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!

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Don't all rush at once...

I am currently working on a digital montage piece about Dubai which I am hoping will go into an exhibition in Berlin later in the year. I have been using my own photos, downloaded images and scans of papers and magazines to try and present a general interpretation of life in Dubai.

Today I could almost not believe my eyes when I saw this in one of the Gulf News property supplements. Obviously the Dubai PR professionals haven't penetrated this part of the property market yet!

Friday, 22 June 2007

Heat, humidity and homicidal tendencies

Took a few pics of the creek then crossed over to Deira in the Abra and took more. Almost none of them came out. I didn't realise that every time I took my cold camera out of my bag and into the 44 degree humid air, the lens steamed up! So I have a nice collection of pics that are too grey even to be salvaged by Photoshop. However, two did come out, one of my favourite shop and a rare sighting of some graffiti in Deira.

I went to Deira to get a blood test which I need before I can get the residency visa, a quite straightforward procedure apparently. So, I schlepped over to Sheikh Maktoum (who else) Hospital from the Abra station assuming I could then chill in the AC while waiting for the test but ..... I didn't even get through the gate! Was intercepted by a guy who told me I needed a special document typed up in Arabic before I could get the blood test. This seemed reasonable so off I went on another 44 degree schlep round three different typing places. There was some kind of chicken and egg thing that we were on opposite sides of happening here because they all refused to do it owing to the fact that I didn't have a residency visa... er.... I'm confused!?

Left the last typing place and noticed the guy who had taken me there had disappeared so I then got lost. Finally located hospital again and got on a bus which was going in the right direction but I took a wrong turn after getting off the bus and got lost again. By the time I got back to Bur Dubai I was homicidal and I think my body temperature was at dangerous levels.

Thought I would redeem the day by going for a swim but no luck there either. Unusually the pool was FULL of large hairy men with serious beards and their overweight children. I sat there reading patiently for about an hour and a half but then had to give up as I was starting to get dangerously emotional! Selfish b******s. Hope they all get food poisoning and that their children have to have their stomachs stapled when they're older as well.

Monday, 18 June 2007

The Bastakia Art Trail

Started on the Bastakia trail today taking in two of the galleries there.

The first was the well established Majlis Gallery, the oldest in Dubai, which opened in 1970. They are very well organised with plenty of information available about the gallery, its history and each artist. Western expat artists seem to dominate but there are several regional artists too.

Some lovely textures and uses of colour but generally conservative stuff that is easy on the eye but doesn’t make much more of an impact than that. Still. I was given a VIP invite to an upcoming event so shouldn't knock it too much!

No pics of this one I’m afraid. They didn’t want me to take photos citing the dangers of the Chinese copy market, which I do understand but think that’s a battle we’re all going to lose…. in the short term at least!

The second one I saw was the XVA Gallery, which opened 4 years ago. It’s modern, it’s funky and has very interesting and quite emotional work from regional and South Asian artists. Very diverse in terms of subject matter and materials used, and definitely more innovative although a few influences were clear.

This gallery is much more than an exhibition space. It is also a café and guest house with resident artists, so is something of a creative diwan which is fantastic!

The only problem is that it’s a little too laid back in the information department! I did learn a lot from a very friendly Spanish guy but there was not enough information easily available about the diverse range of artists on display. In some cases there was no indication of the artists name, or title or - crucial for me - medium!! I think I worked most of them out but it was a bit frustrating. I really wanted more info as both an artist and viewer. It would have been nice have a few more pics (and links) on the website too.
Given the level of this work I don't think they need to worry about the Chinese copy market (yet!) so couple of pics from this one. On the right is Sabhan Adam and on the left is Nadim Karam.

More galleries to come.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Bad Day in Bur Dubai

Spouse unexpectedly went on work trip for three weeks. One week gone, two to go. I think these are going to be the longest two weeks of my life. Am sitting here feeling very sorry for myself... so I'd stop reading now if I were you!

It's not just the heat. I am not finding Dubai comfortable in any way at the moment. It is difficult to get particularly inspired by such rapid consumer development, mega construction, biggest this, that and the other and a stratospheric level of hyperbole. The futuristic architecture and design is definitely amazing, the vast themed areas and malls are phenomenal but I just can't quite get into it although I do understand the various levels of achievement it represents.

I think part of my problem is that I'm just too enamoured of long cultural histories. In that respect Japan was obviously a winner and Iran. Other parts of Asia and the Middle East also fit the bill of course, most of Europe and the Americas too but nothing on this side of the Gulf is remotely interesting until you get to Yemen! Sorry... that is a bit harsh!

I'm just finding it hard to get excited about this new history in the making and it is hard to get a handle on the past when it seems that little existed before the 70s (except pearls, dhows and the spice souk) and the whole emphasis is on the future! Of course this is compounded by the fact that I'm spending most of my time alone in the house so I'm not even part of the present.

My general mood is not being helped by watching too much news either. Having lived in Palestine and still having friends in both Gaza and the West Bank, it is all quite profoundly depressing.

I am sure it will get better (for me at least) once the summer's over and I've got some work but today was just shite! Still someone did warn me that it takes 3 months to get your bearings and another 3 months to feel part of it ..... roll on October!

Friday, 15 June 2007

Recycling and Dubai Lime

Am delighted to say that I saw the buildings manager struggling with a large pile of old newspapers last week and after a conversation consisting of the four words we seemed to have in common - 'paper', 'trash', 'no' and 'ulhumdililluh' - it was clear he was collecting them for recycling. Yesterday I put out two bags of old newspapers and by the time I got back from my daily sanity dose of a swim at the local hotel pool, the bags were gone.

I knew that some kind of paper recycling must happen because I saw the recycling truck a few weeks ago (see below) and when I was down on the Deira side of the creek one evening, I also saw loads of old newspapers stacked up and waiting to be loaded onto a boat.

Have been doing lots of arts related websearches about Dubai this week and came across something that looks really, really good. It's a creative network site called Dubai Lime and it has listings, galleries, events, music and videos and its free to sign up. There's a lot of different stuff on the site and I haven't got round to it all yet but Iwill!

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

The Bizarre Anomalies

Every time I pass a phone box in Bur Dubai or a back street crossroads wall I see variations on the above. It is such a stark contrast to the three daily property supplements in Gulf News! However, it's not particular to this area or even Dubai .... which links to my earlier gripe about identifying values. Just like everywhere else, developed or developing, the values that are most apparent are commercial and the evidence of the inevitable gap between the top and the bottom becomes more stark. I am sure the middle is doing OK but who notices that?

Talking of middle I went to Spinneys for the first time the other day and for some reason it made me homicidal or at least made me want to rampage down the aisles with a baseball bat. Very strange. I think I've got so used to shopping at the cheap local supermarket with all the Asians that I'm having some kind of identity crisis. Going into a very familiar shopping environment like Spinneys reminded me of the kind of person that I really am (or was three weeks ago) and it caused some kind of pathological overload. Still... at least I finally got some decent coffee so I will be going back!

Tuesday, 12 June 2007


Incidentally the image below is posted only for research purposes and for the benefit of those who have never seen what a blocked site message looks like. In this particular case the explanation given is that site content is "... inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political and moral values ...".

Sadly I haven't seen much evidence of what these values are since I've been here and haven't met a single real live Emirati who could have told me but I live in hope!

.... can one invert this and say that places that don't block sites have no religious, cultural, political or moral values left to be inconsistent with?

Sunday, 10 June 2007

One service unusable and the other one blocked

This is ridiculous .. really. First I discover that Skype is blocked in Dubai or at least impossible to use, and then I find that the Japanese networking site 'Mixi' is also blocked. I actually kept Japanese clients that I had in London and Paris assuming that we could continue English tutorials using Skype thus giving me at least a nominal income until I found more work here.... no chance! Today I try to access Mixi to follow up on a posting I saw in London from a Dubai resident seeking a teacher only to find the whole 'Mixi' site is blocked! I am absolutely f***** furious (please excuse the colloquial usage but as a language tutor I know when it's appropriate).

Did a bit more research and found that youtube and myspace and a number of other sites are also apparently blocked ( although I did manage to access youtube without a problem this evening. So who knows? Still it makes perfect sense really... and has made me realise my need to be re-educated. Obviously I cannot rely on these evil free tools of global human communication to make a living.

But I am very confused ... . I believed the progressive hype being relentlessly and successfully exported from Dubai.... oh well.... I suppose I'll just have to find more illegal ways to employ myself!

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Mall Functions

It's funny the gap between external perceptions of Dubai and the reality. I got an email the other day from a friend in the UK asking what my new life as a 'beach bunny' was like. It was meant to be tongue in cheek but I have found that the general perception of Dubai is that it is entirely Jumeirah. It's a shame because there it is actually a lot more subtle than that especially from the vantage point of Bur Dubai.

I was told that some of the newer residents of the Jumeirah/Media City area feel they have been somehow corralled into a particular way of living that they don't necessarily want. Their apartments are small and expensive and while it is convenient living next to a mall where you can satisfy most of your material needs that's all there is. Malls are essentially boring places and it doesn't really matter how many lifestyle / cultural / consumer facilities they contain, anywhere without variety, stimulation or challenges must surely drive you crazy after a while. I went to my local mall - the Burjman Centre - the other day for only the second time and got both bored and frustrated because I couldn't actually find the one item I wanted! To make matters worse I then got lost and had a moment of sheer panic when I couldn't find an exit that would take me onto a part of the street I recognised.

Disclaimer: I am probably not the best person to comment on Malls and consumer options in general given my lifelong aversion to shopping and plastic bags.

As for the beach bunny issue.... I do have sand between my toes ... lots of it... every day as I step outside our apartment onto the unpaved street!

Swimming and Takeaways

I have been feeling pretty despondent physically since I got here. I used to walk several miles a day in the UK but it's too hot to walk very far here especially at the speeds I am used to walking. Something had to be done so I have joined the gym and pool at a local hotel.

I think this is probably going to be very important to me over the next few years and I am sure that everyone who works there is going to become my best friend Most of the staff are from the Philippines ... although I did meet an outgoing Romanian girl the other night. There are massage rooms too and the masseurs may be Thai but my basic membership fee doesn’t cover that end of the corridor so I can only sigh longingly as the smell of Lemongrass Oil hits my nostrils when I get out of the lift. Have been a couple of times to use the pool and its hard work especially if there are hotel guests getting in the way! However, according to my new best friends the hotel is usually empty in the summer, which is good news because it means that I should have the pool to myself.

It feels strange to be a member of something... the only time I have been a member of anything was a DVD rental club.

Got home after joining and found a pile of takeaway curry/chinese/pizza menus outside my door... just like home! This area really is like East London, only hotter.... and cheaper. Most of my neighbours there were also Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi and the curry menus are almost identical even down to the restaurant names. The only discernible difference is that a lot more of the Indians here seem to be from Kerala specifically which I find rather interesting.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Madinat Jumeirah

Went to Madinat Jumeirah last night to meet some friends. It was the first time I had been that far up Sheikh Zayed Road and got to see all those lit-up semi finished buildings (or the Dubai Monsters as one friend of mine calls them) some of which will be the tallest in the world. Also saw the Burj Al Arab for the first time up close..ish. There is definitely something insect-like about that building... it really does make me think of a giant cockroach especially at night when the lighting seems to enhance the 'body' sections!

As for the Madinat, lots to look at although I did find myself studying the other punters rather more than the contents of the shops. Having not really left Bur Dubai since I got here seeing all those westerners was quite a novelty especially the more immodestly dressed ones.

Interesting checking out what art is being sold though. Mostly commercial paintings and photos and classic desert scenes. With the exception of a few smaller pieces and the odd tasteful photo it was mostly pretty uninspiring but I suppose that's the nature of that particular market. The Persian rugs on the other hand, were as mesmerising as usual.

The scene outside was like a film set. Cue live music drifting on warm breeze across wide steps leading to waters edge... lights reflecting in gentle ripples from small passing boats etc. etc. etc. There was an air of unreality about the whole Madinat experience but that is probably part of the appeal.... wish I had a picture... I really must remember to start taking my camera everywhere again.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Domesticity, Art and Transport

Hello Dubai

I have just arrived, somewhat reluctantly, in that role encapsulating modern global living of the trailing spouse. I seem to be near a creek which I can just about see if lean at a dangerous angle over the balcony. The population out of my window seems very much like my hood in East London so apart from the heat it's not that different.

There is no furniture in my huge flat except a fridge, a cooker, a bed, a desk and two chairs. It's a bit like being in a squat. However, there are two bathrooms which means that for the first time in my life I have my own exclusive bathroom so its all not all bad. All I need now are some curtains and a job.....

So as befits my new and hopefully temporary status, and to address a key part of the unfurnished problem, I have got seriously domestic and am making four sets of curtains out of Saris. Given that this area is more like being in South East Asia than the Middle East there are cheap textiles everywhere so I decided to buy my Saris from my new favourite shop called 'Moral Trading'. I am now the proud owner of a plastic bag with MORAL in huge letters on one side and the equivalent in Arabic on the other. Who needs Prada?

At the weekend we headed down to catch the last few days of the Sharjah Biennial. Given my own artistic interests I was pleased to see it addressing environmental themes but somebody really should have worked on the minor signage. Despite banners advertising the event down most main roads in Sharjah, trying to find the venues proved impossible. The maps in the event brochure were next to useless, there were no street signs indicating venues and the taxi driver as well as passers by had never heard of the Sharjah Art Museum! One can only conclude that the event doesn't want to attract anyone who doesn't already know where it is and can drive there! This is a shame because it just makes the whole thing seem like a PR exercise and does not encourage newcomers to attempt to visit it again.

Luckily we did get to experience the permanent interactive installation that is Sharjah bus station. Absolutely mad... again more like being in a teeming south Asian city except there was a completely cool old Hajji enforcer with a big stick stopping the crowds rushing the bus when the doors opened and dragging them off physically if they got on. This seemed mainly to ensure the observance of positive discrimination for women which is very, very useful. ...... if you're female you can just go straight to the front of the massive and unruly bus queue and get on the bus first! Excellent although very understandable... hardly any women use public transport anyway and I was certainly the only whitey that had been on that bus for a very long time!

With the Sharjah Biennial theme still in mind I was very happy to have the existence confirmed of the Dubai recycling truck .... though it is not yet clear to me exactly what it does...