x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

A thriving oasis of creativity and calm

Cult shop It's been called "an oasis of calm" and Dubai's "best-kept secret". Walking into XVA Gallery in Bastakiya, it's easy to see why.

Mona Hauser's XVA Gallery showcases contemporary art and design pieces in an Arabian setting.
Mona Hauser's XVA Gallery showcases contemporary art and design pieces in an Arabian setting.

This gem of a gallery, coffee house, shop and boutique hotel - all rolled into one thriving centre of creativity with a sophisticated yet relaxed atmosphere - is like something you'd find in New York or Barcelona, and it even comes with a branch of the chic S*uce boutique attached.

"I walk by here every day and I have to avert my eyes, which is so hard to do as everything is tempting and fun," explains XVA's owner and curator, Mona Hauser, adding that the colourful shop, which sells a fun mixture of ethnic-style clothing, funky ornaments and regionally made fashion accessories as well as postcards, posters and household paraphernalia, is different from the two other S*uce shops in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. "The theme here is a bit like a candy store," she explains

It's a fitting addition to XVA, which, with its own unique character, was a pioneer in the art-design movement that has taken hold in Dubai. Not for nothing did Condé Nast Traveller name XVA the number one place not to miss when visiting. The reason being that, while oozing up-to-the-minute cool, it has also retained its Arab roots - a fact due to its setting as much as its contents. Formerly the home of the Siddiqui family for more than 100 years, it is now Hauser's pride and joy. An American who came here in 2003, she - helped by a government plan to restore it - has kept the original structure and design of the building intact. "The first day I arrived in Dubai and saw this building I immediately thought, 'This is where I want to start a gallery' but back then it was still a ruin."

With success, though, it has grown, taking over part of the next-door building, where a gallery now hosts the work of Mahmoud Hamadini the Iranian artist. A coffee shop is set in the original open-air courtyard at the heart of XVA, where an old tree stretches its gnarled branches towards the linen-hung roof and a mixture of Arab and Western ambient music lulls you. Around the edges of the square are wooden doors so small you have to bend your head to enter. They lead turn to rooms showing contemporary art and design pieces, another room - Hauser's own little shop - selling design pieces and some clothing, and the tiny hotel reception with eight rooms above it, all of which are designed in traditional Arabian style.

Along with other galleries in the area, XVA will host Al Bastakiya Art Fair, which begins tomorrow. 04 353 5383; www.xva.com