Dubai Public Art has unveiled its inaugural shortlist of creatives during a session at Art Dubai.
A multi-year project organised by Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, Dubai Public Art will develop and install major art commissions across the city, starting with Al Hudaiba — overlooking Etihad Museum and Union House.
The first five Emirati artists were selected from more than 250 applications and include Afra Al Dhaheri, Asma Belhamar, Khalid Albanna, Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim and Shaikha Al Mazrou. Each will receive $5,000 to prepare a detailed proposal and maquette, with the winner eventually being announced in spring, and their finished work unveiled at the end of the year.
Saeed Mubarak Kharbash Al Marri, chief executive of Arts and Literature at Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, said: "Dubai is taking major steps to build a vibrant creative and cultural landscape reflecting the city's identity as a representation of global creativity and innovation.
“Through Dubai Public Art, the emirate will empower talent, showcase local artists' works throughout key cultural destinations and strengthen partnerships with cultural institutions and the private sector to fully support its creative economy,” he added.
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“This initiative aims to make Dubai more than just a unique model for cities — but an international symbol that promotes engagement between culture and businesses alike.”
Among those shortlisted is celebrated Emirati artist Khalid Albanna, who said he was “honoured” and “grateful” to have been selected. Explaining his proposed structure, he said: “The sculpture is a testament to Dubai's long-standing reputation as a city that actively preserves and celebrates its heritage and culture.
“Its resemblance to a traditional Emirati dhow's sails is a tribute to the important role that pearl diving played in Dubai's early history.”
He said this design aims to offer visitors an interactive way to simultaneously engage with Dubai’s past and future.
“It serves as a functional structure that enhances the vitality of Dubai's cultural ecosystem,” he added.
“I am excited to see how the sculpture will continue to shape and contribute to the development of outdoor sculpture in Dubai, and I am proud to have my work be a part of this important cultural conversation.”
Also featured is the UAE's pioneering artist Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, who represented the country at the 2022 Venice Biennale. Reflecting on his own submission, he said: “Through my practice, I respond to my environment with keen affinity for the UAE. Here we are surrounded by diverse and ancient landscapes plus advanced urbanisation.
“This tension is one of the concepts I explore in my work through organic forms and materials. The proposed sculptures emerge from the forms and ciphers that dominate my work.
“When a viewer sees these, reading them becomes his function: seeing a collection of shapes. He has the great freedom to read it as a story or novel or poetry.”
In support of the public art programme, Art Dubai, now in its 16th year, devoted its Campus Art Dubai educational and professional development programme to public art — with a view to building a foundation of sector expertise among young creatives.
Commenting on the move, Art Dubai executive director Benedetta Ghione, said the fair was pleased to work with Dubai Culture on what was an “important initiative”. She said that Campus Art Dubai aimed to provide educational opportunities for local cultural practitioners, adding: “Through this year’s programme, we are assured that there is a solid foundation of UAE-based artists to participate in future public art commissioning.”
Art Dubai also hosted the first in a series of Dubai Public Art talks, exploring the impact of public artwork on urban culture and the ways it can contribute to a city's identity, as well as the latest advancements in public art commissions.