Think Dubai and its futuristic skyscrapers and luxurious shopping outlets might be the first image that comes to mind. However, there&rsquos so much more to discover in Dubai, especially for travellers with a creative mind. From art hubs and galleries, to the dynamic design district and a thriving calendar of fairs&mdashDubai&rsquos booming art scene can be described as a seamless blend of art, technology and culture.
Dubai has a thriving alternative art scene that flourishes in the many arty neighbourhoods that dot the city.
As you circle the historical Al Fahidi neighbourhood near Dubai Creek, keep your eyes peeled for a sign that takes you into the heart of Dubai&rsquos burgeoning art spot&mdashthe XVA Art Hotel, which houses the famous XVA Gallery. After crossing the labyrinth-like alleys, you enter the one-of-a-kind art space that facilitates conversations on art, culture, heritage, and contemporary ideas.
At the XVA Gallery, we visited a group exhibition called &ldquoNo Mask Required,&rdquo meant to be an in-depth study of the face and challenge the idea of a portrait. Encompassing Europe and the Middle East, the display included select works from artists like Al Braithwaite, Halim Al Karim, Sabhan Adam, and Jonathan Gent. We met the Syrian-Armenian Dubai-based artist Raghd Coussa, who showed us some of his powerful artworks depicting human heads etched in charcoal and pencil.
&ldquoIn the past 15 years, the art scene in Dubai has grown significantly,&rdquo he said. &ldquoMore galleries are showcasing works of Arabic and Middle Eastern contemporary artists. Places like Tabari Artspace and Barjeel Art Foundation showcase the best artwork in the region.&rdquo
A Safe Space
Next, we headed over to Alserkal Avenue&mdasha vibrant community that covers over 500,000 sqft. of Dubai&rsquos Al Quoz industrial area. Home to over 70 art galleries, visual and performing arts organisations, designers, home-grown and entrepreneur-led businesses, and community spaces, this inspiring art destination flourishes inside a cluster of warehouses once part of a manufacturing compound.
&ldquoIt&rsquos a concept space and the region&rsquos foremost destination for contemporary art, welcoming all kinds of artists and performers,&rdquo said Reshma Mehra, the Deputy Director of Alserkal. &ldquoAlong with our year-long activities, we also host the Quoz Arts Fest, the Middle East&rsquos biggest annual arts and culture festival for creative enthusiasts worldwide.&rdquo
At Alserkal Avenue&rsquos A3 Warehouse, the Ishara Art Foundation is an exclusive non-profit art space in the UAE dedicated to contemporary South Asian art.
&ldquoWe are a non-profit organisation founded in 2019 by Smita Prabhakar, an Indian entrepreneur, collector, and art patron who has been based in the UAE for over four decades,&rdquo said Sabih Ahmed, Director of the Ishara Art Foundation. &ldquoWe believe that art is a form of collective thinking. Apart from supporting emerging artists, we facilitate exchange between international artistic networks that include museums, foundations, institutions, galleries, and individuals.&rdquo
Art For All
The Jameel Arts Centre (JAC) on the Jaddaf Waterfront, overlooking Dubai Creek, is a must-visit. JAC is the first independent contemporary art institution in Dubai.
Adjacent to the sculpture park, the 10,000 sqm art complex was opened in November 2018 and plays a vital role in encouraging art appreciation among the public. The Jameel Arts Center has three floors of gallery spaces, an open-access research centre and library, and a rooftop terrace designed for installations, film screenings and events. It consists of seven sustainable, open-air gardens inspired by seven desert biomes Namib, Socotra, Chihuahuan, Australian, Silk Floss, Arabian, and Spiny Woodlands. The library at this complex is especially popular among artists, researchers, and curious minds.
Among the many architectural wonders of Dubai, the latest addition is the Mohammed Bin Rashid Library (MBRL), which opened to the public in June 2022. A special project close to HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum&rsquos heart, the total built area of the space is over 54,000 sqm. The building structure resembles the shape of a rehl (a traditional wooden book rest used to hold the Holy Quran).
It is equipped with modern facilities like artificial intelligence, an automated warehouse, an electronic retrieval system, self-service booths, a book digitisation lab, and augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) tools.
Currently, the library houses more than one million paper, digital, and audiobooks in more than ten languages, over six million dissertations from 60 countries, more than 72,000 music scores and 57,000 videos, and over 9,000 historical journals (both print and digital), within an archive spanning over 325 years, informs Jamal Shehhi, Member of the Board of Directors at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Library.
He mentions, &ldquoThe sources here greatly contribute to supporting the country&rsquos comprehensive strategy in the fields of culture and knowledge, and enriching the intellectual and creative scene in the Arab world, in line with the UAE&rsquos vision to prepare for the future.&rdquo
Considered the lighthouse of knowledge in UAE&rsquos ever-changing landscape, the library is a haven for book lovers. It comprises of nine libraries (General, Emirates, Young Adults, Children, Private Collections, Maps and Atlases, Media and Arts, Business and Periodical) and an information centre. The &ldquotreasures of the library&rdquo is a fascinating collection of rare and old books and atlases, including the star atlas, a marine atlas, an atlas of horses and falcons, manuscripts, and ancient documents.
The bright city lights and patterned laser shows are an artistic treat for any onlooker. But for a truly immersive experience, watch the La Perle Show by art director Franco Dragone at V Hotel, Habtoor. The Ode to Dubai will take your breath away with impressive artistic performances, imagery, technology, and special effects. Presented by the Al Habtoor Group, the show is a milestone for live entertainment in Dubai and features aerial and aqua stunts like free falls and dives from a height of 25 meters.
Infinity Des Lumieres in the Dubai Mall was yet another unforgettable experience on our itinerary. Here the wonders of art and innovation come together like nowhere else. Fifty-eight speakers and 130 laser video projectors transform the space with impactful graphic and digital technology. The digital art shows are presented in collaboration with Culturespaces to bring a world-renowned concept to the Middle East.
Dubai Design District
The uber cool D3 a.k.a. the Dubai Design District is the region&rsquos hub for design, fashion, and culture. This 11-building complex has avant-garde design hubs, boutique brand studios, trendy fashion stores, art galleries, co-working spaces and upscale cafes at the prime Ras Al Khor Road.
It stands out with a street art, murals, and installation artwork spread across the premises. It&rsquos the go-to venue for the most famous cultural and design events, such as Dubai Design Week, Sole DXB and Arab Fashion Week.
You&rsquoll also find the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (DIDI) here, a renowned university in the region known for shaping creative thinkers, designers, and innovators.