Dubai – Epicentre of Arts

I am thankful to the editorial team of Maxposure India for giving me opportunities like these to submit my travel articles. This post is especially special since it’s about the city I call home now. This was published in Air Vistara’s in-flight magazine in September 2019 issue.

Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood

Once a desert enclave, Dubai has today transformed into an oasis of arts. The glitzy skyline and swanky malls may feature in picture-perfect postcards, but it takes more than a canvas to reflect the art scene is Dubai.

The city that holds maximum number of records in the ‘largest, highest, tallest, biggest’ space, yet Dubai is not just about superlatives. It has a soul, a beautiful one at that. Steeped in culture, dripping in expressions, the soul is brimming with stories of yore and excitement of unveiling the future.

Needless to say, Dubai has become region’s frontrunner in the recent years as the global destination for arts, creativity, culture and innovation. Buoyed by annual international art & design festivals such as Art Dubai, Sikka Art Fair and Dubai Design Week; Christie’s & Sotheby’s auctions; arty neighborhoods & complexes supported with several famed art galleries; Dubai is shaping the future of arts & creativity while enriching its soul.

Apart from art installations jutting out of nowhere throughout Dubai, the city has dedicated complexes devoted to arts, where a mere walk wouldn’t suffice. It’s an exploration of the artistic ecosystem, voyage of traditions juxtaposed with creative energies, an unassuming journey discovering the very best world has to offer. You shall find more than what you seek here!

Al Serkal Avenue

A metamorphosis may mean ‘a change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one’, but looking at Al Serkal Avenue, it’s nothing less than a magical transition. Rewind some years and one may have seen a bustling warehouse complex in the midst of Al Quoz, one of the largest industrial areas in Dubai. Who would have thought that an art revolution would be taking shape here, catapulting this area into region’s foremost art neighborhood where creative energies would be visible & audible through distinct art forms.

The warehouses that belong to the ‘industrial era’ of this district define the character of the place. It’s the neutral tones and clear-cut lines of the area that get beautifully contrasted with colorful art installations, graffiti, neon signage and exhibitions. The result is a neatly looking district, as unreal & beautiful as 3D, yet as animated & buzzing as its inhabitants. Al Serkal Avenue has now become the epicenter of arts, slowing taking the crowning glory from DIFC.

The hipster cafes add to the arty vibe while also drawing attention to the gourmet food & specialty coffee scene here. One must check out the Mirzam chocolate factory, where the chocolate maker take you through the chocolate-y process of bean selection, roasting, winnowing, grinding, tempering and crafting; ending the tour on a delicious note with a tasting session.

The precinct includes a vintage car showroom, performing arts space, jewelry workshop & store, several art galleries, pop-ups, art & photography exhibitions, Gulf Photo Plus, Not for Profit organizations, community spaces, arthouse cinema and a large outdoor space to converge where open-air movies are also screened during winters. Most of these outfits are homegrown concepts, fostering entrepreneurial spirit and creativity in the region. The neighborhood also conducts regular workshops/talks/panel discussion on a variety of topics, while it’s the go-to place for larger exhibitions & festival like GPP (Gulf Photo Plus) Photo Week, Art Dubai, Dubai Food Festival and many more.

DIFC (Dubai International Financial Centre)

In a thriving business & financial ecosystem, one may not expect art throbbing through its veins. Yet DIFC showcases the perfect synergy, right from its architecture and landscape to the art galleries it houses. The financial hub of Dubai infuses its environment with artistic vibe – art galleries, exhibitions, art installations, arty nights and festivals. Headlining the galleries are Christie’s & Sotheby’s which have auctioned many global & regional celebrated art pieces. The art galleries that the district boasts of are Andakulova, Cuadro, Distincta, Opera, Rira, Sconci, Tabari Artspace, The Empty Quarter Ltd., The Farjam Foundation Ltd. and V Art Gallery.

These galleries come alive during the bi-annual festival of arts, culture and entertainment called DIFC Art Nights at Gate Village. Walk around the lit-up outdoorsy area to explore art installations, art shows, live performances, pop-ups and festivities in the air, while cafes & restaurants in the area are abuzz with art collectors, artists and people interested in arts talking about their conquests and emerging artists to watch out for.

Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood

The treasure trove of Dubai’s cultural heritage, Al Fahidi is a historical neighborhood dating back to 19th century that features traditional courtyard houses, wind towers and narrow walking lanes. The maze-like structure brings about a surprise at every bend, and one can explore art galleries, courtyard cafes, restaurants, artisan workshops, cultural centers, museums, craft shops and boutique hotels.

Formerly known as Bastakiya, the quarter is buzzing with art activities year-round, while few art galleries display regional art pieces with pocket-friendly tags. Must visit is the XVA Hotel, which packs too many things into an art destination – a boutique hotel with Persian architecture and local designs, courtyards under a canopy of trees, an art gallery spread across many rooms, a courtyard café cum lounge, a rooftop with a view of the neighborhood and an award-winning restaurant. Walk further and visit Majlis Art Gallery, again setup in a courtyard style structure. Majis means a meeting place in Arabic, and this art gallery has been a meeting place for artists and art lovers, fostering the collaborative art community and displaying paintings, ceramics, glasswork and photography.

Adding to these jewels is the Alserkal Cultural Foundation (ACF), a non-profit organization supporting emerging artists, designers and creative minds based in the UAE. It is housed in a heritage villa featuring exhibition rooms & workshops, while promoting art events and cultural programmes.

The quarter also features a coffee museum for those seeking a history class on their favorite beverage, displaying artifacts 300 years old. For a unique experience, one can have an in-depth knowledge of the Emirati traditions at The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, which conducts walking tours, talks, storytelling sessions and cultural meals. Even though Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood is a quiet enclave, it becomes festive during artistic & seasonal events like Sikka Art Fair, Artists-in-Residence Programme, Heritage Week, National Day and religious celebrations like Ramadan.

Dubai Design District (D3)

Conceptualized as a place for creative thinkers, this contemporary neighborhood is literally under the shadows of Burj Khalifa, being just a few kilometers away. The creative tribe thrives in this hub that also fosters talents to work at international design & fashion houses. A slew of stylish cafes & restaurants abound the cluster along with co-working spaces, and one can click selfies with art installations scattered around. The art galleries featured here are Art Hub, Blue Cave, Citizen E, Sinyar Gallery; apart from studios, lifestyle & design stores, boutiques and even a health & fitness club. So busy is the calendar here that an event takes place almost everyday, and D3 is an integral part hosting larger exhibitions like Art Dubai and Dubai Design Week.