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Tea with Culture

Podcast featuring discussions and interviews about the cultural happenings in the United Arab Emirates presented by Hind Mezaina (The Culturist) and Wael Hattar.


London Exposed by Julija Svetlova

© Julija Svetlova

London Exposed is a new solo exhibition showing you London through the eyes of Julija Svetlova, an old Lomo friend I've featured here a few years ago.

The exhibition will feature a series of double exposed photographs of London where you will see a different and multi layered side of London. And bear in mind, this work has been shot on film, so there's no digital manupulation, which I personally think makes the work special and unique. 

In Julija's own words, 

People always ask me, why do I double expose what I see. I always answer that I see too many things which interests me so sometimes making just one exposure is not enough. I want to create something out of my visual observations, not to just simply fixate it.



The exhibition will take place in London at Kaizo salon from 10th April to 10th May 2014. If you're London, please do go to this. 

© Julija Svetlova
Multi award winning photographer Julija Svetlova is holding her first London solo exhibition at Kaizo salon in Shoreditch. Working entirely on film, Svetlova shoots her photographs with a variety of cameras. She works with the double exposure technique that helps her to create dream-like photographs and shows London’s familiar landmarks in uncustomary ways. All works on show are signed limited editions and printed as high quality C- Type prints on Kodak Metallic paper mounted on aluminium.  

© Julija Svetlova 
Julija Svetlova is a freelance photographer based in East London. Her first experiments with photography began during her teenage years in Saint Petersburg when she discovered LOMO cameras. Influenced by the snapshot aesthetic, seriality and the spirit of collective creativity at the core of the Lomographic culture, she moved on to work with a variety of film cameras and techniques since that time. 
© Julija Svetlova 
© Julija Svetlova 
What remains constant in her work is her love for materiality of the photochemical process in image making. Taking everyday subjects and street situations as her point of departure, she never attempts to use these images as evidence to establish facts of this reality. Instead, she subjects them to transformation, imbuing them with phantasy- like qualities. If anything is “real”, it is not what we see, but the medium that we use to capture these impressions.
© Julija Svetlova

Event details

Dates: 10th April - 10th May,2014 Monday to Saturday 10 am- 7 pm. Private view on Thursday, 10th April 2014 from 7.30 till 9.30 pm.
Kaizo salon, 67-68 Charlotte Rd, London, EC2A 3PE
Event page on Facebook 




Tomorrow's Past and Untold Stories by Mohammed Al Kouh

© Mohammed Al Kouh - Water Towers


Mohammed Al Kouh is a Kuwaiti photographer who I first got to know online through Twitter a few years ago, and had a chance to meet him in person a couple of times since then.

He's a fellow analogue photographer and I've been following his work which has been developing over the past year. His photography reflects his relationship with his home city Kuwait, which "focuses on landmarks reflecting an almost forgotten Kuwaiti landscape as well as whispers of stories told between generations as though they are dreams from a parallel reality".

The photographs commemorate past buildings in a futuristic composition of a glorious past of the architecture of Kuwait.  Al Kouh’s photographs embark on a powerful journey into a time that refuses to be limited to just a memory of the past, but however still insist on existing as a deeper present reality. Al Kouh’s work takes viewers back to a time where buildings in Kuwait were the landmark of this “Pearl of the Gulf” city and where stories were told as if each word is a pearl of an infinite necklace.


Mohammed Al Kouh will have his first solo show opening next week in Kuwait from 9th-19th April in CAP (Contemprorary Art Platform), and I'm really happy and excited for him. I think this solo show will be the start of something big for him. And some of his work was recently acquired by the Tropen Museum in Amsterdam. So watch this space. 

Oh, and today is also Al Kouh's birthday, so wishing him a very happy birthday.  

The exhibition in Kuwait will include two of Al Kouh's series, Tomorrow's Past and Untold Stories. Both series consist of beautiful imagery and an ode to a lost era in the Gulf. It also reminds me of the discussions that took place about Kuwait at Art Dubai's Global Art Forum which I wrote about recently.  If you're in Kuwait, don't miss this. I am certain his work will be exhibited outside Kuwait soon.


Tomorrow's Past  

In the up rise of every nation, not only do people tend to change their looks, but also buildings get renovated and new ones appear reflecting the new face of the city. Development in all sectors is necessary, especially architecture because it tracks how any country is moving forward; but when this process is done at the expense of historical figures, it demolishes it and erases an entire generations lifestyle just to look 'modern'. Long term, this will result in an identity problem of both the country and its people. 

© Mohammed Al Kouh - Al Sawaber


‘Tomorrow’s Past’ is a series that takes on an artist's point of view of present time through the visual language of the past.  To create these serene scenes with hand-colored black and white photographs, Mohammed Al Kouh drove around Kuwait to capture on camera film landmark architectures built in the 1950s, 60s, & 70s, which is often referred to as 'Kuwait's Golden era'. These landmarks were once upon a time a hub or a distinguished place that reflected the up rise of Kuwait after its independence in 1961; some of them include Fahad Al-Salem Street, Al Ahmedi Drive-In Cinema, and Al-Sawaber Complex to name a few.

Their establishment and existence were an essential part of people's memory and history. Unfortunately, some of the buildings were demolished while others remain neglected, or on their way to be gone as if they never existed. What authorities are neglecting to understand that by erasing these countenances, they are removing the last remaining evidence of 'Kuwait's Golden Era'.


© Mohammed Al Kouh - Rolls Royce Building


Other countries, whether they have been ripped apart by war or natural disasters, usually try to maintain and renovate historical landmarks; because it not only echo how cities move forward - in some cases backward - but also how citizens have changed. It is part of human development, a visual trace of many witnesses of stories and events; some are on national level while others personal.

The importance of historical landmarks doesn't just exist in the bricks and walls, but in what it represents and how it’s been witnessed through the years. Tearing them down doesn’t leave any traces for the generations to come.

© Mohammed Al Kouh - Al Ahmadi Drive-in Cinema


Al Kouh's photographs take us back in time to the beautiful landmarks of an age when Kuwait was known as 'The Pearl Of The Gulf'. How these buildings looked compared to their shocking reality where many people pass by and don't notice or pay any attention to them, some are already forgotten. It is dedicated to document an era that links past to present, how Kuwait transformed and developed, where it stood and stands now.

This year long project is an attempt to create awareness of the consequences of demolishing landmarks. It’s an effort for us to pay attention to what remains, and lastly a reminder of a captivating and essential part of Kuwait's history, one that witnessed peace, harmony, growth and human-maturity not destruction and war. 

© Mohammed Al Kouh - The End




Untold Stories 

© Mohammed Al Kouh - Samry 

I've always been moved by stories. When I was a child I preferred to hear them from my mom rather than watching them on TV or hearing them from anyone else. My moms’ versions were always pure and interesting. I remember asking her to tell the same stories every night over and over again for years. I started imagining every single detail in these stories until they became sort of a reality for me in what looked like a dream. In dreams you're always more beautiful than reality. You’re always happy and with the ones you love and no one will ever hurt you. 


© Mohammed Al Kouh - Heartbreak 

But I grew up and started to forget these stories. I realized it’s impossible to live in a dream your whole life or you will be living in a lie. That was the point when I wanted to recreate my dreams by making a parallel universe were I can be here and there at the same time. I wanted to revel in the layers of the human soul. I didn't just want to take pictures, I wanted to express a feeling beyond the photograph. These aren’t just about the subject itself, instead they extend to how they make you feel and tell the story of the forgotten and things we don't talk about anymore. They hope reminisce with the memories, feelings and the people who don’t exist any more…

© Mohammed Al Kouh - The Orphans I


© Mohammed Al Kouh - The Orphans III

© Mohammed Al Kouh - Memory of a Mother



You can read more about Mohammed Al Kouh here on Stead Bureau and in an interview with  Mrs Deane  


Film Screening - Wadjda

The Scene Club
 will screen one of my favourite films this month, Wadjda by Haifaa Al Mansour on Tuesday, 8th April 2014. In my opinion, it's the best film from the Gulf region we've seen for a long time. If you've not heard about it or seen it before, this is your chance.

Wadjda is the first full length feature film that was filmed entirely inside Saudi Arabia with an all Saudi cast and is the first feature-length film made by a female Saudi director. It will be screened on Tuesday, 8th April at 8pm. Tickets are complimentary, but you must register in advance and collect your ticket at the venue.  

It is a beautiful and very touching film, so spread the word and don't miss this.  


Wadjda is a 10-year-old girl living in a suburb of Riyadh. Although she lives in a conservative world, Wadjda is fun loving, entrepreneurial and always pushing the boundaries of what she can get away with. After a fight with her friend Abdullah, a neighbourhood boy she shouldn’t be playing with, Wadjda sees a beautiful green bicycle for sale. She wants the bicycle desperately so that she can beat Abdullah in a race. But Wadjda’s mother won’t allow it, fearing repercussions from a society that sees bicycles as dangerous to a girl’s virtue. So Wadjda decides to try and raise the money herself.

At first, Wadjda’s mother is too preoccupied with convincing her husband not to take a second wife to realize what’s going on. And soon enough Wadjda’s plans are thwarted when she is caught running various schemes at school. Just as she is losing hope of raising enough money, she hears of a cash prize for a Koran recitation competition at her school. She devotes herself to the memorization and recitation of Koranic verses and her teachers begin to see Wadjda as a model pious girl. The competition isn‘t going to be easy, especially for a troublemaker like Wadjda, but she refuses to give in. She is determined to continue fighting for her dreams.




Wadjda has won numerous awards at film festivals around the world, including Venice, Rotterdam, Palm Springs, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Goteborg and Fribourg and has received a myriad of nominations, including for the 2014 BAFTA Awards. The film was selected as the Saudi Arabian entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2014 Academy Awards and it was the first time that Saudi Arabia submitted a film for the Oscar.


Event details
Date: Tuesday, 8th April 2014
Time: 7.00pm – Ticket Collection and Networking | 8.00pm – Film screening 
Venue: Knowledge Village Auditorium, Dubai (location map)
Register for your ticket online.  




Film Screening - The Square 

Sharjah Art Foundation will be hosting a screening of critically acclaimed and award winning documentary The Square by Jehane Noujaim on Saturday, 5th April 2014.  

The free screening will take place in the outdoor Mirage City Cinema in the Sharjah Art Foundation Art Spaces. There are currently some great exhibitions in the area, so you can use this opportunity to visit these exhibitions before the film screening.  

The Egyptian Revolution has been an ongoing rollercoaster over the past two and a half years. Through the news, we only get a glimpse of the bloodiest battle, an election, or a million man march. At the beginning of July 2013, we witnessed the second president deposed within the space of three years.

The Square is an immersive experience, transporting the viewer deeply into the intense emotional drama and personal stories behind the news. It is the inspirational story of young people claiming their rights, struggling through multiple forces, in the fight to create a society of conscience.


Event details
Date: Saturday, 5th April at 8.30pm
Venue: Mirage City Cinema, SAF Art Spaces, Behind Al Zahra Mosque, Sharjah (location map)
The film is Arabic with English subtitles and 104 mins long.


Art Dubai 2014 Review - Part 2 - Art Dubai Projects

Re: Purpose by Maryam Al Qassimi | Courtesy: Art Dubai 

Art Dubai Projects is a curated, not-for-profit programme of commissioned and site specific art projects exhibited on the fair-grounds of Art Dubai during the days of the fair. The projects usually include installations, performances, video and research which aims to "engage audiences and interact with and comment on the fair and its environment".

The theme for this year's Art Dubai Projects was "intervention" and the work was spread across Madinat Jumeirah's Madinat Arena and Mina A'Salam Hotel, and also inside the actual Art Dubai catalogue. But I found it too spread out which made it very easy to get overlooked by the casual Art Dubai visitor. 

This year's edition for Art Dubai Projects was curated by Fawz Kabra and included the following artists: 

  • Nadia Ayari (Tunis/New York)
  • Youmna Chlala (Beirut/New York)
  • Clark House Initiative (Mumbai) 
  • Sunoj D (Bangalore)
  • Maitha Demithan (Dubai)
  • Sara Al Haddad (Dubai) 
  • Shuruq Harb (Ramallah)
  • Najat Makki (Dubai)
  • Amina Menia (Algiers)
  • Maryam Al Qassimi (Sharjah)
  • Mounira Al Solh (Beirut)
  • Hajra Waheed (Montreal) 


I only really liked a handful of the projects because I found them engaging. But overall I did think the projects lacked any explanations, only the name of the artist and the piece could be seen next to each project, but there was no visible explanation of the theme or at least an artist statement next to each project. This lack of visible information made it difficult to understand several of the projects and its context.

Not everyone has the opportunity to speak to the artists or the curator to be able to understand and appreciate the work, and certainly not many will spend time to read more than 60 pages of the Art Dubai Catalogue which included a chapter titled Curatorial Statements, Interventions and Institutional Memory or Amnesia: Art Dubai Projects 2014, plus interviews with the artists.

Some work did speak for itself, whilst others didn't really create much of an emotion and some were hardly noticed. 


The ones I really liked: 

Maitha Demithan - Live Portraiture 

Maitha Demithan chooses her subjects from family members and friends close to her. She uses scanography to document intense moments of encounter in her various series of installation, video, and transfers on cloth. For the Art Dubai Projects, she set up a booth where she scanned Art Dubai visitors everyday to make one large collage of portraits on the last day.

Here are some of the scans showcased in the booth during the first couple of days of the fair: 

Courtesy: Art Dubai


Maryam Al Qassimi - Re: purpose

© Hind Mezaina - Re: Purpose by Maryam Al Qassimi

Maryam Al Qassimi is a visual artist living and working in Sharjah. Her work uses found imagery and material to explore the vernacular of the UAE and how its merging of languages has shaped local pop-culture.  

Her project Re: purpose "seeks to funtion back to arbitrary objects, turned decorative sculpture, deemed as cultural icons." For this iteration, the giant bukhour sculptures at Madinat Jumeirah were "activated", a "performative gesture intended to recognise the absurdity and artifice in the branding of culture with an overt display of theatrical elements befitting an art fair in Dubai." 


Shuruq Harb - Postulant Angels: The Unoffcial Catalogue of Paul Klee

© Hind Mezaina - Art Dubai CatalogueI would have missed this if I didn't go through the Art Dubai Catalogue, which I only had a chance to do after the art fair.

Shuruq Harb is a visual artist and writer based in Ramallah. She co-founded a number of independent initiatives: ArtTerritories, an online publishing platform, and 'The River has Two Banks' an ongoing initiative connecting artists across Jordan and Palestine. She has shown her work at the 9th Gwangju Biennale (2012), and Columbia University GSAPP, New York (2013).  

For Art Dubai Projects, she used the Art Dubai 2014 Catalogue to intervene and "unveils a series of paintings and drawings, along with correspondences, documents and requests for the authentication of potential Paul Klee artworks".


© Hind Mezaina - Art Dubai Catalogue

The one I would have loved if I actually go to see it:

Hajra Waheed - Character 1: In The Rough 

As mentioned earlier, I thought the some of the Art Dubai Projects were too spread apart, you had to know where to find them or stumble upon them. While that may be the intent, it meant some of the projects got overlooked. I try to read all the listings and still managed to miss this project which I am certain would have loved if I saw it in person.

It was only when I went through the Art Dubai catalogue after the fair that I found out Hajra Waheed had a project which was displayed at 7pm during the evenings of the fair. (Hajra Waheed is one the artists whose work I discovered at last year's fair which I really liked and an expanded version of her work returned this year. I will share her work in my next Art Dubai post.) 

Chapte 1: In The Rough by Hajra Waheed | Courtesy: Art DubaiHajra Waheed is a Montreal-based artist whose mixed media practice explores issues related to political history, popular imagination and the broad impact of colonial power. Her exhibitions include (In) the First Circle at Tapies Foundation, Barcelona (2012), and Sea Change at Experimenter, Kolkata (2013).

For Art Dubai Projects, Waheed had a floating lantern narrating Sea Change through the use of light and found objects. It was performed with renowned shadow pupeteer, Clea Minaker. 


The ones I didn't like: 

Nadia Ayari - Selfie Booth, WC

I had seen Nadia Ayari's work, part of the AiR (Artist in Residence) exhibition at the SIKKA Art Fair, (expect a post about SIKKA soon) and her work looked like something you see in hotels, so I guess it was only befitting to see her project titled Selfie Booth, WC in Madinat Arena.   


Selfie Booth by Nadia Ayari | Courtesy: Art Dubai

Nadia Ayari’s explorations in fresco add a third sculptural dimension to her richly dense paintings. Ayari has had solo projects at The Third Line, Dubai, UAE (2013); Monya Rowe, New York, USA (2011) and Luce Gallery, Turin, Italy (2009). She has participated in group exhibitions at the 3rd Thessaloniki Biennale, Greece (2013); and the 12th Cairo Biennale, Egypt (2010). 

Selfie Boot, WC is an asymmetrical sculpture set in the public bathrooms located beside the contemporary gallery halls of Art Dubai. The piece doubles as an armature for Ayari's fresco paintings.  

When asked to discuss this specific work in an interview in the Art Dubai Catalogue, she said, "2013 was the year of the selfie, 1913 was the year of of Duchamps. The four day commercial context of this piece demanded that I reach towards both idols." 

Everytime I used the toilet that had this piece, I didn't really see anyone engage with it, in fact some were wondering why was there an awkwardly positioned wall with a painting, and I certainly didn't see anyone taking any "selfies" (one of my least favourite words by the way), nor did I think of Duchamp. 


Sara Al Haddad  - therefore; thereafter 

© Hind Mezaina - therefore; thereafter by Sara Al Haddad

Sara Al Haddad lives and works in Dubai. She activates interior architectures, and visualises affect through the knitting of life-size sculptural forms and the weaving of text. She has shown her work at The Pavilion, Dubai (2013), and SIKKA Art Fair, Dubai (2013). 

therefore; thereafter is a site specific installation that intervenes with the architecture of a stair-well. Motivated by notions of material value, time and memory, the work is created using balls of plastic yarn to transform the space, leaving behind the aftermath of the repetitive and durational act of crochet.

I didn't think of value, time or memory when I climbed up and down the stairs everyday during the fair between Mina A'Salam and Madinat Arena. Although I saw this piece everyday, it didn't really intrigue me or create any emotion. Maybe the work is just too conceptual for me. 



The rest of the Art Dubai Projects: 

Here are the remaining Art Dubai Projects. All very interesting, and all connected in a way. I only wish the description you see below was included next to the actual work during the fair. Would have helped put a lot of the work into context. 

Youmna Chlala - The Desire Path

The Desire Path by Youmna Chlala | Courtesy: Art DubaiThe Desire Path by Youmna Chlala | Courtesy: Art Dubai

Youmna Chlala is an artist and a writer who lives and works in New York. Her work investigates the relationship between fate and architecture through drawing, video, prose and performance. Her recent solo shows includeDays of Being Wild, at Art In General, New York (2013), and I Am Who You Say I Say Who You Are at the Cultuurcentrum, Belgium (2013). 

The Desire Path is an intervention into the movement and flows of bodies at Art Dubai. By inserting fixed and roaming paths that are outisde the realm of prediction, the installation and performance instigate encounters and reveal the ways that chance, motion and memory create space. The natural, unkempt and wild elements are experimental reminders of temporality through the senses, and are in constant negotiation with the existing space. 


Clark House Initiative - The Kinematic Modern

© Hind Mezaina - The Kinematic Modern by Clark House Initiative

Clark House Initiative is a curatorial collaborative established in 2010 by Zasha Colah and Sumesh Sharma in Bombay. Their experiments in re-reading of histories, and concerns of representation and visibility, are ways to imagine alternative economies and freedom.  

The Kinematic Modern is a fictional narration of Clark House Initiative's study of modernism through Indian Modernist and Contemporary art and cinema. The contemporary artist, Justin Ponmany, works with Clark House Initiative to make visual links between the various Indian Modernists whose work appear in the project The Kinematic Modern.


Sunoj D - Zero to the right

© Hind Mezaina - Zero to the right by Sunoj D

Sunoj D lives and works in Bangalore. His work explores our multi-faceted relationship with nature, drawing on his move from a rural environment to urban dwellings, and subtly revealing the fissures between these two living conditions. He has participated in Spell of Spill Utopia of Ecology, Palette Art Gallery, New Delhi (2013), and When you watch them grow… at National Museum of Natural History, New Delhi (2012).

Dubai's social structure is layered with various paradigms of money, trade and commerce. In the context of the region Sunoj D comes from Kerala - economy and social status is driven by its many migrants to the Middle East and money they eventually make there. 

Sunoj D's project converts his Art Dubai Projects production budget from US Dollars into Dirhams and Indian Rupees. While all the numbers are familiar, one rarely, if ever, vocalises each of them individually. There is a meditative quaity to the acts of both reciting and listening to these numbers. Sounds are intriguing because they appear between the body and the outside world. The process of creating the work is a personal performance; the sound comes from the bod, but are not fully of the body. 

Sunoj D is also one of the AiR exhibitors at the SIKKA Art Fair and this work is related to the work at SIKKA. I would have liked to have seen the two together (I will write about the other work in my upcoming post about SIKKA). 


Dr. Najat Makki - A Story of Currency

© Hind Mezaina - A Story of Currency by Dr Najat Makki
Dr. Najat Makki lives and works in Dubai. She completed her PhD in Cairo (2011) and artist in residence at Cité Internationales des Arts in Paris (2011). She participated in the Tehran Biennial (2011). Dr. Makki was the recipient of the Jury Prize at the Sharjah Biennial in 1993 and the Owais Art Prize in 1994.  

A Story of Currency is an installtion that draws on the histories of antique coins found in the Gulf region. The project further expands on these histories to include paintings that are influenced by the narratives behind these various antique currenies. 


Amina Menia - The Crying Stone
Amina Menia lives and works in Algiers. Her spatial and architectural interventions are subtle arrangements that interact with viewers and the spaces they occupy. 
She has shown her work at the 11th Sharjah Biennale, and in 2012 undertook a residency in Marseille, working on the displacement of an “extracted” element of Algiers.

The Crying Stone is the story of a fragment of limestone. Extracted in Marseilles, it was brought on boats and made its crossings into Algiers to be used for building social housing, and as a result, forever sealing the relationship between the two mirror cities. The voyage continues as this stone arrives to Dubai. It will breathe and reflect other stories and other realities. It will continue to be shaped by time as it brings to mind questions of economy, communicationm, migration and work. This stone is a pretext for rethinking the global contemporary world and the speed at which we live. It is a symbol for building common destinies. 


Mounira Al Solh - Clogged 

Clogged by Mounia Al Solh | Courtesy: Art Dubai

Mounira Al Solh works between Amsterdam and Beirut. Using sociology and anthropology, Al Solh’s work operates according to Ginzburg’s notion of microhistory, aspiring to ask large questions in small places. Her work was shown at the first Lebanese Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2007), and at the New Museum, New York (2012).   

Clogged acts as installation, interaction and performance. Functioning on many levels, the project recalls the Syrian crisis by prompting Art Dubai visitors and participants to temporarily borrow the Syrian bath clog in exchange for their art fair shoes. The clogs, made in Damascus by Syrian craftsmen, additionally brings up issues of art fair fashion. As the wearer roams the fairm the click clacking of the clogs against the fair grounds becomes audiblyperformative as well as visually distinguished. Wearng a part of Syrian craft at the fair reverses the gaze, where spectator briefly becomes a moving artwork. 



Here's a video made by Ahram Online which features some of the Art Dubai Projects listed above.

[All quotes, artist and project descriptions are taken from the Art Dubai 2014 Catalogue.]

Art Dubai 2014 Review - Part 1 - Global Art Forum

Global Art Forum 8 | Courtesy: Art Dubai 

Here's the first of my Art Dubai 2014 reviews and thoughts. I will start with the Global Art Forum which is my favourite part of Art Dubai and what I think makes it unique compared to many art fairs around the world . 

If Art Dubai is known for it's international showcase of art and a glitzy crowd, the Global Art Forum is the thinking part of the fair where you go for some intellectual stimulation.  

The eighth edition of the Global Art Forum had Shumon Basar back again as the commissioner and it was co-directed by curator-translator Omar Berrada of Dar al-Ma'mun and artist Ala Younis. This year's theme was "Meanwhile...History" (a title conceived by Sophia Al-Maria). imagined timeline of turning points in history – significant decades, years, days, minutes or seconds that shifted an understanding of the world. Some seem familiar. Others are broadcast from history’s blind spots. These coordinates come from the past, are present in our present and reach into the future.

'Meanwhile…History' also reflects on the philosophy and fiction of making history matter. Every commission, publication, session and presentation is a point on an imagined timeline; as a whole, the Forum becomes a journey through known and unknown histories of critical change and secretly seismic moments. 


The theme intrigued me and I was hoping for a less disappointing edition compared to last year. I'm glad to report it was a good year (apart from one talk which disappointed me, a lot). I was also invited back again to participate, this time with a video montage to accompany one of the talks. More on this later.

GAF started in Doha (15th-16th March) with topics titled Spaceship Sheraton and the Making of Doha's Masterplans, The End of Pearling in the Gulf and Migrations in film and video: From the Arab world to Brazil and Back Again were discussed, and then continued in Dubai between 19th-21st March. I attended all three days of the talks in Dubai, I sat through more than 10 hours worth of talks in total. 

This year's edition was live streamed on and all the talks can be found here. Although annoyingly, the talks in Dubai are broken down by day and not by topic, and none of them are embeddable, so I can't share my favourite talks here with you. 
Another new change this year was GAF's location. It was held in a smaller venue, in the Mina A'Salam Hotel, which made it feel slightly disconnected from the fair. But there was better furniture, my favourite was the Michael J. Fox cushion which was on stage all three days. I also loved this year's GAF badges, written in "teenage anxiety fonts". 

© Hind Mezaina  


The talks in Dubai started with the followng intro from Shumon which I'd like to share with you, to help those who have never attended get the spirit of the forum. 

Over the past few years, the Global Art Forum may have questioned the inherent significance of the middle word in our title, of course that word is art. We may also have forbidden white leather sofas (but black leather is ok). And we've also waged a war against the words panel and keynote because they have a provenance which is something that we'd prefer to evade because what you are is a measure of what you definitely don't want to be. 

And so the forum takes pleasure in thinking in the modes of thinking and the modes of address and it makes this public for you. It invokes Oprah Winfrey and Michel Foucault sitting on couches like these, supported by cushions like these live on television.  

We try to pay attention to the rhythm of your attention. The same one that's already contending with your Facebook feeds, your email inboxes and poor wifi reception.  It's  why over the course of each day you'll see that we  attenuate the rhythm of the sessions, and just a mental sidebar here, your attention span is by enlarge biologically 18 minutes long.  

So, there are ideas and feelings and I hope feel something after you've forgotten everything else about the next three days. 


As mentioned earlier, you can watch all the talks here. But here are the ones that stood out for me:


1959, 1971, 1977: In the Shadow of Bigger Things
Sulayman Al Bassam (writer and director)  

Still from the online video of the talk

Beneath the shimmer and hum of Kuwait's magical golden era, laws were passed and institutions made with an aim to galvanise the notion of self, identify the common enemy and redefine the religious identity of the nascent democratic state.

In this talk, Al Bassam explores how the project of nation building unwittingly planted the seeds of internal divisions and communal mistrust that are all too prevalent in the contemporary landscape of Kuwait and beyond, and how this reading of history informs his own artistic practice.

This was my favourite talk, even though Sulayman Al Bassam ran out of time, he only managed to talk about 1959 and the early 1960s and wasn't able to cover 1971 and 1977. 

It was a mini history lesson about the institutional changes that happened in Kuwait in 1959 that questioned the contending narratives around identity (what is it to be a Kuwaiti, what is Kuwait's past, who are Kuwaitis, the people who live in Kuwait?).

Al Bassam asked to look at the relationship with having a nationality, being a citizen and carrying an identity which he believes is a central question facing lots of development projects in the arts and cultural field, he said it is "vital that one has an understanding of ones identity or the identity that one is trying to build when one invests in art and culture" and later on went to descirbe the relationship between the three as a "diabolic triangle". 

The early 1960s was a period of growth in Kuwait when it came to oil income, education, arts, music. We were also told about a book by Ian Fleming titled State of Excitement which he was commissioned to write by the Kuwait Oil Company in 1960 (yes, Ian Fleming of James Bond). The book was eventually banned and never got published, but a copy of it can be found in the archives of the University of Indiana.  

“The Oil Company expressed approval of the book but felt it their duty to submit the typescript to members of the Kuwait Government for their approval. The Sheikhs concerned found unpalatable certain mild comments and criticisms and particularly the passages referring to the adventurous past of the country which now wishes to be ‘civilised’ in every respect and forget its romantic origins.” an extract from the front page of Fleming’s copy of ‘State of Excitement’

Another historical insight was the 1959 nationality law which consisted of eight different degrees of being a Kuwaiti, all eight degrees have equal legal and social rights but not all have equal political rights. 

Sulayman Al Bassam speaks with eloquence and grace, and I am certain everyone in the room was gushing over him. Since he never had a chance to complete his talk, I hope the Global Art Forum will bring him back next year, regardless of the theme. 
He was eventually asked to join the talk that took place after him (more on that below). During that session (and after watching it online again) I noticed he rushed through a slide which featured Boney M, to play an extract from a Kuwaiti play. For that reason alone, I am going to beg Shumon Basar to bring back Mr Al Bassam.  

Still from the online video of the talk


You can watch Sulayman Al Bassam's complete talk here, between 00:12 - 00:35 minutes.   

1942-1982: Kuwait’s Experiments and the Confidence Interval 
Farah Al-Nakib (Assistant Professor of History and Director of the Centre for Gulf Studies, American University of Kuwait) and Kristine Khouri (Researcher and writer). Hosted by Ala Younis (Artist, Curator and Co-director of Global Art Forum 8)

Still from the online video of the talk

Oil revenues rendered Kuwait's promise of progress and modernity into physical symbols. A cast of artists, architects, actors and financiers crafted an era of confidence that starts as early as the first art exhibition in 1942.

The crash of the stock market in 1982 is said to have challenged this unique experimental spirit. The peak of this “Confidence Interval” is the 1970s. Circulism, Andy Warhol, Kenzo Tange, Hassan Fathy and the Dramatic Arts are a few of its most notable contours.

I absolutely loved
Farah Al-Nakib's part of this discussion which was about architecture in Kuwait, especially modernist architecture. She touched upon some very important points that are not only relevant to Kuwait, I found a lot I could relate to here in Dubai. 

She discussed the demolition of the pre-oil urban landscape in Kuwait because it was perceived the "old is not worthy of admiration", a shedding of the past to replace it with a better future. And just like we see across the Gulf region today, after the Kuwait oil boom in 1973, international architects were invited, to put Kuwait on the map of cutting edge of architecture and modernity. 

Kuwait pre-oil looked like any other port cities in the Indian Ocean and she showed similarities between Kuwait and Zanzibar in the 1930s and Kuwait and Beirut in the 1950s, illustrating Kuwait's hybrid cultural identity. As a port city it was always exposed and inspired by culture from countries surrounding it which is also reflected for instance in its food and even music. 

Her point about how we're made to forget the history in the Gulf region because we constantly demolish and erase the past really resonated with me. It is something I see happening in Dubai today and in lots of other cities across the Gulf region. And the most important point made at this talk is that we need to remember the past and not to wipe away its physcal presence, not for nostalgic reasons, but to to allow us to critically assess our present. 

Needless to say, I wanted to high five Farah Al-Nakib after her talk.  

You can watch the complete "1942-1982: Kuwait’s Experiments and the Confidence Interval" talk here, starting from minute 00:36:60 till 1hr 36 mins. 

2005: Alternative Futures of Art History between Iran and Dubai 
Cultural historian Shiva Balaghi (Professor, Departments of History and History of Art, Brown University) 

Still from the online video of the talk

Shiva Balaghi traces alternative timelines of Iranian art history in Mohammed Afkhami's Dubai-based collection. 

“The present of art is always in the past and in the future.” So wrote Jacques Rancière. This sentiment extends to an art collection, which becomes a visual archive, a repository of the future of images. According to an Iranian artist in 1968, “Art can provide a vision for a way of living in an alternative future.”

My third favourite talk was by Shiva Balagi where she looked at an art collection as an archive and asked "what does it mean to have artists be history scribes and to have collectors be the archivists". 

She highlighted Dubai's fundamental role in this timeline where she described Dubai as a central capital of the Iranian art world because it

...not only only provides a market for a lot of Iranian artists and a lot of Iranian collectors, but it also sustains the artistic imagination of this generation of iranian artists…and also bears witness to our modernist past.

Dubai is also a gathering place for those of us who are central figures in the Iranian art world. Some of us can't go to Iran and some of those who work in the Iranian art world can't come to Europe and United States. Dubai welcomes us all. As long as we care about art, we can gather in Dubai. This is often where i come to meet curators and artists and collectors who based in Tehran.

Shiva Balaghi transfered us into the past, going back to the early 1920s and ended with a shared history she has with 
Mohammed Afkhami which is embedded in art. You have to watch the full talk to see how she links all of this. 

It was a very warm and fascinating talk, and included some beauiful work. My favourite was this video Balaghi played of Newsha Tavakolian's Look series. It's work I had not seen before (I'm familiar with her Listen series which I've seen in several galleries and art fairs I visited in the past couple of years). This series looks at intimacy of strangers in an isolated environment like Tehran. According to Shiva Balaghi, Newsha said this series "is about feelings and not a political statement". It's a sad but beautiful video (you can see the photos here). 

You can watch
Shiva Balaghi's complete talk here, starting from 2hrs 10 mins till 2hrs 36 mins. 

And now for the talk that disappointed me...

1971-79: The Short Seventies (UAE)
Adina Hempel
 (Assistant Professor, College of Arts and Creative Enterprises, Zayed University and Head of Research for the National Pavilion of the UAE Venice Architecture Biennale 2014), Todd Reisz (Visiting Assistant Professor, Yale University School of Architecture and Editor of Al Manakh and Portal 9), Anastase Emmanuel (Urban planner and architect), H.E. Salem Al Moosa (President of Al Moosa Enterprises and CEO of megaproject "Falconcity of Wonders") 

The United Arab Emirates was founded in December 1971, only a few years after oil reserves were discovered there. Nation building and the building of new city-states became intimately entwined. Modern architecture, though on the wane in the West, found itself active in the UAE, soon manifest as municipal, domestic and corporate projects.

This spirit of a new future was crystallized in the opening of Dubai’s Jebel Ali Port and World Trade Centre in 1979. However, in the accelerated time-landscape of the Gulf, this period often lacks national affection and is slowly being erased. Why?

Still from the online video of the talk - Cover image of Dubai's 1971 Masterplan by John Harris

The talk started great, when Todd Reisz introduced us to 1969 in Dubai with an image of the launching of a khazzan into the sea (large tank to store oil that was being extracted under water) a couple of years after the discovery of oil off shore. The image featured a man from an American company called Chicago Bridge and Iron Company and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum the ruler of Dubai at the time.
This event took place on a beach in Dubai which in the late 1970s had the Chicago Beach Hotel built on it, named in honour of the company and then Chicago Beach Village (a residential complex). Both hotel and residential complex were eventually demolised and were replaced with the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Burj Al Arab Hotel and Madinat Jumeirah, the exact spot we at the Global Art Forum were sitting on during the talk. 
The point Reisz was trying to make was that "Dubai is seen as a crazy place of tabula rasa, but indeed it has levels of history". And how each year in the 1970s was a transformational point for Dubai. A lot was being built, but not to stay for a long time, Dubai was witnessing modernism that "was happening quickly", Dubai was always "projecting forward and more forward".

I was really glad this point was made because today, many people think Dubai has been going through a rapid change post 2000s, but when you look back, you will see that's always been the case here. The scales might have changed, but the constant changing and evolution of Dubai was happening since the 1970s.  
Sheikh Rashid was mentioned as the master planner of Dubai and I was really enjoying where the talk was going till it got hijacked by Salem Al Moosa. His presence on stage felt more like a businessman instead of a historical or social observer of 1970s Dubai. There was a bit preachiness and Gulf chauvinism in his tone. He did share some funny anecdotes, but he really didn't add any historical or cultural insight to the talk.  And at the end of the talk, he asked us to watch an "art film" he made for us. The video was of his 'mega project' Falcon City. It was certainly not an art film, it was the commercial for the dreaded Falcon City which you can see here. This session should have just had a big fat "Sponsored by Falcon City " logo in the room. It was the biggest cringe moment I've had at Art Dubai. 

If you've not heard of Falcon City, it's a development project that will replicate famous landmarks from around the world - including iconic cities like New York and Paris. Basically, it's an architecture Disneyland. Yes, it's as bad as it sounds. A few years ago, this video would have been mocked at an event like the Global Art Forum, so I was shocked and disappointed when it was allowed to be shown, without any irony. 

This talk would have been so much better with one moderator and one guest. And I am certain it would have been a much more qualitative talk between either Todd Reisz or Adina Hempel and Anastase (Tassos) Emmanuel. Tassos' contribution to the talk was actually quite lovely and he shared some funny anecdotes like how Sheikh Rashid wanted to build a mall by the creek just because Sharjah started to build one by their creek and discussed the zeal and enthusiasim of Sheikh Rashid's development plans for the city.

But sadly, overall, the talk didn't turn out as great as I hoped. After watching the talk again online, I realised I am fed up of Dubai getting the short end of the stick when it comes to any discussions with scholarship and real insight into a period that not many people are aware of. The Dubai narrative always just focuses on the commercial aspect of the city without any historical context. The discussions about Kuwait mentioned above (and about Doha that took place before GAF continued in Dubai) were a lot more credible. I do hope there will be other opportunities to talk about this decade of Dubai that doesn't get enough attention. 

If you're interested in watching this talk, you can find it here, between 1hr 3mins and 2hr 5mins. 



The last GAF talk included an intro video montage I was asked to make for it. Not many had a chance to see it, so here it is. 

Meanwhile … Meanwhile: Lapses in Time and Narrative 
John Akomfrah (Artist, filmmaker and writer), Marina Warner (Writer). Hosted by Omar Berrada (Writer, translator, Co-director of Dar al-Ma’mûn and Co-director of Global Art Forum 8). The session's video montage by Hind Mezaina (Artist and writer/blogger)  

How does a writer or a filmmaker skip forward or flash back? And how do they account for history's gaps, elisions, and returns? What exactly happens in themeanwhile, in the two months earlier, in the ever after? What is a narrative time lapse? Let's dwell on the meanwhile - on the ghosts of time - on what embodies and disembodies it. Let's dwell in the meanwhile.



You can watch the complete talk here. It starts from 2hrs 21 mins till 3hrs 13 mins.



Review - Design Days Dubai 2014

© Hind Mezaina - Deglobalizer at Design Days Dubai 2014 

This year's edition of Design Days Dubai didn't impress me as much as it did in the last two years. The entire space this year felt particularly dim compared to the past two editions, and I didn't see many objects that I loved or wanted to play with. The last two editions always had at least one or two big fun pieces you could interact with (you can see some examples in my 2012 and 2013 review) which I found lacking this year.  

But there was one group of work that I fell in love with, head over heels.

Paolo Cardini from VCUQatar* exhibited his 'Deglobalizer' series of repurposed objects from Ikea, to have a Middle Eastern/Gulf aesthetic. So for example, a reindeer rocking chair for children has been "Ikea-hacked" to look like a camel riding chair, or a welcome mat written in a local language/dialect - which would make more sense to people living in this region. 

I loved the sensibility and quirkiness of the objects and thought this actually makes a lot of sense and wondered why hasn't a project like this happened before.

During the brief chat I had with Paolo Cardini he said it was cheaper for him to buy his 'raw' materials from Ikea instead of buying them from suppliers who produce the raw materials. Reminded me of Ikea Hackers which I learned about when I visited The Future is Here exhibition at the Design Museum in London last year

© Hind Mezaina - Rocking Camel from Deglobalizer series at Design Days Dubai 2014


Deglobalizer is part of an ongoing research project about objects, global taste and local traditions. In 2012 Ikea opened its doors in Qatar and immediately created a sort of friction or misalignment between the Swedish brand and the Doha environment.

Supercars parked outside of the corporate blue and yellow building, a local disinclination for DIY, and the colorful, sparkling North European catalogue, all stand in contrast to the country’s efforts in preserving a sense of heritage and Middle Eastern aesthetic.

What is the role of design indeed? In which way could global and local converge to a common recognizable hybrid? Deglobalizer is an IKEAHACKING project where globally purchased standard objects have been subjected to a cultural mutation process and contaminated with local handcrafting. (via


Here are some better images from Paolo Cardini's website:






 * VCUQatar is a Doha based center of excellence for education and research in art and design. Through its programs, the university develops individual capacity to lead innovations in the creative and cultural professions in Qatar and the region. 


Rainy Day in Dubai

© Hind Mezaina - Rain on the last day of SIKKA 2014

The past 10 days have been a whirlwind of art and cultural activities (SIKKA, Design Days, Art Dubai), and today was the first day since Dubai Art Season started where I didn't have to attend any art related event.  

Today is also a very wet and rainy day, so a perfect excuse to stay indoors. Besides lazing about at home, I also started listening to some of my favourite rain themed songs and decided I will share some with you. 

If you're in Dubai, hope you're having a wonderfully lazy day too. 

The Casades - Listen to the Rhythm of the Falling Rain


Eurythmics - Here Comes the Rain Again

a-Ha - Crying in the Rain

Duran Duran - Hold Back the Rain


The Cure - Prayers for Rain

Peter Gabriel - Red Rain

Ryuichi Sakamoto - Rain 

Gene Kelly - Singing in the Rain



Franco Film Festival 2014


The 4th edition of  francOfilm Festival 2014 is back, from 26th-29th March. It will take place in Vox Cinemas in Abu Dhabi (Marina Mall) and Dubai (Mall of the Emirates).

This year's edition includes films from Belgium, Canada, France, Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Switzerland, Senegal and Chad and will have English subtitles. Tickets for each film costs AED 25, so cheaper than the regular films screening in our cinemas. 

Some of these films were screened recently at the Dubai International Film Festival, I've seen some and others I've missed, so I'm looking forward to catching up on what I missed. And before each screening, short films from the UAE will be shown. 

I'm glad this is on because I've not spent a lot of time in our cinemas since the Dubai International Film Festival. 


Here's the schedule and the line up:


Wednesday, 26th March 2014 

Des étoiles (Under the Starry Sky), 2014
Directed by Diana Gaye | Senegal | PG | 88 mins 
10pm in Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi and Mall of the Emirates, Dubai 

Across Turin, Dakar, and New York, the destinies of Sophie, Abdoulaye and Thierno cross paths. Sophie, 24, leaves Dakar to join her husband, Abdoulaye, in Turin. Meanwhile, Abdoulaye has already left for New York through a smuggler’s network. Nineteen-year-old Thierno is travelling through Africa for the first time.

Under the Starry Sky takes the audience on an unforgettable journey through the diverse cities and draws attention to the characters’ realities, hopes and dreams of contemporary emigration.  




Thursday, 27th March 2014 

Hiver nomade (Winter Nomads), 2013 
Directed by Manuel von Stürler | Switzerland | Documentary | PG | 90 mins
6pm in Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi and Mall of the Emirates, Dubai

Pascal, 53, and Carole, 28, are shepherds. In the month of November 2010, they embark on their long winter transhumance: four months during which they will have to cover 600 km in the Swiss-French region, accompanied by three donkeys, four dogs and a eight hundred sheep.

An exceptional adventure is about to begin: they brave the cold and the bad weather day in day out, with a canvas cover and animal skins as their only shelter at night. This saga reveals a tough and exacting profession requiring constant improvisation and unflinching attention to nature, the animals and the cosmos. An eventful journey with surprise encounters, moving reunions with farmer friends, nostalgic figures of country life that is shrinking away fast.

A film dominated by the strong personalities of Pascal and Carole, whose relationship and joie de vivre transform this transhumance into a magnificent hymn to freedom, at opposite extremes of our comfortable reality. Winter Nomads is an adventure film, a contemporary road movie, a reflection of our current world, which takes us back to our roots and our inner questions. 


Grigris (2013) 
Directed by Mahamet Saleh Haroun | Chad | 13+ | 101 mins
9pm in Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi and Mall of the Emirates, Dubai  

Despite a paralyzed leg, Grigris, 25-year old, dreams of being a dancer. A challenge. But his dreams are dashed when his uncle falls critically ill. To save him, Grigris resolves to work for petrol traffickers. 



Friday, 28th March 2014 

Sur le chemin de l’école (On the way to school), 2013
Directed by Pascal Plisson | France | Documentary | G | 77 mins
3pm in Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi and Mall of the Emirates, Dubai

The children depicted in this film live in the four corners of the globe and all share the same desire to learn. They’ve understood that only education will allow them to improve their lives, and for this reason, each day, they set out on highly risky journeys, through extraordinary landscapes, on their quest for knowledge.

Eleven year old Jackson lives in Kenya and, every morning and evening, he and his younger sister walk nine and a half miles across the savannah populated by wild animals. Twelve year old Zahira lives in the steep Atlas Mountains. It takes her and her two friends an exhausting day of walking to reach their boarding school. Thirteen year old Samuel lives in India. The two and half miles he must cross each day are a challenge because his legs are paralyzed. His two younger brothers push his makeshift wheelchair for more than an hour in order to get to school. Eleven year old Carlito crosses the Patagonian plains on horseback, accompanied by his younger sister. Each day the pair travels 11 miles back and forth, no matter the weather.

On the Way to School allows us to share the extraordinary daily lives of these children, whose determination coupled with a dream leads them down a path that we have all taken, but never quite in this way.


Gabrielle, 2013
Directed by Louise Archambault | Canada | 16+ | 93 mins 
6pm in Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi and Mall of the Emirates, Dubai


Gabrielle is a young woman with Williams syndrome who has a contagious joie de vivre and an exceptional musical gift. Since she met her boyfriend Martin, at the recreation centre where they are choir members, they have been inseparable. However, because they are “different,” their loved ones are fearful of their relationship.

As the choir prepare for an important music festival, Gabrielle does everything she can to get her independence. As determined as she is, Gabrielle must still confront other people’s prejudices as well as her own limitations in the hope of experiencing a love far from the “ordinary”. 


Heritages, 2013 – 96 min 
Directed by Philippe Aractingi | Lebanon | Documentary | G | 96 mins  
9pm in Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi and Mall of the Emirates, Dubai 

When director Philippe Aractingi is forced to leave his motherland for the third time, the reality dawns on him: his ancestors have been fleeing wars for five generations. Exploring his roots, Aractingi goes back to the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the creation of Israel and the Lebanese Civil War. Experimenting with a radical new film-making style, he interlaces directed scenes and archive images with video-filmed personal diaries, family photos and super 8 reels.



Saturday, 29th March 2014 

Le monde nous appartient (The World Belongs to Us), 2012 88 min
Directed by Stephan Streker | Belgium | 16+ | 88 mins
3pm in Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi and Mall of the Emirates, Dubai 

Pouga and Julien are two youngsters in their 20es, who both lead an ordinary life in the suburbs of Brussels. Despite their differences, they share one thing in common, an uncertain future. Julien is an aspiring professional football player, but the way to the top is not easy. Pouga is a small time crook, who steals luxury cars for a living.

When their destinies meet, little do they know that tragedy is just around the corner. Featuring the most promising actors of their generation, “Le monde nous appartient” is sure to resonate with teens.



Rock the Casbah, 2013
Directed by Laila Marrakchi | Morocco-France | 15+ | 100 mins
6pm in Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi and Mall of the Emirates, Dubai 

Summer in Tangiers. After the death of their father, the women of the family get together for three days in the family residency to grieve and remember according to Muslim culture. Goodbye to beach and bikinis, it is now time to wear djellabas, to reunite everyone together and to deck the house out in funeral attire. The house is full of activity.

Things reach a crescendo when Sofia, the youngest daughter, returns home. Actress who only plays terrorist roles in American television series, she arrives from New York after several years of absence. Her return set up the grounds to settle scores with her sisters and to overturn the order established by the defunct patriarch. Between laughter and tears, a collective hysteria allows all of them to discover their true selves.  


Harag W’Marag (Chaos, Disorders), 2012 
Directed by Nadine Khan | Egypt | PG
9pm in Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi and Mall of the Emirates, Dubai  

Manal, Zaki, and Mounir are in their twenties. They live in a chaos-filled community next to a garbage dump where their basic needs are barely met. Beneath the disorder in their society is a layer of troubled relationships, decaying love and a feverish competition between Zaki and Mounir to woo Manal.

A competition that can only be resolved by football. Respecting boundaries, the film carries a current of privacy through its unique portrayal of an isolated and closed society.



You can also download the schedule here, Abu Dhabi schedule and Dubai schedule 



Deira Polaroids

© Hind Mezaina - Deira Clock Tower Roundabout

Deira Polaroids is a new photo series I started recently, it's an ongoing series of images I've taken during my frequent walks and visits to Deira (my favourite part of Dubai). It’s an ode to Deira, to visually showcase the thriving part of “old” Dubai. 

The first part of this series is exhibited at this year's SIKKA Art Fair in House 16. The exhibition is accompanied with an essay titled  “Deira Modern, Notes from Dubai” by Todd Reisz, which I featured here three years ago. The series includes some of my favourite buildings and spots, some have been around from the mid 1970s. 

Here are 10 photos from the 60 exhibited at SIKKA and extracts from Todd Reisz's essay. I really enjoyed my walks and taking these photos and plan to go back to take more. I am hoping to develop this into something bigger, so watch this space.    

© Hind Mezaina - Radisson Blu Deira 
© Hind Mezaina - Sheraton


Deira was Dubai’s most modern quarter. It still is, though it’s often referred to as “Old Dubai,” a generalization that only describes a stop on the Dubai visitor’s course. To see a gold souk, a fish market. To take an abra for no reason other than to take an abra.

The charm of the antiquated is an applied layer. Deira survives this nostalgia by ignoring it.


© Hind Mezaina - Bike 1 
© Hind Mezaina - Trees by the creek
In contrast to the towers of Sheikh Zayed Road, Deira might seem static and quaint, poor and outdated. This couldn’t be further from the truth. How could Deira be irrelevant when everyone complains that Deira is too crowded? It’s crowded because Deira is true urbanism; it’s more city than elsewhere in Dubai.  

© Hind Mezaina - Dubai Municipality 1
© Hind Mezaina - Dubai Municipality 2 
Today’s Deira operates not much differently than that of the 1970s when reclaimed land began to make Dubai a real estate success. The new shore separated the merchants from the ships. They were reconnected with dollies and Japanese pick-up trucks outfitted with wrought iron fencing that could weave through auto and foot traffic to deliver goods. 

It’s still done the same way today. Tourists snap pictures of a world that seems so much of yesterday: Pakistani men in ‘traditional’ dress wielding worn carts stacked with supplies. These men running carts from creek to shop are more essential to Dubai’s longevity than the latest office tower in Media City.   
© Hind Mezaina - Fish Roundabout 
 © Hind Mezaina - Claridge Hotel


If one wanted to locate a local approach to modernism in the Gulf region, one should start in the parts of cities like Deira. Shading built into building facades provides interaction with the street but also privacy from the street. These buildings should be inspiration for what could work in Dubai and in other cities, but tastes and preferences preclude that. These parts are written off as old, dirty, rat-infested. They are often all of these things. Most people living in the buildings would move out if they could . 
But the struggle, the need to stay vs the desire to leave, once defined cities. Cities were never places of comfort; they were where we once encountered the human soul.


© Hind Mezaina - Hyatt Regency

Deira Polaroids will be exhibited in House 16 SIKKA Art Fair till 25th March 2014 between 2.00-10.00pm. Location map.