Desert and Ice: Uae’s Newest Contemporary Art Venue

Kalba Ice Factory, 2023. Photo by Shanavas Jamaluddin 

Another landmark of the rapidly developing Middle Eastern art scene will soon become open to the public. The Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF) has completed the planned transformation of an abandoned 20,000 square-meter former fish feed mill that was subsequently used to store ice into art spaces with social amenities. Located in the town of Kalba on the Gulf of Oman, The Ice Factory was acquired by SAF in 2015 and has since served as the site for SAF events, including Mohau Modisakeng’s Sharjah Biennial 14 performance Land of Zanj (2019) and Adrián Villar Rojas's Planetarium for Sharjah Biennial 12 (2015).

The industrial site, with a distinctive saw-tooth shaped roof and an open concrete frame, was adapted by the Lima-based architecture studio 51-1 Arquitectos into a cultural centre for Kalba. The Director of Sharjah Art Foundation Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi stated that she is committed to "preserving the industrial rawness of the factory space and protecting the unique ecosystem of the surrounding landscape.’ Indeed, the factory building’s original high windows and light-filled expanses surrounded by the natural beauty of Kalba creek and Al Qurm reserve already make it an envy-worthy locale for largescale installations and performances. The 51-1 Arquitectos thus employed a minimum level of intervention to retain the spatial qualities of ‘an industrial ruin’.

On top of that, the Kalba Ice Factory is located in an extremely biodiverse area of the Sharjah Emirate that is home to species including the endangered Arabian-Collard Kingfisher, the Blandford’s lizard and endangered hawksbill and green turtles, which nest on the nearby beach.

Apart from the existing structure of the Ice Factory repurposed into a 200 square-meter workshop space for artists, the complex will feature a restaurant with views of the shoreline and mangroves and an edible garden dedicated to dining, cooking, playing and prayer.

The Kalba Ice Factory will open to the public on 8 February 2023 as a venue for the 15th edition of the Sharjah Biennial, featuring work by Rebecca Belmore,
Ibrahim Mahama, Pak Khawateen Painting Club, Doris Salcedo, Abdulrahim Salem, Kahurangiariki Smith, Inuuteq Storch and Nari Ward.