x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Embracing the art of hair extensions and caviar

It's probably not a prudent decision to let two bored teenagers loose in an art exhibition.

An exhibition in the Bastakiya district of Bur Dubai drew a lot of interest from art lovers, although two students were less impressed.
An exhibition in the Bastakiya district of Bur Dubai drew a lot of interest from art lovers, although two students were less impressed.

In an attempt to increase our exposure to creative material, a friend and I headed to the Bastakiya Quarter in Dubai, where an art exhibition was being held. We were particularly excited as the works of my former art teacher, Nivi, were on display. Dad was more than happy to give us a ride and tag along. He was feeling very smug about not losing his way or taking a wrong turn once when the turrets of the Quarter came into view, but finding a place to park proved rather more difficult and we spent a half an hour looking for a space in the crowded marketplace.

Thirty minutes of my friend Jen and I chattering away at the top of our voices and the honking of cars finally became too much for Dad to bear, however, and he dropped us off at the Quarter and said he would return later. With a strained "Say hi to Nivi", he drove away. Liberation at last. It's probably not a prudent decision to let two bored teenagers loose in an art exhibition. The first sight that greeted us was rows and rows of stalls decked with works by university students and Dubai artists. We began our artistic journey by taking turns to flick a large canvas with our pinkies. It depicted a traditionally attired Arab man with his camel, beautifully done in coloured sand. The plan was to see whether the sand had been glued to the canvas properly.

We never managed to get any sand off, but someone wandered by and noisily cleared his throat, which we assumed was our cue to leave the scene. We hadn't entered any of the quaint houses to see the actual exhibitions yet, but we figured it would do us good to pay a brief visit to the food area. A table draped in white was creaking under tall glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice. We had a glass each in the vain hope that, coupled with our chins held high and the confidence with which we sipped something as off-puttingly no-sugar-added as sour orange juice, we might pass as someone important.

When a waitress came by we picked up something that looked like mini-pies. We were told that they were filled with Lebanese feta cheese, caviar and grapes. I will admit that I have never tried caviar before, and happily seized the opportunity. I have no desire to try it again in the future. Realising almost an hour into the evening that we still hadn't fulfilled our original purpose - seeking creative inspiration - we hastily wandered into the little houses that held works of artists.

It was very entertaining shouting "ooh, a spider" or "look at that little mouse" at odd intervals when we were passing through some of the darker, more sinister alleys of the Bastakiya Quarter, and scaring the daylights out of Jen. When we finally reached the softly lit gallery, we found our former teacher in the midst of a mob of artists and interested viewers, congratulating her and bombarding her with questions.

It was a very different experience from my tours of other major galleries like the Tate or the Louvre, where although there are opportunities to appreciate great works or art, it is far less personal. I was standing by gazing at the Mutations series: Do Puppets Breathe? when Jen tugged at my arm and said: "I heard that. Look at all those colours!" I was surprised at Jen's ability to analyse art until I realised that she was pointing at Nivi's different-coloured hair extensions.

People were scribbling away furiously on notepads and photographers clicking away, so we were feeling a bit like misfits. We decided to quietly slip away, when Nivi noticed us and called out a cheery "Hello there, lemmings!" She came over to chat and introduced us to another artist, Darwin. After much pouting and posing for the cameras, we reluctantly called it a day and swaggered off. Jen has decided that Nivi's hair extensions have inspired her to create a work called Does Hair Breathe? for her GCSE art coursework. I wish her luck. She'll need it.

Lavanya Malhotra is a 14-year-old student in Dubai.