Across the Sea

Across the Sea

Renowned for its splendor and luxury, arrogantly displaying its wealth and success in a World in crisis. Many were those waiting for Dubai to crash, many are those distilling the idea that Dubai has been built on a fragile fake ground, a city rising on moving sands.

The sky-reaching Emirate paid the harsh price of the Global Economic collapse. Corporate was until now King in its Kingdom. But for the last few months, the winds have been turning in the entire UAE, and Dubai appears to be back on the frontline. The long-asleep art realm is waking too, and the coronation happened a few days ago in Paris, where Dubai won the Expo 2020.

The impact of the win is huge, resonating throughout the region. At least that’s how we perceived it. Landing in Abu Dhabi we couldn’t avoid noticing the forest of advertising banners asking us to “Be part of it”.

But as usual it was a much smaller and discrete art lordship that we were hoping to find there:  Urban culture.

Warmly welcomed by Shahnaz tearing her hair out, waiting for us to find our way in this massive city of mushrooming buildings. We would later apologize by setting supper, in a genuinely French way.

Melchior made the dog sing alongside him on the piano, in this little part of French Provence house: we were home.

DIFC is a famous district in Downtown Dubai. Built around a huge Arch from where you can admire a London Big Ben replica, the name stands for Dubai International Financial Centre. Within this ‘suits and pinstripes’ den lies a tiny block where big artistic names have settled. Galleries showcasing their flocks.

Time to head toward Tashkeel. We’d been recommended to take a look at the place, and it was worth it. Not easy to find, Tashkeel is unique in Dubai. “An independent resource for artists and designers living and working in the United Arab Emirates” is how it defines itself. The place provides a huge amount of equipment for all kinds of arts. A dark room, printing presses, latest computers, fully stocked library and so on. The center is every artist’s dream come true.

Jill, a British native Manager, took us from one room to the next, as Melchior’s stared wide-eyed. Outside in the garden, we were astonished to discover a skatepark, with a half-pipe and even a bowl.

“Kids come here every night after school”, Jill said. Next to the skateboard area, we ran into some graffs. This place was definitely what we were looking for.

Our tour was a rhythmic one – accompanied by the loud noise of a typing hammer. Jill introduced us to Spanish native Ruben Sanchez. A famous graffer at that precise moment, preparing for his exhibition, that was scheduled to take place the following week. Ruben was kind enough to tell us a little bit about his journey, and how he got here, talking while building his art piece made of half a car he found in Sharjah. Tashkeel offers a residency program for talented artists and before Ruben, the very well known “calligraffer” el Seed, also took part in it.

Artists, art lovers, kids and their elders, all cohabit in order to exchange and benefit from each other’s talent.

Back to DIFC where we had a meeting with an artist we met in Bahrain. The Emirati photographer Ammar Al Attar took us for lunch in the district that he knows very well. Ammar also works with Tashkeel and is represented by Cuadro, one of the DIFC gallery top players. After “Prayer Room” that we had seen in Bahrain, he told us a little bit about his next project.

Always a pleasure to hear about Ammar’s work which remains a long organized process. He manages to share his passion for his art and allows one to reach his own intimacy. And we take pride in counting him as a friend.

If DIFC is a major player in Dubai’s artistic world, Alserkal Avenue would be considered as the “outsider” district, yet unavoidable.

Welcomed by a graff on a wall we were on the right track. Situated in an industrial area in al Qoz, nearly 20 galleries are represented. “A hub for arts & creativity”, that’s the motto. Belgian, Syrian, French, Emirati… Alserkal welcomes gallerists from all over the World. We visited a few of them including Ayyam Gallery from Damascus, Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde from Belgium, la Galerie Nationale from France, and not  forgetting, the nice welcome from Gulf Photo Plus.

Because we are French (and proud to be), we attended a superb exhibition thrown by the Alliance Française in Dubai. Together with Kobo, an online art gallery, the Alliance was promoting 9 artists under a powerful theme “Visions of Women”.

The woman’s identity is strong in the Gulf region, and it’s not the first time that the Alliance Française in Dubai has focused on this topic.  A few years ago, it gathered artists for an exhibition called “Regards de Femmes”. One of the artists was a British native woman called Steffi Bow. When she came to Dubai 6 years ago, she didn’t know how to graff. Nowadays she and her husband, Sya, are known throughout the Dubai street art scene, as the Bow couple.

They were looking for a house with a big wall on which they could perform their artpieces. The wall is “moving”. “Take a picture if you want, because next week it will be different” she told me laughing.

We first met her at the Adidas party where she was focused on her piece. Actually we did bother her, as she was intensely watching over our shoulders inspecting what her “students” for the evening where doing: she was giving a workshop. Just enough time to exchange contacts and arrange a meeting later on.

Adidas was throwing a party: breakdance, graff, stencil, DJs. and here, even a guy cycling through the mob… the whole night was dedicated to the urban scene.

In the parking lot, which was the setting for the party, artists were mixing with the public. The night’s climax happened when Adam Shero Baluch started to sing for a highly motivated crowd.

Dubai has been surprising, filled with passionate encounters and even managed to break some of the stereotypes.

Sure we’ll have to get across the sea again…


Steffi & Sya Bow are also part of a collective: Deep Crates Cartel

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