Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Graffiti at Dubai’s Bastakiya

Tashkeel and photographer Jalal Abuthina launched a book at Tashkeel Bastakiya on Saturday (March 12) to coincide with the opening of the Sikka Art Fair. It is called "District 333: Beyond the Surface."  District 333 is the municipality code for Dubai’s Al Badaa neighborhood.

This project is an uncensored, first-hand exposé of graffiti from the area by the people who live there. “It explores a facet of Dubai’s own culture, which has been (and still is) completely overlooked and neglected,” says the author.

I have known Jalal for several years and a follower of  his photography. A keen admirer of graffiti art, I made my way to Bastakiya to congratulate him and see what it’s all about.

The book launch takes place during the March 12-21 Sikka (alleyways) Art Fair featuring artworks by upcoming Emirati and UAE-based artists, galleries, and institutions. This initiative by the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (Dubai Culture) couldn’t have been held at a more fitting place than Bastakiya, one of Dubai’s vibrant centers of cultural activity and artistic heritage. Sikka Art Fair, which runs parallel to Art Dubai beginning tomorrow (March 16), is open to the public and last Saturday night it was teeming with people visiting the various exhibitions and enjoying some outdoor, free live music.

The exibit poster
Jalal's book
Jalal launched his book in partnership with Tashkeel, an independent resource for artists and designers living and working in the UAE. Established in January 2008 by Lateefa bint Maktoum, Tashkeel members have access to extensive studio facilities, including painting, photography darkroom and studio, printmaking, textile printing, MAC lab, jewelry and 3D practice.

Tashkeel Bastakiya opened this January. It provides six individual artists’ studios. Five of them are available for use on a long-term basis (minimum three months) to individual or joint applicants, whilst the sixth studio can be used by visiting artists or be booked by members on a short-term rotating basis. A three-month single membership is for AED 5,000. The main Tashkeel premises are at Nad Al Sheba, where a three-month membership is AED 2,000.

Gallery manager Rania Ezzat and...
Tashkeel manager Jill Hoyle with guests
On hand with Jalal at the launch of “District 333: Beyond the Surface,” was Tashkeel manager Jill Hoyle and gallery manager Rania Ezzat. People were coming in and out, some because they knew of the launch and others just because they were visiting the different exhibits.

Among the 13 pictures of graffiti, two are from the book and the others from various Dubai neighborhoods. They are on sale at AED 2,400 with all earnings directed towards humanitarian aid in Libya.

The book is a signed and numbered limited edition of 100 and is only available, for now, at the March 12 to April 14 exhibition.

Be who you are, don't fool yourself -- Al Badaa
“District 333: Beyond the Surface" features a foreword by Dubai-born artist Fathima Mohiuddin, as well as an introduction by Jalal, who writes:

“When anyone thinks of Dubai, probably one of the last things that come to mind is graffiti. Like anywhere else in the world, the act is after all considered a form of vandalism and (for anyone over the age of 18) the offense can lead to a possible three-year jail sentence in the UAE. In some cases, conviction of vandalism can even lead to deportation from the country for expatriate offenders. Because of this, graffiti in the city has taken on a very unique form. It’s most defining general characteristic is that it is usually inconspicuous, and hidden behind (or within) the city’s notoriously clean and polished public façade.

“With the exception of the old neighborhoods in Dubai and the new wave of commissioned live graffiti events, the art form usually only exists through quotes, simple pictures, and anything else that takes a very short period of time to compose and create. At the expense of getting caught by the authorities, many are also left anonymous with no signatures or “tags” left by their creators/authors.

Nirvana -- Deira
“Ironically, however, the areas in the city that contain the greatest amount of graffiti (and even the most politically inclined, poetic and explicit forms of it) are those where the majority of the Dubai police force live and call home. Some of these neighborhoods (such as Satwa, Rashidiya, and Karama) are amongst the oldest neighborhoods in the city.

“Having spent approximately seven months in 2010 trying to source and document graffiti throughout the entire city, I found Al Badaa to be a distinctly unique area in Dubai for several reasons that have made it the backdrop for this project.

Save Gaza -- at the Thunder Bowl center in Satwa
“Firstly, just like the graffiti scattered throughout it, Al Badaa is itself somewhat hidden. The district rests between the more popularly known areas of Satwa and Jumeirah 1 and, because of its relatively small size and location, it is commonly assumed to be a part of one of these two greater areas. Al Badaa is also one of the very few districts of the city where European and Arab expatriate families live in recently developed villa compounds that, in some parts, are located (literally) across the road from an Emirati freej (or neighborhood) that is well over 30 years old. A large segment of the district is also home to many blue collar workers of Dubai, who are a mix mostly of Indian, Pakistani and Filipino individuals and families.

“The collection of writings and illustrations from the area were captured between August 11 and September 9, 2010. The series begins around the new villa compounds off of Al Safa Road, then moves through the older parts of the district that end just before Al Dhiyafa Street. 

“As mentioned, the authors of most of these writings and illustrations are completely anonymous, which make them impossible to credit. All the photographs were composed with the intention of focusing only on clearly communicating the text and drawings. None of the writings have been produced, censored or modified in any way. Because of erosion, some have been slightly enhanced (digitally) where necessary to make the words easier to read. All English writings and text have been translated to Arabic and vice versa.”

UAE band Noosh Like Sploosh
Listening to the band perform
I went in and out of several other exhibitions and got lost a few times in the little alleyways of Bastakiya while trying to find my way to the main entrance. That was lucky as I passed a little square where UAE band “Noosh Like Sploosh” were just beginning a live performance. I settled on a beanbag to listen and enjoy.

Magical Bastakiya
Being in Bastakiya is a magical, unique and unbelievable feeling. It is like nowhere else in Dubai and with the current beautiful weather, it is well worth visiting, especially during the Sikka Art Fair.

(More photos of the evening in Bastakiya here)