x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

With lines and shapes, graphic artists offer a look at Dubai

Created by a group of artists who live in the city, the Dubai Graphic Encyclopedia takes account of their hometown through everything from mosques to fast-food signs and Emirates Airline planes.

Mosque silhouettes from the book. Courtesy Brussels Sprout
Mosque silhouettes from the book. Courtesy Brussels Sprout

How do you get a sense of a city such as Dubai? That's the premise behind publishing and design outfit Brussels Sprout's smart-looking new tome.

From palm trees to SUVs, and fast-food logos to the traditional Emirati Yolla - the visual knit of the city has been catalogued, anthropology-style, in a new book called Dubai Graphic Encyclopedia.

Compiling hundreds of its own photographs, Brussels Sprout has converted these images into graphical silhouettes. The team have previously published three issues of their own curatorial magazine, each edition a dizzying mass of imagery, art and diagrams related to the city they call home, but this is their first book.

This is not merely intended for the coffee table, however, say architect Ignacio Gomez and economist Blanca Lopez-Serentill - the founders of Brussels Sprout. They hope the encyclopaedia can become a resource for designers in the city, along with the CD provided in the sleeve, which contains all of the vectors they've created.

"We've been living here for five years and we find that there's a lot of gaps in the documentation of what's happened and happening in Dubai," says Gomez. "You don't find usable graphical content on Google for this city, so the encyclopaedia is about creating something for the community that they can take away and do things with."

Although the book has only been out for a few months, the duo has already given magazines permission to use the graphics.

The book also functions as a valuable overview of the icons that surround us every day and yet we never see isolated for aesthetic consideration.

A section of the encyclopaedia, for instance, is given over to a number of the chain restaurant and store signs that are found on the city's main streets. Reduced to shape and form, we're invited to assess the choices that have been made here - the Arabic fonts that have been used to best represent the brand. Similarly, there's an exhaustive section focused on the skyline of Dubai; like a silhouette of a skatepark, featuring raised girders, strange curves and cranes that puncture the air. The defining period in which this all materialised, Gomez reckons, has not been sufficiently documented before.

"When Darwin was trying to understand the Galapagos, they were publishing images of the things found there in a very objective, analytical way. These vectors take a similar approach.

"People misunderstand what Dubai is about, especially in the West. There's no better way to explore this than with an encyclopaedia."

The virtuosity of the publication is its strongest asset: images of every plane in the Emirates'Airline fleet are included, as are detailed illustrations of various henna patterns. Choice of material may be obvious, but this is a fair record of the images, symbols and signs that any denizen of the city is faced with every day.

Gomez says that new editions will be published each year to reflect the changing landscape of the city, and that the team are currently at work on a hefty book of 66 interviews with artists from across the region - taking Serpentine Gallery director Hans Ulrich Obrist's celebrated series as inspiration.

"We're showing cartographies," says Gomez. "We're forcing ourselves to produce high-quality graphics and content; we worked with printers here, graphic designers based here, and it's very important to produce content 100 per cent made in Dubai.

"We're kind of crazy about content," he continues. "People are talking too much about platforms - iPad, online versus print and so on. Content too often gets forgotten."

Dubai Graphic Encyclopedia is available from a number of Jashanmal book outlets across Dubai and Abu Dhabi for Dh165. Visit www.brusselssprout.org for more information