A group of ladies in linen pants and sunglasses boarded the Art Bus, chattering away in German. An entire class of teenage art students from Nirupama Sibal’s room at Emirates Hills International School bounced up the steep steps and jostled for the cool kid seats in the back. Three friendly guides passed out water, maps, and a schedule that promised to cover an ambitious 28 Al Quoz galleries in a single day.
The bus was chock full and beginning to move when a red paper airplane flew mischievously through the air. No one was misbehaving. In fact, every seat on the bus was equipped with a plane, an interactive gift from artist Hala Makhlouf, whose winning design also livened up the bus’ exterior. The instructions accompanying the plane read: “Write a thought, any thought, and throw it in the wind. If this is found, do the same, and keep spreading words around the city.”
Just like the paper planes, the goal of the Art Bus is to spread Art throughout Dubai by introducing residents to the creative side of the city. Passengers can choose from one of three routes (Al Quoz, DIFC, or Jumeirah) and are taken on a full day guided tour for AED 50. Each year leading up to Art Dubai, Art in the City and Dubai Culture & Arts Authority partner up to make a call for local artists to submit designs for the bus. This year’s winners were: street artist Mark Ganzon (recognized by his tag ‘Cloud88’), Afra Bin Dhaher (who is known for her photographic self portraits), and Hala Makhlouf (who recently relocated to Dubai from Cairo).
The Al Quoz Art Bus route wound its way through industrial warehouses and labour camps, providing a remarkably comprehensive overview of the area that is impossible to navigate on foot and often defies even the sharpest of GPS systems. The tour included stops at all the usual suspects in Al Quoz, including the Courtyard galleries and Alserkal Avenue, but also visited off the beaten track spaces like Mussawir, a gallery that specialises in contemporary Pakistani art, and The Mine, a new underground art concept space.
At The Jam Jar, Ferwa Ibrahim was on hand to speak with visitors about, ‘Landings’ her solo show featuring performance art. She was circled like a rock star by a group of teenage girls snapping photos with their phones and asking questions. The Art Bus had achieved its purpose of bringing art to Dubai’s residents once again.
Sound Bites from the 2014 Art Bus Artists: I was a lucky fish to get to interview all three of this year’s Art Bus winners! Read on…
Q: Have you ridden the bus often in either Dubai or Cairo and did that experience influence your design in any way?
A: I have in both cities. When you get bored on bus rides and start noticing what people are doing to pass the time, the body movements, the conversations, that’ s the really cool part of the journey.
My design for the Art Bus is about a thought process. It wasn’t intentional at first, but it fit perfectly for a bus, because what better time do you have for just being alone with your mind than on a tediously long bus ride?
Afra Bin Dhaher
Q: Are you planning on riding the Art Bus to celebrate with family and friends?
What do you think the experience will be like?
A: I don’t think we ever get the chance, here in Dubai, to experience what it’s like being a tourist in your own country. So, I guess now is the ultimate moment to do so. Now thinking of it that way, I just might travel in the Art Bus during this mad month!
Mark Ganzon ‘Cloud 88’
Q: What was it like to see your submission to the competition come to life on a 3-D monster of a bus? Did you leave any signs of yourself inside to surprise passengers?
A: One word. “Surreal”! I’ve done large artworks but working on an absolutely large (and not to mention) moving object is definitely top in my book so far. I have left a little something for folks to carry around with them within the art bus route and hopefully beyond the trip. It’s practically related to what I did for the bus artwork and interactive.
Good Ideas: To book your ticket on the Art Bus or to learn more about becoming a guide or contributing to the call for next year’s Art Bus design get in touch with the lovely ladies at Art in the City here.
Images: Courtesy of Art in the City and the artists.