x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Inside aerosol artists Sya and Bow’s canvas for the community

Sya and Bow are aerosol artists whose home is an open studio for the entire graffiti and street art community

Sya, left, and Bow stand against the wall in their home that' sopen to all artists. Jaime Puebla / The National
Sya, left, and Bow stand against the wall in their home that' sopen to all artists. Jaime Puebla / The National

Within the monochromatic tones of Dubai’s Jumeirah Village Triangle, where the cookie-cutter houses evade variation, there is one house where colour reigns.

In the back garden, with an open entry from the street, is a 35-metre wooden wall that serves as an open studio for anyone who wants to use it.

Welcome to the home of Sya and Bow, two British aerosol artists for whom graffiti writing and street art is a way of life.

Preferring only to be called by their graffiti monikers, Sya, a sign writer by trade, moved to Dubai eight years ago to work on exhibitions and events. In London he was a prolific graffiti writer, the technical term for an artist who is mostly concerned with letters and words and whose sole aim with painting is to impress other writers. It was only natural that he should continue his passion when he moved to Dubai.

Bow picked up her name from the borough of East London, where she was born, and her decision to make London “prettier” by painting pink bows in as many places as she could manage in memory of her late grandmother. She moved to Dubai six years ago and works at Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) insuring satellites and space rockets.

Sya and Bow met at Dubai Festival City where, until two years ago, there was a dedicated graffiti wall to serve the street-art community.

Sya tells an endearing story of seeing a woman pulling up in the car park with a number of bags overflowing with all the wrong painting equipment for a very small picture of a bow. The pair married a year later.

“He took me under his wing,” says Bow. “Over the past three years he has taught me how to paint properly.”

When the authorities closed down the Festival City wall, Sya – whose name stands for superb young artist, after a teacher predicted that is what he would be – and Bow had to find other places to paint. That’s when they looked closer to home.

“The sole reason we moved here was it had the biggest garden we could find and we had space to build the wall,” says Bow.

“Now the wall is probably more well known to people outside of Dubai than we are,” says Sya, explaining that whenever a street artist or graffiti writer comes into Dubai, they usually get in touch to ask if they can use the wall.

The wall has also cemented the duo’s name on the local art scene. Most Fridays they have an open house for artists to paint and often they have impromptu gatherings for the street-art community. The art on the wall changes regularly, so every few weeks it is bears completely different colours and images.

“Our neighbours live next door to an open-air gallery,” says Bow. “And most of them really appreciate it.”

The pair’s efforts have led to several commissions, including brand ambassador jobs for Adidas, Nokia and Perrier. It has also helped them advance their own practices.

“One of the best things about graffiti and street art is that it is all about progression,” says Bow. “No matter how long you have been doing it for, you never stop learning or improving your skills.”

“For me, it is a release like any other hobby,” says Sya. “I am interested in the construction of letters and how they are built as well as how to mix and match colours. We don’t paint it to last, we paint to be seen and appreciated by our peers. That is the main difference between graffiti and conventional art.”

Although individual pieces may not last or be hung on gallery walls, the pair are making their mark on the city – which for them is the most important thing.

Follow Sya and Bow on Tumblr at syabow.tumblr.com

aseaman@thenational.ae