywhere. We had to start by building an audience and awareness, before anything – we weren’t programming to sell like a shop. While the selling was a necessary aspect to sustain The Third Line, we wanted to build something much bigger than that. We wanted to present that platform where the makers and the audience could converge, converse and connect.
Once The Third Line had some footing, we started getting involved in fairs and biennales and that allowed us to take Dubai and UAE to the world. It came with a lot of its own challenges, and most of the initial years were spent battling stereotypes. But then we knew what we were getting into – and it wasn’t a traditional model ever to begin with. It’s been a lot of hard work, and we still face new challenges every day, but we’ve definitely come a long way since the initial days, and we’ve enjoyed every step of the way.
Anything else you would like to share or any upcoming projects/exhibitions we should know about?
We're still breaking in to the new gallery space at Alserkal Avenue, after having opened it in January of 2016. We've had an exciting line-up of exhibitions - Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Youssef Nabil, Hassan Hajjaj, Sara Naim and Huda Lutfi. We just opened a show by photographer Farah Al Qasimi, and initiated our alternative programming, where we invited WTD Magazine - a Dubai based architecture and design publication - to programme a series of performative conversations. The idea is to return to more such experimental and alternative, ground roots programming, where we work closely with local thinkers, makers and doers. We have great plans ahead – expand our bookstore and work on our library, and then open the Fall season with shows by Slavs and Tatars and Hayv Kaharaman. We also have a book project in the pipeline and simultaneously working on art fairs – you’ll see us at Frieze London and Abu Dhabi Art in October.
Meanwhile, coming up much sooner are two shows that we are very excited about – Rana Begum at Parasol unit ( Just opened), London in June and Sophia Al Maria at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York in July.
There’s this and so much more.