The Rise Of Dubai Street Art

This summer, an assignment to present Dubai’s growing street art scene in Open Skies (Emirates Airlines’ in-flight magazine), sent me to art studios, graffiti walls, galleries, and tripping through various unpaved back streets. I hope that this piece quietly changes international perceptions about what it is like to live in Dubai and what our art community is all about. Read on for an excerpt and some photos I snapped behind the scenes as the article was coming together:

Ruben Sanchez and his work on the cover of September's Open Skies

Ruben Sanchez and his work on the cover of September’s Open Skies

“Despite debate about its direction and definition, Dubai’s street art scene is growing, bolstered by government backing for public art, high-profile supporters, residencies from world-renowned artists and a small but committed community of local talent.

I snapped this photo of eL Seed's wonderfully messy desk at Tashkeel during our interview

I snapped this photo of eL Seed’s wonderfully messy desk at Tashkeel during our interview

Dubai has made a name for itself in the art world in the last decade. It has a respected annual art fair, Art Dubai, which, having celebrated its eighth year in March, is widely regarded as one of the highlights of the Middle East’s art calendar. Christie’s Middle East, and its rapidly developing gallery scene, driven by hubs in Dubai International Financial Centre and Alserkal Avenue, a collection of galleries and creative spaces in what is still an industrial area of the city, is vibrant year-round.

Ruben Sanchez playing around in his Tashkeel Studio with a skull he found in the desert

Ruben Sanchez playing around in his Tashkeel Studio with a skull he found in the desert

But, despite its growing reputation as an ‘art city,’ Dubai is not where you would expect to find an emerging street art scene. Local patrons, gallery directors and artists disagree over definitions, as will become evident in a moment, but mention street art to your average man or woman on the street and they will associate the movement with run down urban centers and New York’s graffiti explosion in the 1970s and 1980s, with artists who painted subways, benches and other urban surfaces and were documented in Tony Silver and Henry Chalfant’s 1983 documentary Style Wars, street-inspired gallery shows by commercial artists Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, or more recently, Shepard Fairy, creator of Barack Obama’s 2008 Hope presidential campaign poster, and the enigmatic British stencil artist Banksy.

The pantry full of spray paint that Sya One and Steffi Bow keep stocked in their Jumeirah Village Triangle villa, proving that the suburbs aren't dull at all

The pantry full of spray paint that Sya One and Steffi Bow keep stocked in their Jumeirah Village Triangle villa, proving that the suburbs aren’t dull at all

Steffi Bow's self-portrait hanging in the stairwell of the villa she shares with husband Sya One

Steffi Bow’s self-portrait hanging in the stairwell of the villa she shares with husband Sya One

Those who have spent time in the Middle East might also refer to Beirut, a city that is painted top to bottom in bright murals by internationally admired artists such as Yazan. The notion of street art doesn’t fit with the common- and on the whole accurate- perception of Dubai as a sparkling modern metropolis.

There’s no Banksy of Dubai – yet. But most residents of the city will recognize the work of Arcadia Blank – if not the creator’s tag- the only anonymous graffiti writer in town, who is known for scrawling satirical or poetic phrases such as “Alone we’re empty. Together we are the universe” distinguishable by a triangle or u-shaped symbol.”

FN Designs' gallery wall was tagged in the dead of night by Arcadia Blank with: "Reality wasn't built 4 everyone."

FN Designs’ gallery wall was tagged in the dead of night by Arcadia Blank with: “Reality wasn’t built 4 everyone.”

The Open Skies feature

The Open Skies feature

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You can download the complete article here: Dubai Street Art Open Skies Sept 14 Danna Lorch

Good Ideas: To watch a video of Sya One and Steffi Bow talking street art at their wall in Jumeirah Village Triangle or to read this feature online, download the free Open Skies app on iTunes here

Image Credits: Danna Lorch