x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Dubai’s beautification art project to bring happiness

Dubai is soon going to be made pretty under a city-wide public art project. Therapists who use art as a healing device laud the move, saying that colourful paintings help boost the mood and create a warm and inviting atmosphere.

Wilma Burton, Healing Art Artist. Mona Al-Marzooqi/ The National
Wilma Burton, Healing Art Artist. Mona Al-Marzooqi/ The National

This year, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, signed off on a decision that will benefit the emirate’s artists as well as its residents and visitors.

A citywide beautification project focusing on public art is under way in Dubai, which will expose people to cultural, vibrant and scenic images and installations.

“It is a win-win situation,” says ­Wilma Burton, a Venezuelan healing-art artist based in Abu Dhabi. “The initiative supports the arts and, at the same time, exposes the public to what is attractive and pleasing to the eye.”

Art for everyone

According to the proponents of the healing-art movement, driving through a tunnel splashed with cool colours such as blue and green can produce a calming effect, while paintings with red and violet flowers showcased at, say, a metro station, can boost energy levels. And cultural references in art can reinforce and promote local heritage.

Burton says beautification of the city through art will promote a positive vibe and create a favourable mood among residents. “Even for people who do not have the time or cannot afford to go to a museum or exhibition to see a painting, they’ll be able to enjoy this.”

There is plenty of research that validates the effects of art on the viewer and forms a strong basis to support its display in public places.

The Dh184-million plan in Dubai begins with converting six metro stations into art galleries and to brighten bridges and underpasses with murals – all by next year.

Artists across the country have also been invited to create installations, sculptures and street art to be placed at popular spots across the emirate.

A new trend in the UAE

Public art in stations, parks, hospitals and places of business dates back to the 18th century and several works have become the mainstay in many countries in Europe and the United States.

Burton says she has had her paintings converted into banners and put up in the streets of California, when she was living there. But the trend has only just begun in the UAE.

Burton began researching the effect of art – the various colours and motifs used – on people after her experience at a US hospital whose walls were painted with vibrant scenery. “I was suffering from a medical issue 10 years ago and went through a lot of tests. I remember spending a lot of time in the hospital, which was intimidating. But there was a mural on the ceiling that transported my mind and instead of concentrating on the machines around me, I stared at the painted bougainvillaeas and sky. It took away a lot of the stress.”

Soothing influence

Experiencing an altered state of mind through art in hospital settings has been proven in previous studies. The authors Roger S Ulrich and Laura Gilpin in 2003 concluded, after reviewing past research on “healing art”, that art interventions are often positive distractions for patients. In 2008, a team at the University of Bari in Italy confirmed a link between exposure to a pleasant environment and pain management. And a study on the effect of visual art on waiting behaviour in a hospital’s emergency department between 2009 and 2010 by Upali Nanda, the director of research at American Art Resources, found a decrease in out-of-seat behaviour, front-desk queries and general restlessness. This was attributed to creating a positive distraction by the use of nature images that cause a calming effect.

Burton says she tries to use images from nature, something that people associate with goodness. “I often use butterflies because everyone can identify with the symbolism. It comes from an ugly cocoon but turns into something beautiful. Such images are reinforcements, especially for patients going through chemo.

“For encouragement during hardships, a rainbow works as a symbol and a tiger or lion represented in an image can be a sign of strength. And some of my paintings are more whimsical, because I’d like it to appeal to the child in you,” says the artist, who served on the board of the American Cancer Society.

The shape of healing

The Lebanese artist Abeer Ayash creates pieces for organisations with the guidelines of vibrational art, where colours and compositions are channelled to create a desired ambience in a public space. “For that I use the science of biogeometry – the use of numbers and shapes – to change the energy field. I use that to balance the paintings, geometrically,” says the artist, who moved to the UAE in 2001.

She claims that being surrounded by technology and wireless wavelengths conflicts with our well-­being. “Our body is an electro-magnetic space and the outer wavelengths can affect our immune system, mood and hormones.”

A well-thought-out balanced painting can avert such harmful effects. “A piece balanced with bio­geometry cancels out the negative interfering effects and boosts energy.”

Ayash, who began vibrational art four years ago, has painted specific pieces for residential buildings and companies after assessing the premises. “I study the architecture of the place and come up with themes. For one, I came up with sea, land and sky for harmony. I incorporated biogeometry symbols with certain colour compositions,” says Ayash, who runs Rainbow Vortex, a healing-art centre at The Third Eye in Dubai.

In the pink of health

Similarly, Ayash says, a recovery room should have paintings with pink, green and violet, whereas a place of creativity will need to have colours such as orange, red and yellow – hues associated with vibrancy and intellectual stimulation.

Rana El-Eid, the founder of Azur Spa in Dubai, has purchased one such painting from Ayash for the reception area and believes it has affected her business. “You just feel that people are more relaxed now,” says El-Eid. “And I’ve noticed a stronger but less chaotic flow of people in the area as well.”

aahmed@thenational.ae