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.