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Film Screenings - Abu Dhabi Film Festival at The Space in June

The fourth edition of Abu Dhabi Film Festival at The Space for the month of June will feature films that "made the journey to Cannes".  

The 67th annual Cannes Film Festival completed last month but we invite you to explore highly original films and masterful filmmakers who made the journey to Cannes. Directors Jeff Nichols, Annemarie Jacir, Pablo Larrain, Cherien Dabis and Hugh Hudson each created innovative, daring and highly memorable stories that have left an indelible impression across the world.  

Here's the line up for June. All screenings are free, but you must RSVP in advance. The screenings take place every Monday at The Space in Abu Dhabi, starting at 7pm, except on 30th June, the film will be screened at 5pm (due to Ramadan hours). 



Monday, 2nd June 2014 at 7pm
Salt of this Sea (Milh Hadha Al Bahr) by Annemarie Jacir  (Palestine)
Drama/Romance | PG | 109 minutes | Arabic with English Subtitles  

Soraya, 28, born and raised in Brooklyn, decides to return to live in Palestine, a country that her family was exiled from in 1948. On arriving in Ramallah, Soraya tries to recover the money left in an account by her grandparents but meets with refusal from the bank.

Her path then crosses that of Emad, a young Palestinian whose ambition, unlike hers, is to leave the country for good. To escape the constraints linked to the situation in Palestine but also to earn their freedom, Soraya and Emad take things into their own hands, even if this means breaking the law. In this quest for life, we follow their trail through the History of a lost Palestine.  



Monday, 9th June 2014 at 7pm
Take Shelter by Jeff Nichols (USA)
Thriller/Drama | 15+ | 121 minutes | English 

When Curtis (Michael Shannon) begins having nightmares of an encroaching, apocalyptic storm, he refrains from telling his wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain). To protect her and their six-year-old deaf daughter Hannah, Curtis starts focusing his anxiety and money into the obsessive building of a storm shelter.

While Hannah's healthcare and special needs education has resulted in financial struggle, Curtis' seemingly inexplicable behavior concerns Samantha and provokes intolerance among co-workers, friends and neighbors. However, the resulting strain on his marriage and tension within the community doesn't compare to Curtis' private fear of what his disturbing dreams may truly signify.



Monday, 16th June 2014 at 7pm
No by Pablo Larrain (Chile)
Drama/Politics | 12+ | 108 minutes | Spanish with English Subtitles

In 1988, Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet, due to international pressure, is forced to call a plebiscite on his presidency. The country will vote YES or NO to Pinochet extending his rule for another eight years.

Opposition leaders of the NO vote persuade a brash young advertising executive, René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal), to spearhead their campaign. Against all odds, with scant resources and under scrutiny by the despot's minions, Saavedra and his team devise an audacious plan to win the election and set Chile free.



Monday, 23rd June 2014 at 7pm
Amreeka by Cherien Dabis (USA)
Comedy/Drama/Family | G | 97 minutes | Arabic/English with English Subtitles

Muna Farah, a Palestinian single mum, struggles to maintain her optimistic spirit in the daily grind of intimidating West Bank checkpoints, the constant nagging of a controlling mother, and the haunting shadows of a failed marriage.

Everything changes one day when she receives a letter informing her that her family has been granted a U.S. Green Card. Reluctant to leave her homeland, but realising it may be the only way to secure a future for Fadi, her teenage son, Muna decides to quit her job at the bank and visit her relatives in Illinois to see about a new life in a land that gives newcomers a run for their money.



Monday, 30th June 2014 at 5pm
Chariots of Fire by Hugh Hudson (UK) 
Drama/Sports | G | 124 minutes | English 

A cinematic masterpiece that earned four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, CHARIOTS OF FIRE recounts the widely celebrated, inspiring true story of two British runners competing in the 1924 Olympic Games.  

Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), a driven athlete of Jewish ancestry, runs to overcome prejudice and to achieve personal fame; his rival Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), a devout Scottish missionary competes for the glory of God. An inspirational story of spirit and strength in the face of enormous odds, the film combines the finest elements of athletic competition and human drama to create a compelling and timeless classic. 

RSVP here.


Film Screening - Al Intithar (The Waiting) by Mario Rizzi and Monopoly by Bader AlHomoud

Mario Rizzi, Al Intithar, 2012, film still

The Saturday, 31st May 2014, Sharjah Art Foundation will screen two short films in the outdoor Mirage City Cinema in the Sharjah Art Foundation Art Spaces


Al Intithar (The Waiting) by Mario Rizzi
Arabic with English subtitles
Colour, 30 mins, 2012 


Al Intithar (The Waiting) is the first part of the trilogy Bayt (House) about the emergence of a new civil consciousness in the Arab world, which also looks at the social implications of the end of post-colonialism in these countries.

The short film Al Intithar presents itself as an excerpt; it records fragments of the life of Syrian refugees in Camp Zaatari, which lies seven kilometres to the south of the Syrian border in the Jordanian desert. The film’s protagonist is a widow from Homs whose husband was killed in an attack by the Syrian army. The film follows her life at the camp for seven weeks. Life’s rhythms are dictated by the place, and life is all about waiting.

Monopoly by Bader AlHomoud 
Arabic with English subtitles
Colour, 23 mins, 2012  

Monopoly is a mockumentary that depicts the housing crisis in Saudi Arabia, revolving around a man who decides to live in a van due to escalating property prices.  

The film raised high awareness about a crisis that affects 70% of the population in Saudi Arabia, and as a result received over a million views in its first week.




Event details
Date: Saturday, 31st May at 8.30pm
Venue: Mirage City Cinema, SAF Art Spaces, Behind Al Zahra Mosque, Sharjah (location map)  


RIP Maya Angelou


Sad news about Maya Angelou, but her legacy will live on.

There are countless of obituaries, but I really enjoyed Maya Angelou, Lyrical Witness of the Jim Crow South, Dies at 86 by Margalit Fox. This video, Farewell to Maya Angelou is from the same article. 


I strongly suggest you read this interview from 2003, Growing Up Maya Angelou about her childhood, her writing and the importance of family. There are some very beautiful and touching answers in it.    

On a lighter note, watch this video of Maya Angelou discussing how she coped during the years she stopped talking till she was 13, about being human and about language. It includes a funny story when she was in Cairo as a dancer, when on one night when she was asked to sing, despite not being a professional singer. She sang a song her mother used to sing every Sunday and impressed the audience, "4500 Arabs jumped up and hit the floor 'w'Allah azeem, w'Allah azeem'". The trained singers that performed before her looked at her with envy and she responded, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I have the glory." 




 RIP Maya Angelou, 1928-2014. 




March Project at Sharjah Art Foundation

Frank Harris, Spaceship Sharjah, 2014, installation, wood, lenses and paint

Sharjah Art Foundation's March Project features the work of seven young artists who were part of an educational residency programme organised by the foundation. During this residency, the artists had the opportunity to research, realise and present site-specific works through a series of professional development courses, seminars, exhibitions, site visits and talks led by art practitioners over a five month period.

The selected artists included recent graduates from institutions such as Slade School of Fine Art (UK), MASS Alexandria (Egypt), Al Riwaq (Bahrain), Higher Colleges of Technology (UAE) and Zayed University (UAE).

Their work is installed throughout Sharjah Art Foundation Art Spaces and Bait Al Shamsi, in the Arts Area since 16th March 2014 and on till 16th June 2014.  

The works realised in this exhibition draw upon the role of architecture, space and movement in the hybrid culture and society of Sharjah. The interactions in Sharjah between residents and its private and public spaces, as well as the occupation and use of these places, play a central role in these site-specific works installed throughout SAF Art Spaces and Bait Al Shamsi, in the Arts Area.


Here's a video of the works, plus interviews with some of the artists talking about their work (click on "Captions" to watch it with English subtitles).  


Below is the list of artists and detailed information about each installation. Block some time (preferably in the evening since it is very hot during the day), go to Sharjah and walk around the Art Space and Arts Area and enjoy the sights and sounds.  


Noor Al Bastaki - Sawalef (Tales)
2014, installation, video 
Location: SAF Art Spaces, Sharjah Heritage Area 

In this work Noor Al Bastaki explores how society is defined by the public interactions between different types of people. Influenced by Al Majis Al Shaabi, a popular meeting place in the traditional Heart of Sharjah, Al Bastaki’s installation re-creates a local café with synchronised video recordings from coffee shops in both Sharjah and Bahrain. 



Marcela Florido - Contos
2013-2014, oil on canvas, oil and charcoal on paper  
Location: Bait Al Shamsi, Sharjah Arts Area  

The formal and aesthetic decisions are a direct response to Marcela Florido’s experience in Sharjah: the bold use of raw pigment on canvas and the predominance of hot colours such as orange, pink, yellow and red, the contrast between light and shadow reflect the landscape of Sharjah through the medium of painting.  



Ahmed Fouad Rageb - Untitled
2014, installation, 20 radio transmitters, 20 mp3 players and 5 radio receivers 
Location: SAF Art Spaces, Sharjah Heritage Area  

Ahmed Fouad Rageb's 22 radio transmitters are distributed around SAF Art Spaces, transmitting pre-recorded audio interviews with a range of Sharjah Art Foundation staff members, who have a strong relationship and familiarity with the area.

The viewer moves through the spaces catching different radio frequencies, streaming different ‘channels of consciousness’, examining the relationship between the subconscious mind and the space. Rageb’s work is inspired by the numerous Sharjah radio stations that stream in different languages, each addressing a specific demographic. 



Frank Harris - Spaceship Sharjah
2014, installation, wood, lenses, paint 
Location: SAF Art Spaces, Sharjah Heritage Area

Frank Harris' Spaceship Sharjah invites the viewer to enter and consider potential futures. Shaped like a rocket, its faceted sides facing the Corniche, the local mosque and the Heritage Area, it sits between some of the most important influences on any society: the outside world, religion and tradition.

Using a camera obscura, the oldest device for capturing the world as an image, Spaceship Sharjah combines and warps the images of these symbolic structures, posing the question: "what aspects of our current society will we take with us into the future and how will they combine, evolve or disappear?"

Spaceship Sharjah represents the process in which culture, religion and tradition contend with each other, constantly negotiating, combining and evolving, by capturing and distorting images of one particular location through multiple camera obscuras mounted inside a space shuttle bound for the future. Upon entering the structure the viewer sees "where shall we go?" painted on the steps, putting them in the position of a modern day Noah.  

(images via

Holly Hendry - Homeostasis
2014, installation, metal pipes, pillows, wadding, meranti wood, fan  
Location: SAF Art Spaces, Sharjah Heritage Area  

Fascinated with the history of these architectural forms and their function, Holly Hendry uses the traditional form of the Barjeel as the conceptual framework in this installation. Historically, the Barjeel was used as a form of ventilation, working as a mechanism to capture and circulate air through a building. With modern air conditioning, the towers have become decorative features representing a local and historical identity. In Homeostasis, Hendry creates an oversized replica of an air conditioning system’s inner workings offering a commentary of the UAE’s modernisation.

The overall aesthetics of the work speaks of the body, conceptually and physically attempting to turn the architecture into a form of fragmented human form. A wooden framework supports aluminium ductwork and acts as the ‘bones’ of our private domains. Wedged between the wooden structures and the metal ducting, oversized cushions represent domesticity and the warmth of home, creating a visual tension within the installation.  



Nourine Shenawy - Closed Letter
2014, installation, paper, cardboard, foil, pencil  
Location: Bait Al Shamsi, Sharjah Arts Area 

In Closed Letter, Nourine Shenawy asked people for short texts that describe their thoughts before falling asleep. Printed and handwritten in black foil or pencil on black paper, from a distance the work appears to be an oversized ‘censored’ letter. On closer inspection the words become legible and reveal to the viewer these personal thoughts.  



Eman Youniss  - The Sacred Room
2014, installation 
Location: Bait Al Shamsi, Sharjah Arts Area 

The Sacred Room is a replica of Eman Youniss’ grandfather’s room—his private domain, complete with original objects and belongings. During his lifetime, Youniss was the only one allowed to enter the room and invade her grandfather’s privacy and solitude. This work recreates the room from the eyes of a child and offers viewers a glimpse into the artist’s personal life. 



Location map of Sharjah Art Foundation and exhibition spaces 
Map of the Sharjah Art Foundation Art Space 


[all images via unless where stated]


The Lost Empire by Fouad El Khoury at The Third Line


The Lost Empire by the prolific Lebanese photographer Fouad Elkoury is the latest exhibition at The Third Line. The exhibition features photos of abandoned soviet military bases where he visited dozens of military bases in Poland, Hungary, Estonia and East Germany between 2010 and 2011.

Most were aviation fields; others served separate purposes. And despite having being told there was nothing to photograph there, Fouad found the abandoned desolation far more captivating.

Deserted and invaded by nature, a force far more primal and stronger than weapons of war, the bases have become unserviceable areas of land. The utter silence and emptiness left Fouad the only protagonist in the plot, searching for abandoned stories, and his only ally was light, without which nothing could be seen. 


I got a chance to meet Elkoury at The Third Line a few weeks ago and we talked about his career, photography and Dubai. Here are some of the highlights.

About Dubai
In addition to photographing in various cities around the world, Elkoury has been documenting Dubai for almost 10 years, you can see some of his work here. It's been a few years since he came to Dubai, so during this visit, he used every chance he had to photograph the city, despite the heat.

When I asked him what his impressions are of Dubai during this visit, he said he hoped there would have been an organic growth in the city after the economic crisis from a few years ago, but instead, he sees a lot of “constructed” growth which feels messy and chaotic. During his visit to Downtown Dubai around Burj Khalifa, he said that although he was impressed to see so much has been built in a very short period, but it "feels fake". 

I tend to agree with Elkoury and told him I don’t feel lessons were learnt after the crisis and Dubai is very much in construction overdrive mode, especially after the World Expo 2020 in Dubai announcement.  

About photography
When it comes to photography, Elkoury took it up based on instinct; it has and continues to play an important part in his life and work.

When we discussed the role of photography in the Middle East and its appreciation, or in most cases, lack of appreciation, he agreed with me that photography doesn’t get enough acknowledgment or recognition as an art form.

He pointed out that throughout history, artistic expression in the Arab world was found in literature, poetry, painting, sculpture and music; and in cinema during the past century, which took off in the Arab world when it was introduced, but the same cannot be said about photography. Somehow, photography is still struggling to be seen as a respected and serious art form in this region.

During his early days of photography, he was considered a "spy or following a disrespectful hobby". Again, this was another point we agreed on, and I was glad he validated my thoughts on how photography is perceived in this part of the world. There is distrust when it comes to photographers, especially when found in non-touristic sites. And there isn’t the same level of respect when it comes to photography as art and we wondered if it's due to the fact that in this day and age, everyone with a camera phone is a photographer, documenting and sharing a constant flood of images on social media? Or is it to do with the fact that photographs sold in galleries are in editions, and buyers prefer unique pieces, hence the popularity of paintings and sculptures?


About empty places
Before meeting Elkoury, I spent a lot of time looking at his work on his site, which goes back to the 1980s. I noticed a lot of his work does not show people, where he’s more of an observer or a quiet participant. For his Lost Empire series, I told him my first reaction to the work was categorising it as  “ruin porn” photography. But as we discussed his work, I realised it was simply a case of Elkoury seeking quiet and peaceful places, an appreciation that has come with age. He described the places he photographed for The Lost Empire series as “beautiful”, whereas most people think of them as ruined and abandoned. He prefers to go to places without people, to enjoy nature, silence and his surroundings.


On that note, I leave you with some of Elkoury’s photos from the exhibition, accompanied with Negar Azmi’s eloquently written essay about this series (included in the exhibition catalogue). Negar Azimi is a writer and senior editor at Bidoun, an arts and culture magazine based in New York.   

Grab a coffee/tea/drink, sit back, read and enjoy the photos. If you are in Dubai, the exhibition is on till 29h May 2014.  

Mute Witness by Negar Azimi

© Fouad Elkoury, Balaton Airport, 2010, Chromogenic Print Diasec, 50 x 75 cm

He always arrived with a bottle of whiskey and a smile, just in case he had any problems getting in. Some encounters were more strange than others. In Hungary, he found dozens of menus scattered around, traces of soldiers’ mess halls from five decades before. In Germany, he walked into a warehouse stocked with crisp never-before-used officer fatigues. Somewhere else — he can’t remember where — he found young men racing their motorbikes along ancient airplane landing grounds. More often than not, sleepy sentinels—for there were often guards standing about the derelict architectural carcasses — raised their shoulders in sulky indifference to indicate that these abandoned military bases were not of their moment, but rather, that of their parents and grandparents. This was just some job. They didn’t have answers to the questions.


© Fouad Elkoury, Bunker, 2010, Chromogenic Print Diasec, 72 x 90 cm

It is a queer thing to trace the footprints of great historical epochs. Unlike the photojournalist who yearns to be there in the moment – as the wall falls, when the dictator flees, amid the crowds heaving – the photographer of traces takes his time, thinks hard about the where, and sets out on a long walk. These walks take hours or weeks. Sometimes they take years, for if anything, they are not “timely.” The photographer says he has a sort of predisposition and sympathy toward these liminal spaces (for it is not clear if these sites are in a state of becoming or unbecoming). Maybe, he says, it’s a sort of a natural affinity. He has set out on journeys not unlike this one in Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt and Nicosia. In all of these places, the quality of the sound is the same, he says. Silence, it is thunderous, wraps around you like a blanket.


© Fouad Elkoury, Furstenwalde, 2011, Chromogenic Print Diasec, 50 x 62.5 cm

History becomes a puzzle to decipher. Sometimes, a place might unleash an avalanche of memory. When Jacques Austerlitz comes to know pieces of his occluded past in the novel of the same name by W.G. Sebald, he says of a gloomy room in London’s Liverpool Street station that it seemed to hold “all the hours of my past life, all the suppressed and extinguished fears and wishes I had ever entertained.” Sebald, the Bavarian author who passed away in 2001, may have been the last century’s great writer-historian. While his immediate concern seemed to be the still-fresh ravages of the second world war in Europe, it is in and around the gaps of his narratives that this vexed history speaks. Silences are pregnant. Past traumas are subtly alluded to. Objects can be bearers of riddles. Throughout his novels, one encounters ghosts, obfuscations, retellings: the landscape is littered with them. Nothing is addressed head on. There is no clarity. Here he is again, in another novel, Rings of Saturn: “We, the survivors, see everything from above, see everything at once, and still we do not know how it was.”


© Fouad Elkoury, Kiskunlachaza, 2010, Chromogenic Print Diasec, 60 x 90 cm

We do not know how it was. Elegant understatements of past horrors, Elkoury’s photographs offer themselves up as Sebaldian traces. And like Sebald’s principle character in Rings of Saturn, who walks for the length of 300 pages in a heroic zigzag through the British countryside, Elkoury, too, walks. He finds memories jaded. People have died. The curious few are left to sift through the inscrutable wreckage of this modern life.


© Fouad Elkoury, Kluczewo, 2010, Chromogenic Print Diasec, 72x 90 cm

Sometimes, Elkoury’s ruins, if you can call them that, take on the appearance of other ruins we have known. In Kluczewo, two bunkers sit in the back of the frame, a little like the squat Mexican pyramids of Teotihuacan. In Furstenwalde, pillars from a now-destroyed structure (or was it never built?) approximate long discarded Greco-Roman pillars holding up nothing but sky. And everywhere, there are strange stand-ins for the human forms that once populated these abandoned spaces. In Gross Doln, over-tall lamps stand out like attenuated bodies. In Juterborg, two ventilators on the side of a building take on the aspect of ancient eyes.


© Fouad Elkoury, Mezokovesd, 2010, Chromogenic Print Diasec, 60 x 90 cm

Somewhere between becoming and unbecoming. And yet, one of the defining characteristics of these remnants of a Soviet past is that they exist in spite of the world. Everywhere in these photographs, a persistent grass grows — invading concrete crevices and cracks or inching along retired walls — as if reminding us that these wars, these empires, are mere specks on the historical record. The history of humans is a small thing. Nature persists.


© Fouad Elkoury, Retired Buses, 2010, Chromogenic Print Diasec, 72 x 90 cm

One final image. Two boulders lie casually on a promontory, before a lake. There is no trace of the retired military base that is surely in the surrounds. The boulders appear to us as mute witnesses, having been here for decades, if not centuries. And while they are likely to hold many answers — for we came here with questions — it seems all too evident that they are not about to reveal a thing.

© Fouad Elkoury, Tartu ,lac, 2011, Chromogenic Print Diasec, 100 x 125 cm


Event details
Date: On till Thursday, 29th May 2014, 10am-7pm 
Venue: The Third Line, Street 6, Al Quoz 3, Dubai (location map


Film Screening - Ship of Theseus

Ship of Theseus by Anand Ghandi will be screened at DUCTAC on Saturday, 31st May 2014 at 5pm. The film is quite long, 140 minutes long -  so make sure you get comfortable whilst watching it. 


If the parts of a ship are replaced,bit-by-bit, is it still the same ship?

An unusual photographer grapples with the loss of her intuitive brilliance as an aftermath of a clinical procedure; an erudite monk confronting an ethical dilemma with a long held ideology, has to choose between principle and death; and a young stockbroker, following the trail of a stolen kidney, learns how intricate morality could be.

Following the separate strands of their philosophical journeys, and their eventual convergence, Ship of Theseus explores questions of identity, justice, beauty, meaning and death. 




Event details
Date: Saturday, 31st May 2014 at 5pm
Venue: DUCTAC, Kilachand Theatre in Mall of the Emirates, Dubai
Duration: 140 mins 
Free entry.


Past Forward: Contemporary Art from the Emirates 

Past Forward: Contemporary Art from the Emirates is a new exhibition taking place at Meridian International Center in Washington, DC from 22nd May till 13th July 2014. It features over 50 paintings, photographs, sculptures, video installations and other media by artists from the United Arab Emirates.

The exhibition is a partnership between Meridian International Center and the UAE Embassy, curated by Dr. Curtis Sandberg, Vice President for Arts and Cultural Programs at the Meridian International Center and Noor Al Suwaidi, an Emirati artist and curator from Abu Dhabi.

The exhibition will travel across the United States over the next 18 months, including stops in Texas, California and Washington. This is the first major touring exhibition featuring Emirati artists. It's aim is to "showcase the creativity radiating throughout the Emirati art scene and highlight the development and history of the United Arab Emirates".


The overarching theme of the exhibition highlights the balance between the UAE’s rapid development while maintaining its ties to its heritage and past and honoring traditional values. The exhibition features core elements of Emirati life and represents all seven emirates while emphasizing the importance of kinship and home, nature and landscape, as well as technology and innovation to Emirati culture.

Meridian International Center has partnered with the UAE Embassy to share the UAE’s compelling narrative and rich cultural heritage through this groundbreaking cultural diplomacy art initiative, which will be a powerful tool for finding common ground, building lasting relationships, and fostering respect.

Past Forward will provide an opportunity for peer-to-peer exchanges of ideas, information, and experiential learning, as well as a framework for Americans and Emiratis to better understand one another through first-hand insight into life and culture in the UAE through these works of art.  

The exhibition includes the following 25 Emirati artists*: 

Abdul Qader Al Rais, Afra Bin Dhaher, Alaa Edris, Alia Lootah, Alia Saeed Al Shamsi, Ammar Al Attar, Ebtisam Abdulaziz, Farah Al Qasimi, Hamdan Buti Al Shamsi, Khalid Al Banna, Khalid Mezaina, Khalid Shafar, Lamya Gargash, Lateefa Bint Maktoum, Maitha Al Mehairbi, Maitha Bin Demaithan, Mattar Bin Lahej, Mohammed Al Qassab, Mohammed Saeed Harib, Najat Makki, Obaid Suroor, Salama Nasib, Shaikha Al Mazrou, Shamma Al Amri, Zeinab Al Hashemi 


There is an educational aspect to this "cultural diplomacy initiative" and I am looking forward to the public's response to this exhibition and the reviews it gets.  

Here's a small selection of work that can be seen at the exhibition (and if you cannot visit, you can see work by all the artists here). 



Abdul Qader Al Rais

Abdul Qader Al Rais Al Jalbout (Pearl Diving Boat), 1987 | Oil on canvas | t 30ʺ x 42.5ʺ

One of the UAE’s most critically acclaimed artists, Abdul Qader Al Rais uses a photorealistic style to paint landscapes and architectural scenes inspired by traditional Emirati neighborhoods, buildings, and forts. He also creates nonrepresentational paintings that incorporate abstracted calligraphy and his signature motif, floating squares.

In the mid-1980s, Al Rais sojourned in the United States and was so inspired by American landscapes that he began painting his homeland with renewed vigor. One of his more recent watercolors, Thekrayat, which means “memories” in Arabic, refers to the artist’s recollections of the importance of the land to Emiratis. The painting depicts the rural outskirts of Fujairah, the only emirate without a coastline along the Arabian Gulf. 



Afra Bin Dhaher 

Afra Bin Dhaher Prayer Rugs, Self-Portrait series, 2011 | Photograph | 25.75ʺ x 23.5ʺ 

Afra Bin Dhaher’s creative practice involves informing viewers, translating experiences, and portraying emotions. She seeks to generate discourse by exploring gender identity in Emirati society.

For her Self-Portrait series, Bin Dhaher, surrounded by various household belongings, contorts her body into carefully composed positions, which reference classical Middle Eastern artistic conventions. According to the artist, these constructed domestic scenes depict intimate memories, as she rediscovers everyday objects and reminisces about her past in the United Arab Emirates.

In Prayer Rugs, Bin Dhaher poses against a background of prayer rugs, while she grasps one in her hands. This work expresses her connection to religion and how she carries its values with her wherever she goes. 


Alaa Edris

In Kharareef – Fables from the Trucial States, Alaa Edris appropriates found film footage and melds it with her own work to create a visual version of the Emirates’ oral traditions. The video adopts an expressionist cinematic style with its assembled recordings, which form a dreamlike path for viewers.

It is composed of excerpts from British documentaries that tell the story of the Emirates before their confederation along with footage from the artist’s personal video archive. “Kharareef” refers to fables that elderly family members recounted to impart moral lessons to children. The heroes of these stories are seven women who allude to jinnat, female demons that served as popular subjects in Arab folklore. 


Alia Saeed Al Shamsi

Alia Saeed Al Shamsi Forgotten Building I (Burj Dubai), 2010 | Photograph | 30ʺ x 20ʺAlia Saeed Al Shamsi Forgotten Building II (Burj Dubai), 2010 | Photograph | 30ʺ x 20ʺ


The concept behind Alia Saeed Al Shamsi’s Forgotten Building series is to showcase the urban development in the United Arab Emirates that occurred from the 1960s to the 1980s. The artist avoids Dubai’s iconic skyscrapers and instead chronicles earlier, rarely discussed architecture to underscore the importance of historic preservation.

In Forgotten Building I, she photographs structures primarily built during the 1980s in Deira, a business district in Dubai that has lost some of its significance in recent years due to new commercial developments throughout the country. Since these older structures are often overlooked or forgotten, Al Shamsi highlights their unique characteristics using dynamic perspectives and compositions to evoke a renewed sense of pride for these architectural gems. 


Hamdan Buti Al Shamsi

Hamdan Buti Al Shamsi Harmony, 2014 | Mixed media | 22.5ʺ x 32ʺ

Hamdan Buti Al Shamsi combines vintage photographs and newspaper clippings with abstract geometric forms inspired by modern architecture for his digital works. For Harmony, he employs a technique known as photo transfer to manipulate images of his ancestral home, Al Ain, the second largest city in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. Al Ain, which means “the spring,” was once an oasis that served as a vital water source for travelers following a caravan route from Oman to the territory of the UAE.

Harmony features the city’s prominent landmarks, such as the Al Jahili Fort – a structure erected in the late nineteenth century to defend Al Ain and its prized palm groves. The artist also alludes to the popular Emirati pastime, falconry, with the inclusion of the bird on the right. 



Khalid Mezaina

Khalid Mezaina Arab Dreem, 2013 | Serigraph | 6.75ʺ x 15.5ʺ 

Khalid Mezaina’s works represent the influence of popular culture, such as comic books, music, fashion, and art, on his personal life and professional practice. In his artistic approach, the artist gravitates primarily to hand-drawn illustrations on paper. His designs emerge from a particular mood to communicate social messages – or for pure amusement.

Mezaina also expresses Emirati culture in a hip or pop-art manner. Drawing on inspirations from everyday life, his illustrations allow his audience to embrace the beauty of Arabic traditions while living in a complex, modern world. 



Khalid Shafar

Khalid Shafar Fallen Palm (bench), 2012 | Ash, walnut, metal, and goat hair | 17.25ʺ x 72.5ʺ x 15.75ʺ

Khalid Shafar recalled his fond memories of the desert landscape and its flora to create a sleek, innovative design line that echoes the aesthetic of the palm tree. Fallen Palm, a unique bench, represents palm trunks that have fallen as a result of advanced years or damage from storms. The bench features a cushion upholstered with goat hair and drawers concealed in each end for storing small objects.

Shafar thoughtfully included spaces between the wooden fronds for magazines to be displayed. Date palms historically played a significant role in Bedouin life. Their trunks supported the roofs of mudbrick towers; their dried leaves formed wall partitions and provided shade; and their fibers were used to make ropes, baskets, and mats. 


Lateefa bint Maktoum 

Lateefa bint Maktoum Observers of Change I, 2011 | Photograph | 58.25ʺ x 86.5ʺ

Lateefa bint Maktoum combines many of her images to create digital photomontages depicting ethereal scenes that examine transformations in the UAE’s landscape and culture. Using her personal experiences from living in Dubai, bint Maktoum portrays faceless observers of change to convey Emiratis’ ability to embrace the future while maintaining their identity and remembering the past. 



Maitha Demithan

Maitha Demithan Ajyal (Generations), 2012 | Scanograph | 54.25ʺ x 64.5ʺ

Maitha Demithan employs a technique in her digital works known as scanography. She uses a small flatbed scanner to take multiple images of her subjects and digitally enhances them to create ethereal portraits. The artist’s immediate family and close friends regularly serve as her subjects, who often appear floating on black backgrounds.

During the creation process, Demithan enriches the colors and accentuates different textures, especially fabrics. Her works express the value of family and clan traditions while also alluding to the past. Ajyal documents conventional dress together with falconry, where training practices are passed down from male family members to young men. In this artwork, the falcon symbolizes the Emirates, whereas the quail, its food source, is a metaphor for elders feeding their heritage to future generations. 


Mohammed Al Qassab

Mohammed Al Qassab Aluminum Life series, 2010 | Aluminum containers | 15.75ʺ x 25.5ʺ x 135.75ʺ

Mohammed Al Qassab creates mixed media works that integrate ordinary objects from everyday life, calling attention to these often unnoticed materials. In his Aluminum Life series, composed of a sculpture and photographs, the artist alludes to the UAE’s large aluminum industry.

Currently, the country is the world’s fifth largest exporter of this malleable metal. The series showcases products, such as cooking utensils and materials used in the nation’s construction boom, rendering them unrecognizable. For the sculpture, the artist forged the biomorphic form from recycled aluminum canisters that traditionally have served as milk containers.

Al Qassab envisions Aluminum Life as a reminder to the younger generation about Emirati heritage and the importance of aluminum for their country. 



Salama Nasib
Salama Nasib Bu Daryah, 2014 | Screenprint on paper | 11.25ʺ x 4.5ʺ each (4)

In her works, Salama Nasib creates narratives using a metaphorical and surreal approach that capture viewers’ attention and makes them question what they perceive. In Bu Daryah, she depicts one of the many popular myths historically told as bedtime stories to children in the Emirates. These fables combine reality with the narrator’s imagination to convey specific messages.

“Bu Daryah” is one of the famous legends of the sea, where the eponymous figure, a jinni, or supernatural being, haunts the Gulf waters and appears at midnight to abduct sailors and burn their boats. Because of this legend, pearling ships often placed men on guard duty at night to protect their crews from harm. 



Zeinab Al Hashemi 

Zeinab Al Hashemi Pearl Tale, 2010 | Scanograph | 17ʺ x 24ʺ

Zeinab Al Hashemis work ranges from installation to video, and her process heavily depends on personal encounters and the environment. She creates visual narratives using innovative techniques to pursue culturally relevant themes.

In Pearl Tale, the artist explores the historic significance of maritime culture in the United Arab Emirates through depictions of sea life, fishermen, and a dhow – an Arab sailing vessel with one or two masts. With an eye for design, Al Hashemi prefers to transform an already existing object into new forms.

For this work, she appropriates scanned UAE currency to tell the story of pearl diving. Historically, people living on the coast relied on the pearl trade due to a lack of arable soil and scarcity of freshwater sources onshore.




Event details
Dates:  22nd May to 13th July 2014, Wednesday-Sunday from 2.00pm-5.00pm 
Venue: Meridian International Center, Cafritz Galleries, White-Meyer House, 1624 Crescent Place, NW, Washington, DC 20009 (location map)
Contact: (Terry Harvey, Director of Exhibitions)  



*Disclosure: My brother, Khalid Mezaina is one of the artists taking part in this exhibition.  


Film Screening - I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night 


A4 Space in Alserkal Avenue will be screening I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night by Deus ex Machina on Wednesday, 21st May at 7pm. The screening is hosted by Capital D Studio.

The film follows the adventures of Australian surfers Harrison Roach and Bryce Young as they journey across Indonesia. 

I HAD TO MUCH TOO DREAM LAST NIGHT follows the simplistic travels of two surfers, meeting friends along the way, on an open ended journey across an archipelago littered with islands and breaks.

Connected by ribbons of tarmac and separated by deep ocean valleys these islands have been here for millennia and will continue to do so for millennia to come.

An veritable eden for waves of every nature, from long reeling glassy points breaks to sketchy urchin infested waves in the middle of nowhere





Event details
Date: Wednesday, 21st May at 7pm
Venue: A4 Space in Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz, Dubai (location map)
Free entry.



Exhibition - Occupied Pleasures by Tanya Habjouqa at East Wing

© Tanya Habjouqa (2013) - West Bank: A Palestinian youth from Hebron enjoys a swim in Ein Farha, considered to be one of the most beautiful nature spots in the entire West Bank. It, like many other nature reserves and heritage sites in the West Bank, is managed by the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority. Palestinian touristic enterprise is not allowed.


Award winning series Occupied Pleasures by Tanya Habjouqa will be exhibited at East Wing from Tuesday, 20th May till 10th July 2014. East Wing is a gallery dedicated to photography and recently opened in Dubai, in the Limestone House building in Dubai International Financial Centre).  This will be the gallery's second exhibition, after its ill-fated debut exhibition in Dubai which was shut down shortly after it opened

Tanya Habjouqa is the recipient of the 2013 Magnum Foundation Emergency fund award, and also won an award at the 2014 World Press Photo Contest for Occupied Pleasures

More than four million people live in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, under arduous political and economic conditions with limited freedom of movement.  Yet, amidst these constricting circumstances arising from a 47-year occupation, commonplace everyday pleasures of the population persevere. 

Tanya Habjouqa’s photographic project, "Occupied Pleasures", created between 2011–2014, observes these small, but far from insignificant moments of daily life with a sharp sense of humor, revealing a narrative which stands in stark contrast to more widely viewed reportage, focused on violence and conflict.

For Habjouqa, this series is also a very personal one and reflects her own experiences living in East Jerusalem with her family. Married to a Palestinian lawyer with Israeli citizenship, "Occupied Pleasures" also mirrors Habjouqa’s daily life, sharing quirky moments of amusement in a region rarely photographed with a sense of humor.


This exhibition will show life in East, Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem that we are not normally exposed to in the media. I've seen some of the work exhibted in group exhibiions in Dubai and elsewhere in the past, but never as a solo show,  so I am really looking forward to this. 

I love this quote by Habjouqa reflecting on the origins of the series.  

I sought the juxtaposition of everyday politics and absurdity. Inspiration for this project came while in the Gaza Strip in 2009, during an interview with a man who refused to be deprived of his right to love, sneaking his Jordanian bride through tunnels from Egypt. 

He told me, “it was like a Bollywood film, her standing there and trembling, covered with dirt… I covered her with kisses.”



Here are some of the photos from the exhibition. The exhibition will open on Tuesday 20th May and will run till Thursday, 10th July 2014. Don't miss this. 

The Palestinian visual narrative, as represented in western media, is often portrayed through a narrow prism. Despite the inability of Palestinians to maintain and sustain a normal way of life, and amidst this jarring reality, men, women and children often manage to steal moments of simple joys – quirky, modest occasions of happiness that range from taking a spin on a merry go-around to riding horses, or imagining a tropical adventure all the while standing against a colorful backdrop with a live parakeet in a simple studio in a refugee camp. Tanya Habjouqa

© Tanya Habjouqa (2013) - A young boy attempts to bath his reluctant donkey in the sea, directly beside his home on the outskirts of Gaza's Deir al-Balah Refugee Camp. His family barely etches a living tied to menial labor with their horse and donkey. Bathing the animals is an excuse to splash around sea.


© Tanya Habjouqa (2013) - West Bank: Students from the Al-Quds University javelin team wrap up the last practice before summer vacation in the West Bank city of Abu Dis, next to the Israeli Separation Wall.


© Tanya Habjouqa (2013) - Hayat Abu R'maes, 25, and Nabila Albo, 39, have been teaching yoga for one year now. Sometimes they go to nature spots (one popular spot with Roman ruins) that settlers try to intimidate Palestinians from accessing, they say. They call it, "inner resistance". When yoga classes started in Zatara village, on the outskirts of Bethlehem, the weekly class barely had students. Now they are so popular that despite the small exercise room that is utilized as an aerobics class, the center staggers five classes a week. The room barely fits 15 students in each class.


© Tanya Habjouqa (2013) - Toy Van, Gaza Beach Highway. 

Here's a video version of the series, think of it as an exhibition trailer. 




Event details
Dates: Special opening reception on Tuesday 20th May 2014 at 7:00pm. Exhibition will be on Thursday, 10th July 2014.
Venue: East Wing, Limestone House #12, Dubai International Financial Center, Dubai (location map
Phone:  +971 5055 33 879  


Remembering Al Nasr Leisureland and Al Nasr Cinema


I’m always asked what was it like growing up in Dubai in the 1970s/80s. Where did I hang out with my friends, what did we do?

Many (sadly) still assume there was nothing here in Dubai before the 2000s. It’s as if Dubai the way we know it popped out of nowhere.

My childhood and teenage years during the 1970s/80s was like growing up in any average small town. I used to hang out at friends’ homes, watching TV, movies or splashing about in the pool. We also went to the beach.

During my teen years, we hung out in Al Ghurair Centre one of the handful of malls/shopping centres in Dubai at the time. We also hung out on Al Diyafah Street (today know as 2nd of December Street) where I’d buy music, rent movies from Disco 2000; grab a burger at Hardee’s or a pizza at Pizza Hut. If we felt extravagant or had something to celebrate we’d go to Mini Chinese. 

A lot of these places are still around, but some have relocated or gone through a name change.

One place that hasn’t changed much and a spot of nostalgia to anyone that lived or grew up in Dubai in the 1980s is Al Nasr Leisureland. It’s a place like no other in Dubai. You step in there and it’s like time stood still. Not much has changed since it opened in 1979.


It’s a family friendly complex with sports facilities, including a very large swimming pool that had slides and waves. But during my childhood, I used to spend time in the Luna Park, playing on the banana swings and pineapple slides and the bumper cars. I also hung out at the arcade; table ice hockey was a particular favourite game. The candy shop, which I remember was very pink and yellow, was also frequented many times. 


Al Nasr Leisureland’s logo included a penguin, which I guess was there to promote the fact that it also had an ice rink. Although I was never good at skating, balancing myself was never my strongest point; I always loved the annual ice rink shows. They were quite extravagant affairs.

In the 1990s, my experience of the place changed, where I’d go to the bowling alley with friends and infrequent visits to the Lodge (a night club – where almost everyone in Dubai would end up on weekends). Yes, Al Nasr complex really had something for everyone.

But the biggest gem in that complex was Al Nasr Cinema. The first film I saw was in that cinema, Gandhi in 1982, the year it was released. My school took us to the cinema, it was an educational trip. I will never forget the feeling I had when we walked into the middle aisle and I looked up at the giant screen. Think that’s when my love for the cinema started.

But for most of the 1980s, the cinema showed Bollywood films and it was only in the 1990s that we started getting Hollywood blockbusters hitting our shores. (Otherwise, my movie viewing depended on renting pirated video cassettes from Disco 2000 on Al Diyafah Street).

Al Nasr Cinema only had one screen. Action films were big. I got to see most of the Van Damme, Schwarzenegger, and Stallone movies. At the time, my taste in films was less selective compared to today. I (actually, everyone interested in films) went to watch everything - because of the joy of being in a cinema. 

You’d bump into people you know there. This is when Dubai still felt small, when you felt like you knew almost everyone in the city.

Even watching the movies felt like a community activity. The action films in particular saw us cheer loudly when the bad guys got killed off, or boo at lame scenes. This was before I took cinema etiquette seriously. But hey, we were all guilty at the time. Was it the novelty of being in the cinema?

But I’ve also had my fair share of shh-ing people when I was watching a serious film. The film snob in me wouldn’t accept any talking or joking during serious films.

When I was serious about watching a film, nothing would get in the way. I recall standing in line with a friend amongst kids on the opening night of The Lion King on a Friday evening. I think we were the only two adults trying to fight our way amongst kids. Imagine, I wanted to make sure I got in to get good seats before the kids. I cringe at the thought of how awful or obnoxious we must have appeared. But don’t worry, no kids were harmed. I will never forget the excitement of the first few minutes of the opening scene. I felt as stunned as everyone else in the hall, and for a few minutes I felt like the 10 years olds surrounding me.

Film timings weren’t reliable, as sometimes we’d have to wait for the reel to be transported from one cinema to another. How quaint.

Aladdin, The Bodyguard, Dances with Wolves, The English Patient, A Few Good Men, Forrest Gump, Jerry Maguire, Philadelphia, Seven, Shawshank Redemption, A Thin Red Line, Titanic, Toy Story, Twelve Monkeys, The Usual Suspects are some of the of films I remember watching there.

Around mid to late 1990s, new, bigger shiner multiplex cinemas started opening up in the new malls that started cropping up across the city. Al Nasr Cinema was no longer cool. It was aging and not keeping up with the times or the technology.

Eventually Al Nasr Cinema stopped showing Hollywood blockbusters and went back to screening Bollywood movies, catering to a crowd that were still willing to go to Al Nasr Cinema. I wish I could say I remember what was the last film I saw there, but sadly I don’t. I never stepped foot for a long time, but I was glad it was still around. Eventually, the building was abandoned, because even the Bollywood films and their audiences preferred the multiplexes.

I’d still see my favourite cinema whenever I was in Oud Metha and drove by it. But even though I was going to the other cinemas, it was not the same. I missed my first row balcony seats (although I've now transitioned to preferring sitting in front). 

On 21st December 2008, I read this headline in Gulf News and my heart sank, “Massive fire erupts at Al Nasr Cinema in Dubai”. I regretted not visiting my favourite cinema after it was abandoned, not photographing it – to be able to share this part of history of Dubai that missed it.  

Today, walking around Al Nasr Leisureland and the plot where the cinema was, which is still empty – everything looks much smaller than I remember, but guess everything felt bigger when we were kids. I couldn’t find the banana swings in Luna Park, but the large fruit shaped rides were still there. I know if I take my young nephews to play there, they will mock me and laugh at my face and describe it as too childish. Today’s kids are much more sophisticated compared to my days of being a kid.


There are more restaurants in Al Nasr Leisureland than I remember, the arcade hardly looks used, but the place had people using the sports facilities, including the bowling alley. A favourite with the drinkers in Dubai as it is one of the few places that isn’t in a hotel that’s licensed to serve alcohol. The Lodge has been changed to Chi at the Lodge. It’s no longer the meeting point for everyone on a weekend night like the old days. Next to it is a Goan club, Viva Goa that has more character than Chi.

The penguin is still there. What an odd, yet delightful choice for a mascot/logo for a place in Dubai. The main sign outside looks worn out. Could it possibly be the same one form 1979? I wouldn’t be surprised if it is, and I’m glad it looks worn out. It’s aged; it shows it has history, just like the place itself.

It’s very easy to fall into the nostalgic trap when living in Dubai, the here and now never seems to be good enough. I along with many people I know miss the old days, the "simpler days".  

For this story, I looked up Al Nasr Leisureland online. It was the very first time I visit It never occurred to me a website even existed. And there it was, the one line that captured the spirit of the place, “Discover the many pleasures of leisure”.    




This piece was originally written for Uncommon Guide: Dubai. All photos © Hind Mezaina.