In the open-air core of Dubai’s famed Gate Building, a first-of-its kind exhibition in the Middle East has been unveiled by Italian luxury house Bulgari. Titled The Bulgari Serpenti 75 Years Of Infinite Tales, the exhibition has found its new home in the heart of the emirate’s bustling financial district after traveling across cities including Milan, London, Madrid, Shanghai, and New York, opening its doors to the UAE public from September 15 through September 24.
“Dubai is a success story for Bulgari in terms of creative desire, and it’s booming. The UAE, Saudi Arabia… this whole region is really on fire, and to be in DIFC [the Dubai International Financial Centre] is amazing because it’s the first time that a brand is exhibiting here,” says Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin who is no stranger to the city’s cultural landscape. In addition to being a much sought-after brand in the UAE, Bulgari has partnered with Art Dubai and with Expo 2020 Dubai on a range of initiatives in recent years. There is also the Bulgari Resort & Residences in Jumeirah Bay, a key property in the company’s luxury hospitality collection since 2017. While the resort would have perhaps been a more obvious location for the Serpenti exhibition, Babin points out that this would have been a missed opportunity to further enmesh Bulgari in the local fashion and art scene. “We wanted to pay tribute to Dubai architecture and Dubai landmarks,” he explains.
The exhibition itself recognizes the 75th anniversary of Serpenti as one of the most recognizable symbols not just for the luxury house, but in the world of jewelry as a whole. To celebrate, Bulgari has launched the Serpenti Factory, an artistic initiative centered around the snake as an endless source of inspiration and an indelible part of the company’s heritage. The allure of the motif dates back to the era of Cleopatra, beguiling artists, writers, and poets alike across continents and centuries. For Bulgari, it has also been integral to the brand’s success, and to its ability to evolve in a way that honors its Roman DNA while integrating modern artistic and digital influences.
That evolution is what the exhibition aims to put on display, showing a selection of Serpenti creations from past and present alongside the work of Emirati artists who have offered their interpretations of the emblem. Inside the glowing cube-like structure at the entrance of DIFC’s Gate Village, visitors will walk through rooms with plush orange carpets and textured gilded panels upon which imagery and information about the Serpenti collection’s rich history are featured. Emblazoned on one wall are the words of poet Dr Afra Atiq which pay homage to the idea of continuity, focusing on the shedding of snakeskin as a metaphor for personal growth and self-discovery. In the next room, a series of works are on view by the artist and designer Dr Azra Khamissa who used natural henna juxtaposed with UAE landscapes to signify the resilience of bedouins who, like the serpent, have adapted to survive in harsh conditions for generations. There is also a sculpture by jewelry designer and artist Azza Al Qubaisi which uses sheets of earthy steel to capture the elegance of the serpent’s movement and the sandy dunes of its environment. The piece was made not just to be observed from all angles but to be used as a frame. Visitors can even run their fingers over its lines and grooves.
“As an artist who started off creating wearable art, for me, it was important to create art [for this exhibition] that engages with the body or the human form,” Al Qubaisi says. “I’ve always been connected to the desert in my work and that’s where the serpent basically thrives, so I wanted to create something that brings the serenity and the balance of cold and hot, of embracing — because that’s how I feel when I’m in the desert, I feel embraced; hugged by the sand dunes. I wanted something with all those layers.”
Further into the exhibition is an entire room dedicated to an immersive multimedia installation by the award-winning, Turkish-American artist Refik Anadol who has been collaborating with Bulgari in a number of cities for this project, using artificial intelligence resulting from algorithms trained with 200 million images of nature. When asked about the potential for AI to disrupt the luxury market, Babin was quick to point out that it already has. Buglari has been integrating digital contemporary art into its most innovative offerings since at least 2022 when it launched its thinnest watch to date, the Octo Finissimo Ultra, giving wearers exclusive access to a digital artwork inspired by the timepiece via a QR code engraved on the barrel. The company has also been using AI to optimize its supply chain so that what is made available in store best reflects consumer demand. “We know that with AI, with digital means, we can really [break] boundaries,” Babin explains. That includes how Bulgari makes and engages with art, be that something worn, something carried, something hung on a wall, or something moving across a screen. “Our clients who love art are fascinated by what digital can bring to it in terms of diversity.”
To further Bulgari’s mission to support and cultivate artistic communities around the globe through exhibitions like The Bulgari Serpenti 75 Years Of Ignite Tales, Babin and his team are in the process of establishing a foundation with a physical space in its hometown of Rome. That space is set to open sometime next year so that all of the pieces made to support Bulgari’s artistic initiatives over the past decade, like those of Dr Atiq, Dr Khamissa, and Al Qubaisi, can be seen and celebrated in a single place. This means that even though Serpenti will be on display for just ten days in Dubai, local contributions to the exhibition will forever be part of the company’s own infinite tale.
“The foundation’s role [will be] to make sure that this information always survives,” Babin says. “It’s a way to solidify a guarantee for the future that everything which is being done by all the artists will stay forever in the memory of Bulgari.”