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Artists work on a wall at the O1NE in Beirut. Plans are underway to open a branch in Abu Dhabi. Courtesy Sky Management
Artists work on a wall at the O1NE in Beirut. Plans are underway to open a branch in Abu Dhabi. Courtesy Sky Management

Sky planning to launch O1NE in Abu Dhabi

A new Beirut nightclub features what could possibly be the world's largest, privately owned canvas - all covered in graffiti. The exciting part? A similar space is opening in Abu Dhabi.

Graffiti is gaining traction in the region, so much so that a huge nightclub brand is turning its latest space into an artistic landmark.

The Beirut nightclub O1NE, owned by Sky Management and due to open in December, promises to "take clubbing to a whole new level". But what's more interesting is its facade, which features what could possibly be the world?s largest, privately owned canvas: a 2,500-square-metre wall covered in graffiti, created by 16 artists from the Netherlands, Brazil, Italy, Venezuela, Germany and the UK.

"Graffiti is a rising trend in the world," says a statement by Sky Management, which also owns Sky Bar in Beirut. "It's increasingly seen as art and as a method of communication."

The company says it intends to inject itself into the local, contemporary art scene. But the fact that none of the 16 artists featured are from Lebanon has been met with criticism from some artists.

"Such a big work was done on our land, inside our capital, without letting us even know about it," says a local graffiti crew that requested anonymity.

Others are just glad to see such a large-scale art project in Beirut.

"Although I would have loved to see local artists participating in a project where paint and material are abundant, the artists chosen have a lot of experience in the field, so I understand," says Yazan Halwani, a 20-year-old artist gaining recognition for his work in Arabic calligraphy and portraiture.

The UAE might soon get its own graffiti-covered nightclub. Sky Management plans to open a branch of O1NE in Abu Dhabi next year. But it is unknown whether it will feature any of the UAE?s talented artists.

Commercial street art is not a new phenomenon in Lebanon. The brand Ashekman Street Art, formed by the twin brothers Omar and Mohamed Kabbani, has developed since 2001 from a hip-hop group to a clothing company.

"I don't agree with people saying that graffiti is commercialised," says Mohamed. "For Ashekman, graffiti is a passion and since we are a self-made crew, we took graffiti into another level and we currently run a street art/graffiti/design studio. But that doesn?t interfere with us tagging a wall almost every Sunday."

In 2011, the German-based company From Here to Fame - which specialises in hip-hop and street-art books - published Arabic Graffiti. In it, the Lebanese typographer Pascal Zoghbi and the German publisher Don Karl looked at the evolution of street art in the region.

"The criticism is always that street art should always be underground," says Zoghbi, "that we shouldn?t know anything about the artist. But it's not about that. If anything, all that is happening here for street art is a credit to Beirut."

This year sees the publication of an extended version of the book - an extra chapter about graffiti produced during the recent Arab uprisings and an update on graffiti in Bahrain. From Here to Fame is also releasing the book Walls of Freedom, which focuses on the street art from the Egyptian revolution.

artslife@thenational.ae

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