x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Dubai beautifies JBR with some local creativity

Thirty artists have been commissioned by Dubai Culture to create installations for the public in JBR.

The artists Ayesha Al Saeed, 24, left, and her friend Alia Abdulla, 26, work on an installation on the JBR Walk in Dubai. Christopher Pike / The National
The artists Ayesha Al Saeed, 24, left, and her friend Alia Abdulla, 26, work on an installation on the JBR Walk in Dubai. Christopher Pike / The National

Multiple pairs of black eyes are peering down from behind a giant purple mashrabiya screen, neon yellow Arabic lettering is flashing from inside a plastic speech bubble and on the floor, large wooden lettering spells out the words "Free Your Mind". This is not the middle of a new gallery; this is The Walk on Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR), Dubai's most popular promenade.

The art, which is temporarily populating the 1.7-kilometre strip, is part of an annual project by Dubai Culture & Arts Authority to bring art into the public arena.

The authority commissioned 30 artists to transform the staircases, benches and plant pots in the public areas of JBR under the theme The City is Your Canvas. The idea was to allow artists from different disciplines to explore their creativity.

A liberating process

Aside from the larger installations, which were unveiled to the public at the end of January, other artists will be creating "live art" throughout the month, making this an interactive, community project. From the multicoloured stairs to a Tetris-like brick decoration and a plant pot that resembles a jar of Nutella, the area is now a treasure trove for art lovers.

Khalid Abdulwahid, the manager of visual arts for Dubai Culture, was enjoying the spectacle and taking pictures on his smartphone of artists at work. "It makes me really happy to see this," he beamed. "This is not just about showcasing the talent we have here in Dubai but it is amazing to see how people think and the way they interpret each of the objects we have here on The Walk. It is interesting and exciting to see the things they create."

Amal Almarri, who co-founded Xpoze, an "ideas factory", newly formed by nine Emirati girls who want to support the "art ecosystem", said the project was about "freeing art from being trapped by gallery walls". Almarri added that collaborating with Dubai Culture for this event was helping Xpoze achieve its aim of making art accessible to everyone.

Art for art's sake

"The best thing about this project is that we were allowed complete creative latitude," said Elise Vazelakis, the American installation artist who constructed the purple mashrabiya entitled Mashraffiti.

"It also integrates me into the arts scene and allows me to meet other artists. I come from LA where outdoor art is very prevalent and I am thrilled to be part of the first steps to bring about this kind of trend in the UAE," she continued.

Hanan Al Fardan, a 22-year-old Emirati who is just completing her MBA, said she loved the project because there were so few restrictions, and the diversity of the UAE could be captured.

Ayesha Al Saaed, a full-time mother and housewife who was painting the UAE's native animals on large plant pots with accompanying folkloric rhymes, said she was enjoying it because it was something so different from the norm.

"I think we should all be allowed to exercise our creativity," she said. "All of us are artists when we are children, it is only adulthood that stops that process."

Past events

The Dubai Outdoor Art Project is now in its fourth edition. It began in March 2010 when Dubai Culture selected 10 Emirati artists whose works were displayed on billboards across the city. It continued in May last year, with 12 artists' work decorating the hoardings of Executive Towers in Business Bay, and in November, 11 pieces of art were placed on traffic light-control boxes near the airport.

Abdulwahid said that this fourth event was indicative of the city's "evolving artistic landscape" and that he hoped the concept would "usher in a new era of outdoor art, stimulating dialogue and an exchange of ideas".

The City is Your Canvas runs until February 20 on The Walk, JBR, Dubai

aseaman@thenational.ae