Urban art flourishes in Dubai's dusty industrial zone

Thu May 5, 2011 4:05am EDT
 
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By Martina Fuchs and Shaheen Pasha

DUBAI (Reuters) - A dusty industrial zone in flashy Dubai has become an unlikely home for a flourishing underground art scene that has grown even as the emirate's fortunes declined, curbing appetites for extravagant pieces.

Al Quoz, home to stark warehouses and a huge cement factory in the shadow of the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, is a far cry from the glitz and glamour that has come to be associated with Dubai.

"It's raw. It's a clean plate that we can work on. This is a growing cultural hub, a warehouse district where the ceilings are high and rents are low," said Rami Farook, founder of the Traffic gallery, where Emirati, Iranian and Saudi artists show works ranging from graffiti art to blaring video installations.

That's a far cry from the art scene just a couple of years ago, when upscale galleries hosted champagne-fueled purchases that reflected big money and status, like the Maseratis and Bentleys cruising along the emirate's palm-lined streets.

Now, affordability and artistic message seem to carry more weight, and the seemingly underground vibe is drawing in a different crowd.

At Etemad Gallery, a former furniture warehouse in Al Quoz, a beige wax sculpture of a human torso riddled with bullets and shells stands in the shadows. Nearby is a series comparing the iris of the human eye to constellations of dying stars.

"There is a growing confidence in local contemporary artists and also an increase in interest in women artists from the region," said Rory Miller, director of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at Kings College in London.

"Following the economic downturn which hit Dubai hard, there is a move, especially among the younger age group, to look to art that is grittier, more relevant and reflective of their own lives and recent experiences."   Continued...