Saturday, 29 December 2007

Surya: From Eloquence to Dawn at DIFF

SURYABelgium/2006/Dutch, French, Turkish, Arabic, Farsi, Hindi, Nepali, Chinese, Vietnamese & Roma dialogue with English subtitles/Colour/35mm/76 mins
Director: Laurent Van Lancker (Polymor Films)

I cannot remember the last time I saw such an innovative and original piece of filmmaking. Although shown as a documentary in the Dubai Film Festival, Surya completely defies simple categorisation. It is a movie in its own right, a kind of non-fiction as fiction. It is an international odyssey, a cultural anthropological study and a humanist's dream.

Surya’s underlying concept is a children’s game where a story is created as each child adds their own part to it. The filmmakers applied this concept to an international journey in which they travelled as far as they could over land without the need for boats or planes. This epic trip began in Belgium, took nine months and ended in Vietnam taking in Slovakia, Turkey, Syria, Kurdistan, Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal Tibet and China on the way.

The film opened with a storyteller in Belgium who starts the story off. In each subsequent country the filmmakers found a well-known local storyteller and asked them to continue the tale. Each of them added their own part to it until the story was complete.

It was an amazing trip and an amazing story that unfolded as the camera moved through Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Each new part of the tale was told in the language of the storytellers and in very different styles depending on where they were. Many of the storytelling traditions were accompanied by music and in some cases the story itself was sung rather than told. Sometimes the settings were quite informal and the additions to the tale quite spontaneous. At other times the stories were given very much as normal performances to local audiences. This was a particular delight in the case of Syria, Iran and India where you felt like you had been transported to that location and were part of that audience.

As well as the narrative thread of the ongoing story there was fascinating footage of border areas and passing scenes, including extra songs and performances from people encountered en-route. The visual splendour of many locations in terms of landscape and colour, plus the palpable excitement of all those participating, added to the feeling that you too were part of something very special.

In the Q and A at the end the filmmakers said this project had been regarded as too risky to secure funding so they ended up making it largely at their own expense. Since production the response has been much better but at present the film is only showing in festivals, universities and small art house cinemas. It really should be put on general release. Not only because it's a fantastic film but also because it demonstrates that positive and innovative interpretations of what globalisation can be are still possible. It is also a welcome reminder of our common creativity and humanity, a fact not reflected in political and economic reality for some time.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Emirati Films at DIFF 2007

Emirati Voices at the Dubai International Film Festival

Altogether there were 9 short films in this section of DIFF some definitely better than others but they were all interesting in terms of what they communicated about the UAE. That said there’s a good chance that I’m reading too much into them anyway. I do have a habit of seeing things that aren’t there!

Hadiyat Eid Al milad (The Birthday Gift - Dir. Ali Jamal)
This had a quite well developed storyline revolving around a favour done for a friend and although the acting was occasionally over dramatic in Egyptian soap stylee there were some good moments. The first hospital reception scene was plausible (and funny) and some of the emotional scenes when the mother and son were in the house were also convincing. The device of reality crossing over with a novel that one of the main characters is writing was unsubtle but effective. It ensured that events conspired to raise a lot of issues… administrative incompetence, impotence, infidelity, suicide and the damaging emotional disconnection from children that a strained marital relationship can have. My biggest problem was not being convinced that the main character would have done the favour for his obviously dodgy friend in the first place!!

Houjas (Dir. Mohd. Abdullah al Hammadi)
This was creepy and disturbing and the harsh uninhabited setting and cinematography contribute to this atmosphere of impending doom very effectively. The film begins with the funeral of a man whose daughter is then left orphaned. A male and wifeless neighbour then adopts the girl under the pretext that his son and her are like brother and sister having grown up together. This opening scene creates an immediate tension. This is enhanced by the apparent inability of the son and confusing appearances of the ghost of the girl’s father to have any impact on what inevitably follows. The strange thing is that the rape (or attempted rape) scene still comes as a shock even though you are expecting it.

100 Miles (Dir. Mustafa Abbas)
This initially seemed little more than a flimsy plot upon which to hang lots of violence….. a kind of pornography approach to film making! The director did fairly claim that it is a genre film in which violence is essentially the genre but I struggled to find anything that hadn’t already been done better by others. Being the first of its kind to be home-grown doesn’t give it automatic credibility but I suppose another element to this genre is serious homage to predecessors. The best thing about it was the character of Miles who was quite compelling and he was certainly the most developed and interesting character. He also acted the role very well and the mirror scene where he is struggling with his own schizoid self rang very true once I had forced Taxi Driver out of my mind! The fact that it was an Emirati film made entirely in English with Emirati actors playing westerners doing a western genre resonated on a number of interesting levels that could possibly stretch to a thesis but … whatever!

Ramad (Ashes – Dir Hamad Al Hammadi)
According to the Director, Ashes is about discovering how all you have achieved has turned to nothing and I really, really enjoyed it! This is probably because my capacity for being a surreal, detached, philosophically troubled and visually appreciative, arty type meant that it all made instant sense to me! As the opening credits announced it was from the Reflective Art Group I relaxed into my seat and then just drifted emotionally and sensually through the whole thing. Consequently my critical faculties were temporarily suspended during this film, which is what I loved about it but that means it’s not much use as a review! Sorry!

Wajeh Alilq (Stuck Face – Dir. Manal Ali Bin Amro)
This was another creepy and disturbing film that maintained a sense of fear and confusion throughout, enhanced by the remoteness of the setting and a discordant soundtrack (or did I imagine that?). We see a girl drawing circles obsessively on a blackboard in a crumbling school building with water dripping constantly from the ceilings and down the walls. Next we see her on a beach desperately trying to remove a pot stuck to her face and finally we see her bloodied legs hanging above us. These scenes are interspersed with an older woman walking purposely through a village past doors that are slamming as she passes. It was very effective in creating tension despite the fact I had absolutely no idea what the film was about. In the Q & A at the end Manal bin Amro explained that it was about growing up with a fear of circumcision. This was a big surprise to me because the focus on this practice has been almost exclusively confined to Africa and I did not know that it was an issue across to the Gulf. I assume that it's now rare if it happens at all but would like to know.

Ana Rajul (I am a Man - Dirs. Shamma Abu Nawas and Sahar al Khatib)
This was absolutely hilarious. Essentially a documentary about hair and fashion trends among young Emirati men it provided an incisive snapshot of west-east crossovers and contradictions, modern vs traditional views and everything in between. It also introduced its audience to some fantastically eloquent and funny modern cultural commentators. Asked to comment on subjects pertinent to contemporary male fashion such as wearing pink, wearing jewellery, waxing, piercing and hair colouring, all had something to say. The discussion centred on how far it was acceptable to go before being considered unmanly or gay and opinions were as diverse and interesting and amusing as the men and women who gave them. A lot of fun!

Bain Shamsain (Between Two Suns - Dir. Rehab Omar Ateeq)
This film contrasts the lives of a blind Emirati boy and an Iraqi refugee girl with two young and very rich Emirati men. The film shows excerpts from interviews with all of its subjects juxtaposed in a way that exacerbates the massive disconnections between their lives. The Iraqi girl lost her mother and most of her siblings in a bomb attack, which left her severely burned. Her painful matter of fact articulacy about this experience and a current situation of extreme financial difficulty and disfigurement are galaxies away from the two young men. Living with blindness and how the boy deals with his situation has no relation to the lives of the men either. Their problems are finding things to fill their time, finding new places to go and finding new ways to spend the money they have never had to earn. What they say is definitely exaggerated to highlight the extreme wealth gap but it also highlights the extreme and often wilful ignorance of less fortunate lives that privilege affords. The parallel dialogue technique makes this film perhaps too black and white sometimes but it was compelling from start to finish.

Bela Qalb (Heartless -Dir. Ahmed Zain)
This is a story of bitterness, selfishness and revenge in an unhappy marriage. Each partner mercilessly exploits the third character of the woman’s simple, dependent and emotionally fragile brother. Manipulated by both, he becomes the vehicle by which they try to eliminate each other. Despite occasional flashes of anger at what he is being asked to do the brother complies, powerless to act in any independent way. Ultimately his sister’s expectation that he will do all the dirty work and be on her side proves wrong and it is she who ends up paying the ultimate price.

There was some nice camerawork in this film and the issues raised in terms of the attitude towards the brother and maybe even congenital weakness were interesting. However, it wasn’t entirely convincing as a plot. I think that several of these films suffer from the fact that the story lines are actually too psychologically complex to be condensed into a short film format. There is not enough time for fundamental background information which would make the characters more credible, nor is there time for character development within the narratives of the films themselves.

Al Ghobna (Dir. Saeed Salmeen Al-Murry)
This was a vaguely disturbing film as well. I found it very interesting that so many of these films had a slightly menacing atmosphere where you are never entirely sure of anything except a constant low level tension. The innocence and surreal beauty of many of the scenes between the two children in this film were lovely to watch but it was impossible to escape the feeling that it couldn’t last. The realities of life and the adult world with its norms and prejudices were closing in and doom was inevitable. Despite this, the delicate openness of the boy’s acting left you convinced that within his sadness, his faith in this love remained. I really liked the yellow silk trailing everywhere especially in the desert scenes. The landscape was actually a very strong feature of this and several of the other films which were shot n Ras Al Khaimah (I think there's a film studio there).

The landscape itself became a dominant character and there seemed to be a very strong relationship between this constant presence and the atmospheres created in the films, often symbolically. In one Q and A, an Iraqi theatre director complained that there was too much symbolism and that they really didn't need it. Another older critic seemed to dismiss the lot in saying he found nothing there for him. One of the Directors responded by pointing out that there are no academies here to teach flashy techniques so the fact that these films have been produced at all is remarkable. He then dismissed his second critic by rather sweetly saying that the films were made for the shabab!

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Dubai Film Festival

This could be a bit dull.. no pictures, no fun just three serious and long reviews of three serious documentaries. I got a sneaky press pass to the Film Fest so I realise that I should have tried to snog George Clooney or put my hand up Sharon Stone's skirt or whatever real journalists do but I'm not a real journalist!

So here we go.... mujahadeen, taxi drivers and hizbullah!

Jordan, USA, Germany & Netherlands/2007/Dir: Mahmoud al Massad

“This is our reality, you can’t deny it can you?”

Recycle tells the story or a former mujahadeen soldier Abu Ammar who is now collecting cardboard for recycling from the streets of Zarqa in Jordan. This job cannot sustain him, his two wives and eight children and a book he is writing about Islam doesn’t get anywhere. The only option seems to be to emigrate. The documentary reveals his struggle over this move and how the action of his own government ultimately forces him to make the decision.

Zarqa is also the home town of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi (Al Qaeda in Iraq) a fact that opens up some fascinating social and theological comment from Abu Ammar and his small group of friends. In one discussion the group try to find reasons for Zarqawi’s behaviour and point out that he led a life of drink, drugs and women in his 20s and was never seen in the mosque. They initially conclude that a dissolute life overturned by a personal religious re-evaluation with its accompanying zeal is the deadliest factor. However they also consider that radicals are more likely in a situation where men are unable to express themselves freely especially in an overlooked provincial town with few jobs or prospects.

Although this was certainly a critique of Jordanian government policy (or lack of it) this documentary was a vehicle for criticising more than national government. It was a critique of its neighbours (i.e Iraq), of US policy in the region and of the local unscrupulous making money out of the local unfortunate! Most interestingly it was a critique of radical Islam from the point of view of a conservative Muslim. In another discussion they essentially damn Bin Ladin for his arrogance in taking a decision like 9/11 without any theological basis or blessing and making life much more difficult for Muslims as a consequence.

This is interesting because it is the liberal Muslims who are most often heard public rejecting Islamic radicalism especially in the West. Arguably it is the conservatives rejecting the radical creed that will have a much greater effect on hearts and minds. In the eyes of many conservative Muslims the liberals have already gone way too far to have any credibility anyway!

In the Q and A at the end the director said that part of the reason he made this film was to demonstrate to a western audience that not all Muslims are terrorists. However, I don’t think it can work on this level for an average western audience. To understand much of this documentary you already need some prior knowledge of Islam, the region and its recent history. Furthermore, some of the ‘normal’ conservative Muslim sentiments expressed are already too far removed from what western ears want to hear. A good example of this is when Abu Ammar is truly struggling with his conscience as he considers the need to live in the land of the ‘infidel’ in order to provide for his family.

This move is forced upon him when the deadly bomb attacks on a Jordanian hotel in 2005 result in his arrest. On his release he concludes he will henceforth be one of the ‘usual suspects’ in the event of any further local terror attacks and it this which makes him leave. At the end of the documentary we see him heading to the US but in the Q and A the Director said that he was refused entry. He ended up in Venezuela along with many Iraqi refugees who have also been refused entry by the US. So perhaps Hugo Chavez does have foreign policy options other than Cuban buttlicking and insulting the Spanish!

Six Ordinary Stories
France & Syria/2007/Dir: Meyar Al Roumi

This documentary consisted of six short stories each based on a different Syrian taxi driver. Although each driver had a different story common themes started to emerge very quickly, one of which seems to be the parlous state of Syria’s economy. As a consequence more and more people are becoming taxi drivers often as a second job, in order to earn enough money to survive. The percentage drivers take is low which means that very long days are the norm and it is still difficult to support a family.

The first driver had been in the army for most of his life where he was responsible for vehicle battery maintenance. He was now driving because there seemed to be no such thing as an army pension although that was not exactly clear. Nevertheless his main criticism was that his health was deteriorating because of the toxic fumes and materials he came into contact with while in the army. He said that there were never any protective measure taken despite the fact that he was always asking his generals for gloves, masks and other safety equipment for those in the army that handled toxic substances.

The second taxi driver spent much of his screentime calculating the amounts he was earning that never added up to enough to support him and his family. He said it was impossible to get out of poor housing and accompanying health problems because landlords charge several months rent in advance which he can never hope to make. The very real fear of one of his children becoming sick, having to find hospital bills and then deal with the economic repercussions on the life of his family was also very clear. This expectation of having to pay for everything was made quite stark by another driver who was also a fireman. He said that there are countless times they have put out a fire or cut out someone from a car and been approached by an anxious family asking how much they need to pay. They don’t actually realise or expect that this service is free. He also made a comment about ‘civil servants’ who not only get paid a living wage but stop work at 2.00 in the afternoon as well. To him it was a crime that firemen and others who save lives and work all hours do not get paid a lot more but that is one of life's great mysteries wherever you live.

Another driver stood up very straight, stared intently into the camera and addressed his complaints directly to the ministry of transport. He went through a litany of accidents that could have been avoided simply by painting white lines on the roads, putting in cats eyes and just by some decent maintenance. He also talked about how Damascus had changed beyond recognition owing to intense construction. He said that there used to be many trees and green spaces that were the heart of the city but now the heart had been ripped out and replaced by concrete.

“The apricots of Damascus, we can’t find them anymore. There’s no control. It’s negligence”

Words in the Wake of War
Tunisia/2007/Dir: Anouar Brahem

Words in the Wake of War is the first documentary film directed by Tunisian musician Anour Brahem and consists of interviews with Lebanese artists and intellectuals about the impact of the Israel-Lebanon war of summer 2006. Most of the interviewees are friends of Anouar and in revealing how they had been affected personally, they also reveal much about the inner life of Lebanon. The interviews were spaced between different images, many of which were from the war itself with others used for historical or contextual reference. Other shots focussed on the stillness of the landscape or the ocean and accompanied by Brahems music, they provided short interludes of removal from the situation.

The necessity to disconnect from the situation was a theme that came up several times in the interviews. A singer and a dancer both said they assumed they would leave Lebanon in the event of another war but when the time came they could not actually bring themselves to do it. When the evacuation of foreigners was the main story on all the new programmes, one said she felt as if the Lebanese were being abandoned and left to die and for this reason alone she had to stay. The other concluded that having lived through war for most of her life she should be tough enough to live through another one.

Footage from 2006 of people wandering in rubble unable to identify where they were because no landmarks remained, led to a wider discussion of Beirut. One architect talked about Beirut’s history and identity and how much of both was shattered by the Lebanese civil war from 1975. For him a huge mistake was made after that war by focussing so much on rebuilding the city based on a past that could never be recaptured. Beirut was not the natural centre of Lebanon and was rebuilt at the expense of other parts of the country, the South in particular. In his view, this exacerbated the divide and made some of what has followed a historical inevitability.

One of the most interesting aspects of this documentary was how political allegiances shifted for many during the summer of 2006 and the consequences that remain. Some, whose intellectual and secular sensibilities put them in lifelong opposition to Hizbullah, found themselves on their side but via a shared cultural outrage. After the war some said that this feeling had made them stronger and more sure of their own singular identity as Lebanese. Others felt rather different with a sense that an internal contradiction had been created. There was almost a sense of being used with one poet saying that after the event when the connection ends you realise that “Hizbullah wants nothing from Lebanon. It will pursue its own revolution”.

Some were vehemently opposed to Hizbullah, blamed them and Iran completely and were in support of Israel throughout. However, after the event they too were left disturbed and disconnected because the degree of destruction wrought by Israel was so unjustifiable.

The documentary conveyed a sense that both the internal and external splits remain. There is also a sense of fear expressed disturbingly by one writer who said: “We must be ready for the resumption of war at any time”. An artist talked about how options were declining and that the 2006 war had not allowed for any third way resulting in new divisions often between friends that have also not recovered. In reference to wider issues one poet said: “The culture of death has taken over. Its like being in an ideological coma with no connection to the world. This struggle can only lead to a repeated cycle of trivial consequences.”

Rather than end on a grim Middle Eastern note let me say that the most innovative, positive and beautiful piece of filmmaking I have seen in millennia was Surya … makes me happy just thinking about it! I realise that this is a film festival in the Middle East and therefore Middle East filmmakers have to be promoted but Surya got my Gold Muhr Award! Haven’t had time to write about it yet but watch this space. Also to come ALL the Emirati voices!

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Art Paris-Abu Dhabi, Women in Art, Nja Mahdaoui and Warhol weirdness

This is really three posts in one so its very long. Each month I have a slot to write about art in the UAE on the US site Absolute Arts. So what is here is basically the same as my December post for them. I realise this is a bit lazy but am calling it an output optimisation strategy (corporate language can be useful sometimes) i.e. use the same material in as many places as possible to maximise efficiency, coverage and search engine results! The main difference is that all the pictures come up first here so if you just like looking at pics and can't be arsed to read the endless block of text this ones for you...... if not then here's the post...

1. Art Paris in Abu Dhabi

Art Dubai in March this year may have been the first ever regional Art Fair but I think Abu Dhabi trumped it this month with Art Paris-Abu Dhabi. It was held over three days in the Emirates Palace hotel, a rather appropriate venue seeing as its gold and marble ornateness does bear a passing resemblance to the Palais de Versailles. Art Paris has been a key event in the French arts calendar for the past 9 years. This collaboration gives French and other European galleries good exposure in the region and also provides a prestigious platform for the Middle Eastern galleries.
The Abu Dhabi and France connection is interesting. There is already a branch of the Sorbonne and a branch of the Louvre is coming soon. Interestingly, it was UK galleries that dominated Art Dubai in March so maybe there is some slight diversion in foreign cultural policy between Dubai and Abu Dhabi! The UAE as a whole, however, were represented at Art Paris-Abu Dhabi by four of the Dubai galleries. It seems that Abu Dhabi doesn’t have the level of galleries that can access this kind of event.

There were a number of publicity assured names such as Chagall, Dali and Picasso and given the absence of security concerns and alcohol it was possible to get very close which was a real treat. The most expensive piece in the show was the Olympic Rings collaboration by Warhol and Basquiat for a cool 7 million dollars (last pic above). I don’t think that this is a particularly interesting picture but it is certainly an excellent example of the triumph of branding and extreme commoditisation of art over the past few decades. Andy must be laughing in his grave.

However, the point of the fair is not only to sell. There is an underlying desire on all sides to use it as a platform for cultural exchange and this is where it works best. To fully appreciate the work, a greater understanding of the culture and history from which it comes can be useful and these events do provide a neutral space in which to learn. It can also work the other way and render origin irrelevant if appreciation is based purely on sensual and emotional responses.

There was so much to see in this fair that I really needed to go twice but the regional galleries that stood out for me were Al Ayyam (Syria), Al Bareh (Bahrain) and Galerie El Marsa (Tunisia).The French Gallery that seemed to have the most interesting and diverse contemporary selection was the Thessa Herold Gallery Unfortunately they are not very forthcoming with images on their website which is a shame because the mix of Spanish, French, Chinese and other artists they represent was really impressive.

2. Woman in Art III

The theme of exchange also connects to a current exhibition in Dubai. A few weeks ago I was asked to participate in a show called Women in Art III at the Courtyard Gallery. This gallery was the first to be established in Al Quoz Industrial Zone 3 and is a great space with unusually high ceilings so it can accommodate huge pieces of work. (see June 26 post).

The Courtyard’s first “Women in Art” exhibition was held in November 2004 with the intention of showcasing female artists from different cultural and artistic backgrounds who were living in Dubai. This initial exhibition worked well and it has now become a regular event. Women in Art III opened on November 14th and featured 14 artists – six from the UAE, one each from Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Germany and the UK and two from France. The work was accordingly very mixed and was an interesting show of contrasts in both content and form. However, given that I have been searching for Emirati artists, the four images from this show are all by Emiratis. The image that looks like a blue pearl is by Dr. Najat Makki, the abstract flower image by Hasna Abu Baker, the figure of the woman by Salma Almerri and the blue square by Mona Al Khaja.
The gallery organised the show in partnership with Art Connection, a small Dubai arts management and marketing company. Art Connection organises special events and exhibitions of both Emirati and international artists and also publishes great catalogues of key shows. Both the Courtyard and Art Connection want to promote ideas and art that not only reflect the diversity of Dubai’s population but also contribute to its cultural development by exposing these different ideas to each other. So the theme is essentially similar to that of Art Paris but on a local rather than international scale. I think this is becoming increasingly important in Dubai where it seems that different groups can so easily stick to their own with few opportunities for interaction, especially with Emirati nationals. Of course, it is a minority of any nationality that are interested in art anyway so I realise that this isn’t a comprehensive social cohesion policy!

There isn’t a link to this show because both the Courtyard and Art Connection have a website problem! One hasn’t been updated since October and isn’t great anyway (they’re working on it) and the other is being reconstructed but will be up soon. The only reference was in a review in Khaleej Times which is here.
3. Meem and Nja Mahdaoui

Last but not least, further exploration of the glorious Al Quoz Industrial Zone 3 has revealed another gem. The Meem Gallery only opened this year and specialises in Arab and Islamic art. Its opening show was of veteran Libyan artist, Ali Omar Ermes and the current show is of veteran Tunisian Nja Mahdaoui. Now 70 Mahdaoui is one of the masters of contemporary Arab art and in this show it is easy to see why. He uses Arabic script but unlike traditional Islamic calligraphy in which meaning is as important as form, Mahdaoui is concerned only with the form. As a consequence he has created huge scrolls, pieces on papyrus and parchment and huge colourful abstracted paintings of what appear to be words. However, they are only letters executed for the beauty of their form and thus freed from the tyranny of meaning.
I actually saw some of his work earlier this year in a fantastic British Museum exhibition called Word Into Art so it was great to see more in Dubai. As well as his calligraphy and painting, Nja Mahdaoui has designed tail fins for aircraft, fabric patterns for clothes designers and entrances for buildings. His website is in French but if you don’t speak it, just keep clicking and you’ll find some pics eventually! To read an interview with him about this exhibition see Letters from Tunis.
To end on a slightly bizarre footnote, the XVA Gallery is accompanying an exhibition of Warhol prints by screening the Warhol movies. Watching Chelsea Girls with its sex, drugs and tranny references, while hearing the call to prayer from the local mosque is a contextual inconsistency that is going to stay with me for some time….

Monday, 26 November 2007

The Big 5 security concerns

I have to go through Trade Centre some mornings and normally this is a breeze. You walk in one end, assess whatever -EX is going on and come out the other pondering the wisdom of having a scale model of a dinosaur skeleton in your living room or sending your kids to the children's Porsche driving school.

Well, this week is different..... it's the Big 5. This is not the P5, although the sudden appearance of metal detectors, body searchers and airport style access and security measures does suggest a high profile summit meeting with a few juicy targets.

I was informed by someone who works at Trade Centre that the reason for this was 'A. Sheikh' was attending. However, I discovered this morning the 'A. Sheikh' seemed to have spent the day elsewhere giving a 100% rise to the national charity budget. So I suppose the security must have been to protect the revolutionary warm toilet seat technology on prominent display next to a large plastic rock with a fountain on top.

It was a bit freaky. I nearly got lost after having to go in an unfamiliar entrance and was rather disoriented after being taken into a (very) small cubicle and zapped with a metal detector by a furious looking woman. Thank god I wasn't wearing an underwired bra ....

Saturday, 24 November 2007

At last .. some money

Not only will I be paid for a part time teaching job at the end of this month, but I also heard last week that two of the paintings being shown at the 2 Berts and the 2 Perks this month HAVE SOLD!!! This is great and as anyone who read the October 15th post will know, means spouse and myself are now guaranteed a schwarma each for 316.6 days! This leaves the teaching money available to be donated to Dubai Cares ... er .... I mean to Dubai Overdraft (if extracting the urine from Dubai Cares has become a deportable offence, will someone please let me know. Ta.) These financial developments put me in the completely unique position of being able to trump the federal budget by getting a 100% pay rise!

The change of temperature has also made a dramatic improvement to my life. Going out is no longer like opening a large oven door, getting in and moving very slowly while leaving a trail of sweat. So speed walking by the creek without feeling like a large, white, hot, irritable slug is now an option.

To make this week (dare I say) perfect, I went out into the desert for the first time yesterday. Barbecue under Ghaff tree surrounded by dunes, flowering desert plants and a full moon to boot. There was the added bonus of a serious herd of camels and some very impressive beetles. We were only there for a few hours but it felt like a looooonnnnggg holiday.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

The Thirdline Gallery and B21

I may have said this before but Al Quoz Industrial Zone 3 does not sound like a particularly attractive place. However, sitting alongside commercial laundries, warehouses and car repair workshops are two of the best galleries in Dubai - B21 and the Thirdline.

New exhibitions have just opened and both feature work by well-known Iranian artists - Fereydoun Ave and Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. Fereydoun Ave was born in 1945 in Teheran but spent some of his childhood in the UK. He then studied fine art in the US before returning to Teheran in 1970. Recently inspired by seeing new work by Cy Twombly, a key influence and mentor, Ave began new work. The B21 exhibition is entitled Lal Dahlias and is a series of mixed media work with an intense focus on those flowers, which were brought into his house to commemorate his mother (Lal).

Most of the dahlias are red although yellow makes a few appearances and there is one solitary blue. The impression as you enter the gallery is that of being surrounded by continuous little red explosions that you can almost hear. As you move closer they become more muted because many are covered by tracing paper applied while the paint is still very wet. The paper can obscure but not absorb the original image and is unable to hide the streaks of red racing like blood down the page. Several individual images like this are arranged into larger works making the layers and types of paper another key element. Sometimes one piece of the montage will just depict an outline sketch making a stark contrast to the urgent red splashes.

The Thirdline gallery also has a good website so you can get a glimpse of the beautiful reverse painted glass and mirror geometries of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. She was born in 1924 in Qazvin, in north-western Iran. After two years at Teheran University, she went to New York in 1945 and studied at the Parsons School of Design. She worked as a layout artist at Bonwit Teller alongside Andy Warhol and stayed in New York until 1957, immersed in the richness of emergent abstract expressionism and minimalism. Apparently, she also hung out with Jackson Pollack…. it’s hard not to be jealous.

She travelled throughout Iran on her return, exploring the historical richness of Iranian folk art and architecture. Her use of mirrors to create large geometric images reflects a form of architectural decoration in the 18th century when mirrors imported from Europe often arrived in Iran broken. The mirrors were salvaged and the pieces cut and reshaped to form geometric mirror mosaics. Another folk art technique was reverse glass painting also used to decorate houses and tents, often in more remote or tribal areas of Iran. These two elements are very visible in this exhibition.

The mix of mirrors with reverse painted glass creates a sublime beauty of reflection and intense almost metallic colour. I would love to know exactly what kind of paint this is but it was not specified. In some pieces very minimal use of this intense colour is highly effective, suggesting the difficulty of locating beauty among multiple reflections of a harsher reality. At the same time, Farmanfarmaian’s strict adherence to the underlying rules of geometry - balance (mizan) and unity (tawid) – gives each piece a reassuring strength and solidity.

This exhibition also features other work including hand drawn geometric designs and three memory boxes from a series she called ‘Heartaches’. The boxes use a rich mix of evocative materials and mementoes and seem very much like Farmanfarmaian’s very own personal folk art.

Iranian Art Links
Elahe Gallery – With extensive links to artists and other galleries in Iran
Teheran Museum of Contemporary Art – Contemporary work by Iranian artists and fascinating listing of the rarely seen western archive.

Friday, 2 November 2007

They all come at once..

This is what is said about London buses.... you wait for hours and then three come at once. Have concluded that Dubai operates in a similar way. After sitting here for months with nothing happening three metaphorical buses have pulled up at the November stop.

Bus No. 1.
Thanks to Dubai Lime the four tree pics (above) went into Central Perk in Mirdiff yesterday. Their tour schedule is as follows....

November 1 – 11 Central Perk, Mirdiff
November 12 – 17 Central Perk, Jumeirah
November 18 – 24 Bert's Café, Dubai Marina
November 25 – 30 Bert's Café, The Greens

Bus No. 2
I HAVE A JOB!!! It's an English teaching job for three mornings a week and I am so happy! At last I can stop having to ask spouse for money (which is really quite humiliating having never had to do it before) and can treat myself to an occasional bar of decent chocolate! Getting to the school is easy too. There are 4 buses that go there from Bur Dubai so that's a 3 dirham round trip to work which is pretty damn good.

Bus No. 3.
Confirmed as opening on November 14th at the Courtyard Gallery is an exhibition of female artists in which I have four brand new made-in-Dubai digital pics. Will post them later.

Ulhumdulilluh all round!

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Sussing the buses

Have been asked to take part in another exhibition in November in the Courtyard Gallery. This was very unexpected and is quite exciting but does mean I need to rapidly create new work on a very tight budget. The advantage, however, of being a bit of a digi-geek is that I can create image files which only require printing and framing so less time and resources than painting. Have already done two and the nice thing about them is that they are entirely based on Dubai.

Framing Plan C fell into place yesterday too. Found Art House Dubai on Wasl Road. Not only can they can do my frames quickly and reasonably but they are very helpful and friendly as well. This was most welcome because it took me nearly two hours to get there from Al Ghubaiba bus station!

Picked up some prints from Bank Street and then walked to the bus station. Took a zig zag route through the back streets which was quicker and much more interesting. There are lots of little tailors shops and when I get some money that purple silk embroidered Salwar Khameez top is mine... assuming I can find that street again.

At the bus station, I got a very impressive looking timetable telling me the bus I wanted ran every 20 minutes. Sat down and waited and waited and waited. Sun moved round and I was no longer sitting in the shade but still I waited, determined to sit it out. After an hour and ten minutes the bus arrived but refused to let the massive crowd of people get on for another 20 minutes. The women first etiquette broke down entirely although the seats are still reserved if you can actually get on the bus. So I was right there in the scrum near the front, trampling lesser individuals under foot in the bloodbath that ensued for a seat on the bus. After waiting for that long violence is a legitimate option.

On the way back I waited at a bus stop for half and hour but hungry, sweaty and worried that the battery on my MP3 player was about to give up taking my sanity with it... I caved in and hailed a cab. Great driver... Pakistani guy who's been here 17 years and pointed out all the properties owned by members or associates of the Bhutto family on the way.

Now I know where Art House Dubai is, there are a few other buses I can probably get that far up Wasl Road but this will involve walking between bus stops in Al Ghubaiba on the constant look out for whichever bus arrives first. On closer inspection I noticed that I had been given the Ramadan timetable but I'm sure the times listed are irrelevant any time of year. Still it is worth having as is the map showing all the routes and stops. The times may bear no relation to reality but there are worse things to do than people watch in a Dubai bus station for an hour and a half. Just make sure you music player is fully charged.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Festival City

Went to Festival City to try and score some frames from Ikea. I was hoping their size range would be diverse enough to find something that would fit the pics I'm exhibiting in November. No such luck! I actually ordered some frames from the local framers but they called the next day to inform me my frames would take between 2 and 3 months (??) so Ikea was plan B. I now need a rapid Plan C.

Still it was educational as all wild goose chases are, and I have concluded that I actually hate malls. This is quite disturbing given where I live but it seems that every time I go to a mall I am never able to find what I want. One consolation was the ACE hardware shop which I wandered around for some time. I really like hardware shops, not sure why but they make me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Decided to get the bus back to Bur Dubai and asked someone how to get to the bus stop. She told me but with a very disturbing look on her face. Followed directions up to a point and then understood the look. The only way to the bus stop was crossing two 4 lane highways and scaling two small walls. I gave up and schlepped all the way back to Ikea for a taxi. Got a bit lost and did some unscheduled desert trekking behind ACE. This could have been crap but saw 2 different species of bird and 2 different kinds of flower. This unusual abundance of nature got me optimistic that I might bump into a hissing sand snake but sadly not. Next time maybe....

Monday, 15 October 2007

What I did on my holidays..

I still have a major liquidity problem... i.e.. I am still unemployed and skint. So the holidays for me and spouse consisted of staying in the house watching old DVDs we brought with us and eating in the same cheapo veggie style to which we have become accustomed. We did treat ourselves to schwarma for Eid al Fitr but at 3 DHS apiece that was hardly an extravagance.

Have had zero response from sending the new and improved CV to language schools and zero response from companies wanting proofreaders. This is despite the fact that they always need people to join their dynamic teams...

The good news is that Dubai Lime are letting me exhibit four paintings at various venues in November. This is great but will be better if there's just one kind and solvent punter out there who likes surreal looking trees?? At just DHS950 each (absolute bargain given the absurd price index of contemporary art in Dubai) this will buy 316.6 recurring, schwarmas! You could feed me for almost the entire year! If you buy 2 paintings you could feed the spouse as well and give a direct demonstration of just how much Dubai cares.

Anyway am going off the point which is ...... I spent part of the holiday being a tourist at the Dubai Museum. Also a bargain at 3DHS! It was a lot of fun and informative, although some of the waxy figures are a bit creepy and the only stuffed animal that looked like it had ever lived was the camel... and possibly the hedgehog. The culture section with the old instruments was great as were the swords and knives. The hall with the divers, pearls and the wreck of a dhow next to another one being built was good too.

Was interesting to see those little differences between the films (shown on adjacent screens) with Arabic and English explanations. I was extremely impressed that the historical commentary managed to erase the British almost completely with only a brief mention of a decision being made that they leave in 1968!

The courtyard outside was very atmospheric. Just as the sun was setting hundreds of swallows in the air above the museum started diving and swooping low over the grounds. So if you don't get freaked out by low flying birds that is really the best time to go.

A little montage by way of illustration.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Swimsuit Fashion

Recently there has been of lot of re-tiling and refurbishment work going on around the pool in the Arabian Courtyard Hotel. This is where I go for my daily swim. I go just as its getting dark which means the workmen have finished. However, now that all the exterior lights are fixed these guys seem to be doing double shifts. This is either because the work is behind schedule or there has been some kind of miscommunication about acceptable Ramadan hours!

Anyway, I turned up a few days ago and they were all there so I got on with the swim thinking they would be gone within minutes and then all the bloody outside lights came on! I wear a full swimsuit but obviously that is not enough. After much staring and a quite bizarre and awkward atmosphere I abandoned the swim after 10 minutes.

If I don't have that daily swim there is a danger that I will murder my husband, several of our neighbours and possibly throw myself from the top of that Rolex building on the other side of the creek. So a solution had to be found.

I remembered a news story I read about a Muslim girl in Australia who wanted to be a bodyguard. Given the inevitable physical exposure this would require, her parents were adamant that she pursue another career option! However, she was so determined to be a bodyguard she invented the 'burkhini'. Inspired by this, I came up with my own version involving a swimsuit, cycling shorts and a long t-shirt... all in black of course!

I am amazed at how much difference it makes. I can get on with my serious laps of the pool without feeling exposed and the workmen can get on with the tiling without being overly distracted by a semi naked woman. The bonus is that it increases resistance so you actually have to work that little bit harder to maintain speed and motion. It's like moving the exercise routine up a level!

Am now thinking that I should get n touch with the inventor of the Burkhini, suggest she goes global and offer to be her representative in the UAE. Tried to find the name of the inventor but couldn't. Did find a reference on Grapeshisha posted a year ago ..... so am already way too late for the international franchise opportunities!

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Identity, Transience and the Eternal Landscape

The XVA does it again. Fantastic opening night with iftar thrown in! I think it is my favourite gallery partly because its only five minutes from my house and I'm lazy and skint but also because its in Bastakia which is one of the only places in Dubai where its still possible to get a sense of history.

This exhibition featured two artists who explore themes of identity in very different ways. Jagath Ravindra is a Sri Lankan artist born in Chilaw and now teaching in Colombo as well as exhibiting worldwide. Most of his work is acrylic on canvas, a medium he said he likes because it allows speed when the execution of a work is urgent. He works on a series of paintings representing general themes and the theme here was Fights against Darkness. His paintings often use the motif of a recognisable human form within an abstracted landscape. His figures are in permanent motion. Some are straining, others are floating or even dancing and the colourscapes they inhabit are fundamental to the emotional impact of the work.

Ravindra said that he primarily uses colour and light to express an idea, and the management of shapes within the image space create the dynamic and suggest the feeling. The idea of ‘darkness’ relates to the external negativity of political and historical reality, and to the internal negativity often present as a consequence of that reality. He believes that the fundamental perception of the artist is of a common human identity that does not perceive or mark division. Therefore there is always some tension with political perceptions in which lines are inevitably drawn.

The idea that darkness can be fought is positive and present in much of the work on display in this exhibition. There are only three works in which darkness is literally represented by colour, giving the overall impression that the strength of brighter colours will always prevail.
This is definitely a very colourful exhibition but as he also said “Sri Lanka is a very colourful country”.

Unfortunately there are not any images from this show available on line yet but I have managed to get one here. For a look at contemporary artists in Sri Lanka in general please click on the link: Art Lanka

The second artist in this show, Tarek Al Ghoussein, is a Palestinian photographer, born in Kuwait and now living in the UAE. He teaches Photography at the School of architecture and design at the American University of Sharjah.

He also works in a series and exhibited here was an installation of six prints that make up the Untitled C series. Printed on Rice paper the series also explores identity but more directly in relation to transience and disintegration.

It is difficult to convey the effect of the installation in a small room where the viewers must walk in a zig-zag through the 6 sequential images hanging across the room with three on each side.

In the first image, a large mound is covered with a blue tarpaulin in a stark, barren and almost colourless landscape. Images 2 and 3 begin a gradual disintegration of the first image. Suddenly in image no. 4 the figure of a man appears, his back to the viewer and his head obscured by the blue tarpaulin. In picture 5 he is gone, and now there are only different sized pieces of blue tarpaulin, clinging to a wire fence and fighting the wind for their survival. In the final image all that remains are tiny fragments of blue in the stark and barren landscape.

Tarek likes working on series because the process is open so it can evolve as the work progresses. He said that this piece was kind of apocalyptic as it ends with nothing but traces of what went before. However, when exiting this installation you can take the same steps backwards so that the effect is then one of constructing something from nothing.

Blue tarpaulin is a constant image in the UAE as it is used to cover buildings where construction is underway and there is a lot of construction under way! However, the installation itself is not specific to any one place raising as it does, several different, though connected, issues in the mind.

What I personally liked was how it heightened the perception of time, in a way similar to certain video works in which one image is shown over an unspecified period. This connection actually made me imagine what the location might sound like which was a nice extra dimension.

Most of the images and some earlier work are here Tarek al Ghoussein: Photographs and for contemporary Palestinian artist images please click Palestine Index.

One of the best resource sites with extensive links to Palestinian, Middle East and International Gallery and Arts Sites is the Birzeit University Virtual Gallery.

(This post also appear on the Absolute Arts site.)

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Death and Taxes

As Benjamin Franklin noted ‘In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes’. This goes for the apparently tax free zone in which I am now living. There are various charges for various things, which may not be tax by name but are certainly tax by nature.

I am now on the penultimate stage of being UAE street legal. I’ve got that pink piece of paper and I’ve had the blood test. Am just awaiting the results and the health ‘insurance‘ and then I should have that coveted stamp in my passport.

Both spouse and myself are completely covered by his company’s global insurance. However, we still have to pay for UAE health insurance even though we will never actually need to use it. What makes it worse, is that I have to take out a separate policy rather than just being added to the spouse policy. Being female, this costs a lot more because of what appears to be compulsory maternity cover. Given that we can’t have children this is patently absurd. When we pointed this fact out we were asked if we had any document to prove it. Of course we bloody don’t!! The tests were done over 10 years ago and if we did ever have any piece of paper that told us the bad news we probably ripped it up into tiny pieces and consigned it to the bin.

We have since discovered that there are actually cheaper and easier ways to do all of this but given that spouse’s company had no presence here before, they didn’t have a clue! So it has been a matter of research, trial, error and expense. In fact we have lost track of the amount of money that has been paid in the course of this whole process. I can’t decide, however, if you are buying your residency or just paying a year’s tax in advance!!

Monday, 1 October 2007

Customer Service

We all know about telephone customer services but how about this...

My washing machine broke so I emailed Aftron via the massively, massive Al Futtaim Group The only email address for Aftron (on the receipt and on their website) was

This is the reply:

"554 delivery error: dd Sorry your message to cannot be delivered. This account has been disabled or discontinued."

Maybe Vijay Kapur 100 walked out because he couldn't deal with the volume of complaints.

It's quite encouraging that I just laughed this time rather than getting apoplectic with frustrated consumer rage .... I must be adjusting to life here in takethemoneyandrunland.

Monday, 24 September 2007

The trees stop at the border..

Went to Abu Dhabi looking for the elusive visa again but this time we stayed overnight at a friend's house. It was great to compare notes about Dubai and Abu Dhabi and talk about the inter-emirate competitiveness which is essentially what passes for politics here! It was also interesting to get a grasp of the extent to which Abu Dhabi really is another country.

This is immediately obvious at that point on the Sheikh Zayed Road when you cross the 'border' and suddenly there are trees and a green belt. Lots of delicately drooping branches separating the lanes of traffic, and what look like orchards stretching out beyond each side of the road. It's a startling abundance of green which is mesmerising after the sandy, silver-grey, high rise tunnel out of Dubai and then the barren road which follows.

When you drive back the other way it's an abrupt change to the barren and then you are mesmerised again, but this time by the sheer spectacle of the towering concrete and steel, tree-less reality of this stage and definition of progress.

I know that there will be trees, greenery and lakes to humanise the environment around these construction projects when they are complete but the environmental border shock seems quite appropriate. It's like an early warning system as you enter Dubai of what is going to greet you further down the road.

The billboards erected down each side add to the impression that anything natural has been removed. Occasionally there will be an uncovered board and the patchwork of different shades of plywood looks like a huge canvas study of the colour brown and is quite a relief for the eye while stuck in the traffic. You also rest your eyes on the advertising of course and I don't know what or who Emirates Neon is but if you buy it.. or him.. or her, it will change your life!

Decided a suitable pic to illustrate this entry is the Ghaf tree....

Ramadan Kareem II

Just found two perfect frames in the trash... no broken glass, no split wood, no damp or stains...... have already framed the Dubai skyline pic and will now work on recycling something else for the other frame.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Ramadan Kareem

As well as being a time of spiritual and physical renewal, Ramadan also seems to be a time of domestic renewal! I have noticed a lot more furniture and other household items appearing in the trash over the past couple of days. This has already worked to my benefit and I am now the proud owner of a TV / DVD stand which looks as good as new after a serious wash and a bit of paint. Also found a large polystyrene container which is now washed and covered with a piece of fabric to make a rather funky looking table/bench. Given the financial constraints of still being a visa-less and unemployed trailing spouse on a charity budget, our apartment remains pretty empty. However, it may be possible to seriously remedy this for free by the end of the month! Kareem indeed.

I lived in Japan at the height of the boom period in the late 80s and many people really did throw out stuff that was still perfectly usable just because they could afford to. As a consequence, the only things in my Tokyo apartment that were not from the trash were bedding and utensils, so keeping an eye on the trash doesn't seem like an odd thing to do. The quality of the trash in Bur Dubai obviously cannot match the absurd standards of Tokyo in the 80s but that's OK. I have the electronic basics and am not too fussy about the furniture as long as it does the job.

Interestingly, there seem to be lots of those thin foam mattresses in the trash of the poorer apartment blocks around here which makes me wonder if employers become more beneficent about the comfort of their employees during Ramadan too.

Last week, at the XVA Gallery, someone told me the Creek Art Fair this year will have an environmental theme so getting down and dirty with the trash has given me a few ideas for Dubai specific artworks. Given that I started off as an artist by painting on trash, I suppose this is all just part of a cheapskate continuum really...

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Design Meets Art at the XVA

Went to opening of Art Meets Design at the XVA Gallery in Bastakia last night.

I like the XVA. There’s something about the ambience as you walk into that courtyard, and seeing some large Sabhan Adam pics that I didn’t see on my first visit was like bumping into some old friends. I had just come from a gym session at the Arabian Courtyard hotel so being offered ice cold mint and lemon to drink on arrival was a great start. Also met some architects here too but this time they were cool and edgy...

Fantastically diverse range of work on display including mixed 2D work (photography, portraiture, painting/print), household artefacts, furniture and masterpieces of personal bling by UAE based Layal (couldn’t find a website unfortunately).

I enjoyed some of the household and furniture especially the silver and black ‘blocks’ of drawers by Tavola Rasa. The more shapely items made me think of the French revolution rather than sexy underwear but this reinvention or ability to teach (very) old design new tricks is fascinating in itself. Also impressed by the lacquer cabinet from Nada Debs.

Some interesting vases by Gaia and Gino, one with a calligraphic design which reminded me of things I saw in the Word into Art exhibition in London shortly before I came to Dubai and also liked the sleek tessellated vases by Design Jordan. UAE based Seven Minutes featured bags using classical Arab textile design.

Given my own pre-occupations, however, I was mostly interested in the 2D work and Brown Monkeys also based in the UAE, made me think of manga, Mucha, sci fi, sumie and several other things all at once, which was a real treat. It was also good to see some of the greats of Arabic music and cinema getting the Warhol treatment from Laudi Abilama while the photographic images from the American University of Sharjah provided a subtle contrast to all the other work in the show.

Couldn’t access the website of Manola Moretti, which is a shame because her image of a faceless Eminem against a city skyline made a big impression. I love the mechanics of this kind of composition - mixing print, paint and other materials to reflect aspects of contemporary culture within a dark urban industrial realism!

However the winners for me were the three pieces by Abol Atighetchi. The colours and style of the larger piece put me in mind of Boetti's world maps and the smaller pieces on black painted wood were really quite sublimely beautiful.

So thanks again XVA!

Friday, 7 September 2007

Live Music Event

Out last night at The Loft for a Dubai Lime Live Music event. The first performer, Graeme Park, wasn't miked up too well which was a disaster because crowd volume in the background was already up quite high. Kind of folky and bluesy you got the impression that this was a tough gig and had it been in a more understated venue with a more reverent crowd I am sure his set would have been better.
Next up were Neil and Andy though I am not entirely sure who was who. Liked the secondary guitar style very much and the singer had a strong delivery but the songs did sound a bit samey after a while. They got much more audience support but there were still times when background noise threatened to drown them out too.

The last performer, Mike Ross, was a treat despite the fact that the intro to the two first songs really, really sounded like 'Dear Prudence'! Confident, great vocal delivery, interesting original material and an immersion in the performance and the situation which was captivating. So much that he almost succeeded in keeping audience attention throughout his set but even he couldn't compete with a few vociferous drinkers who were evidently unaware there was a gig in progress.
Talking of drink the ticket price included one free beverage... not quite true ... one free Bacardi Breezer was the real deal. Bit of a disappointment when you've been imagining that first cold beer sliding down your throat. Still I suppose there has to be a first (and last) time for alcopops!

Stuck to beer after that but was quite shocked at the price of a standard bottle. Leaving Bur Dubai is always a shock in that respect... the price of everything goes up the further West you go and having had no income for 5 months now I am getting increasingly concerned about money. This prompted a job search on several of the big Middle East jobs websites today. Typing in 'arts' drew a blank from as did 'arts administration' on the site. That at least had an arts and entertainment section although it mostly consisted of web and graphic designers.

Was encouraged by's creative and media section but you had to specify a job title from a list which included musician, writer, actor but no artist category! Eventually found an ad for English language editing/proofreading and suddenly remembered that I have in fact being doing a lot of that over the past few years so sent them an email telling them so.

For you animal lovers out there's an 'Experienced dog groomer required for Dubai' and 'Numerous aquarist positions for the world's largest walkthrough aquarium in The Dubai Mall'.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Art and Design everywhere.

What a great time to come back! Seem to be previews of the new season at all the galleries in Dubai. Went to the Thirdline last night for Rana Begum and got an invite to Ghass Rouzkhosh at B21 on Sunday. Just heard a programme on Dubai Eye radio which discussed all things art in Dubai on a lot of different levels, and heard someone from XVA which is opening on Saturday with an international Art and Design show. Unfortunately their website isn't updated so am not sure exactly what the details are. However it is only a five minute walk from my apartment so will wander over there anyway. Also heard last night that there is an arts forum called the Thinking Cloud about contemporary art in Dubai at the Jamjar on the 12th.

Last night was very interesting. It's the first preview event I've attended so it was great to check out the form and I met some very pleasant architects. The work itself uses layers of different tapes and vinyls under resin and initially appeared to me like large scale digitally enhanced photographic prints. On closer inspection the density of the pieces becomes apparent and the mechanics of composition can be seen in the tape ends and resin drips at the sides of each piece which I liked. The reds based triptych (No. 131 - 2007) was absolutely stunning and definitely my favourite piece. Being a bit of a texture junkie there were times I craved some diversion from the uniform smoothness of the resin but that's not the point!

Was a little confused by the reflection in most of the reproduced catalogue images. Wasn't sure if this was deliberate or just unavoidable but would have preferred it without. Also I think that the space may seem a little underpopulated without the crowd and a few more pieces could easily have been shown.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Hello Dubai .... again..

I am finally back in Dubai after two months of dealing with ten tons of crap in London.

When I left Bur Dubai at the beginning of July I was anticipating a nice little two week holiday going to a wedding and catching up with friends and family. It then extended into two funerals and an unexpected nightmare of plumbing, damp and decoration problems including a serious complaint against damp proofing company Kenwood Plc UK. However, if I took a plumbing course I think I could now start my own property re-furb business!

Just when I thought it was safe to relax on the day before I flew back to Dubai, I discovered that myself and my flight booking had disappeared from Expedia's system and therefore, I did not actually exist. After numerous calls to try and re-establish my existence I had to give up and get my husband to book me another flight on the following day because I was skint! Am now in the process of filing a second incompetence complaint, this time to Expedia, although given that I don't exist I am not optimistic about getting my money back!

On the plus side I had pics in two exhibitions. One surprise weekender for Friends of the Earth plus the Summer Show I organised from here. The picture in that show is posted above and I found that reactions to the word 'Dubai' in general, elicited one of two reactions: wide eyed wonderment and/or superlatives or a look of abject horror and two steps backwards!

Other highlights include seeing a demonstration and talk by British geometrist Zarah Hussain which was fascinating and raised several issues, one of which was that calligraphy seems to have become the preferred motif of contemporary Islamic art, while hand crafted geometry is very much in decline. Interestingly enough it was also noted that there is a bit of a brain drain of educated British Muslims to ... Dubai! Unfortunately none of them are geometrists!

I am now going to spend the next few days catching up with the news and seeing what I've been missing on the UAE Community blog. As for London, I will miss the rain and the clouds but most of all I'll miss the silent nights without the constant hum of the AC....... also I like a drink but I will not miss the Saturday night pools of vomit and the daytime drunks who ALWAYS sit next to me on the bus!

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Don't get married in Vegas

My residency visa remains elusive. It seems like a simple matter of just being added to your spouse's visa but there are complications in our case which are still causing delays. We are UK citizens but we got married in the US. We investigated this before we came and thought we had all the necessary documents but yesterday's visit to immigration held up two more legal and bureaucratic document hoops to jump through.

My advice to anyone who chooses to marry in a country that they were not born in is DON'T ... unless you are sure you will never live in any other country again or you have the kind of budget that allows you to just pass the problem to somebody else to sort out!

Never mind. We'll get there in the end and I am off to the UK tomorrow for a holiday and a wedding and a regular summer exhibition that I have organised from here this year. The arts group that I do this show for now refers to me as the outsource office in Dubai. While in London I am also planning to do an unscientific poll where I ask everyone I meet what word comes into their head first when I say... DUBAI.

In the meantime here's a special digital carpet composed of 3 different images relevant to Dubai although the overall design is based on the joys of pixellation.

Saturday, 30 June 2007

Sci Fi Dubai

It never ceases to amaze me how relatively short journeys around this city can feel like international or even inter-planetary travel given the differences between departure and destination points. I am going back to the UK for a couple of weeks soon and will bring back and re-read Brave New World because it keeps coming into my head when considering the different levels of human existence in Dubai!

In fact it makes me think of Sci-Fi in general, especially all those stories about colonisation of other planets. The skyline is a futuristic masterpiece straight from the covers of 70s paperbacks and the colonies springing up with their brave new names just add to this perception for me. Green Community, International City, Knowledge Village and Culture Village (incidentally what’s the problem with towns??) Then there are all the 'Thes' .. Springs, Greens, Views, Meadows, Lakes, Lagoons and Islands. All the familiar comforts of the watery home planet.

My personal favourite is the less well known Dubai Silicon Oasis… although Ivory Tower deserves a mention and I would like to know just how high Eco-Tourism World registers on the irony scale !

Coming from a part of East London that is very mixed and where everyone is crammed together on the tube I can’t wait for the metro to be built and was happy about the bus announcement a few days ago too. This is partly because I am very much a public transport type person but it may actually force a little bit more mixing it on the Dubai streets.

Until then it will be taxis all the way and as is the case all over the world taxi drivers are mines of information. I had a great one the other day, an Indian guy who gave me a very detailed statistical breakdown of the ethnic composition of Bur Dubai which was fascinating. He also taught me some useful Hindi which is the language that I really need around here!

Decided to illustrate this with a borrowed and doctored pic that I hope I don't get sued for using ..... I really should find something better to do with my time.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

The Al Quoz Art Trail

Went to Al Quoz yesterday to check out the galleries there. The three I saw were all on the same street and very close to each other making life very easy! The location is very, very different from the Bastakia…. definitely more of an industrial ambience in Al Quoz. All three galleries here have been up and running for about two to three years.

The Courtyard Gallery and Café

This is large space and featured a lot of different work. There were about 10 different 2D artists and 2 or 3 sculptors represented each with 2 or 3 pieces of work. Most of the artists were western but not all of the work was labelled so I can’t say for sure that they all were. The 2D work was a mix of both classic and enhanced photography or large oil or acrylic work on canvas.

The overall effect of the work in this space was impressive but the 2D work itself was not particularly exciting. A couple of digital images and one large oil were interesting but the most striking thing was the sculpture. There were two or three very tall abstracted silver figures that really enhanced the sense of height in the room and made this more of a kinaesthetic than aesthetic experience. There were also other sculptures which arrested much more time that the 2D works and another section containing a colourful distraction of ceramics.

The space itself is great and it’s a shame there aren’t some pics on the website of the whole interior.

There is more in the Courtyard including Total Arts which features sculpture and paintings as well so I definitely need to pay another visit.

The Thrdline Gallery

This was a bit of a treat actually because it was so atmospheric. This was a combination of the unexpectedly icy monochrome blast that hit as you walked in from the hot street and the light effects from two large screen video works projected onto the walls.

There’s a lot of info about the two exhibited artists on the excellent gallery website which shows work from represented artists (all regional) as well as current and past exhibitions. For me, exhibiting random holes in paper made by firework residue accompanied by a video of the firework display was truly inspired and staring mindlessly at a garage in the dark made me feel surprisingly secure although the friend I was with found the garage work really creepy!

There is a library shop here which stocks some excellent magazines related to art and arts development in the region. It also has a book study club, which meets at the gallery on the first Monday of every month to discuss a novel by a regional author, which seems a very special and unique feature of the life of this gallery. It also has film and documentary screenings.

B21 Progressive Art Gallery

This gallery also features regional artists and the last exhibition here was an Iranian artist who uses historical, sexual and religious themes. It had just finished so I could only see the pictures on the floor through bubble wrap. Given their content it seemed almost appropriate that I should have to view them through a layer of concealment but thanks to another excellent gallery website these pictures can still be seen online.

Unfortunately, the images online have had the frames removed which is a shame because the frames were painted gold in the style of Italian iconography which added considerably to their impact.

Asked someone at the gallery about this artist and the exhibition in general and was told that all of the work had been sold. Almost the entire collection had been bought by Emiratis with one particularly risqué piece acquired by a Sheikh.

Sorry no pics of any of them …. I actually forget to get my camera out!