Dubai art festival offers a fresh view of the city

MinD-City Dialogue will feature the work of more than 20 experimental young artists and their perspectives on the ever-changing city of Dubai.

Think you know Dubai? Think again. Running from today until March 20, MinD-City Dialogue will feature the work of more than 20 experimental young artists and their take on an ever-evolving city.

Designed to make you blink and think in equal measure, themes explored include Dubai's rapid economic expansion, luxury lifestyles and the environmental impact of modern society.

This year's curator is the acclaimed Emirati artist and writer Ebtisam Abdul Aziz, who says MinD will give visitors a real insight into the local art scene as it features works exclusively by practitioners who reside and produce art in Dubai.

"All the artists have a relationship with this city and the people who live in it. The exhibition has an open theme, so whatever the artist has in mind will fit," says Abdul Aziz.

Contemporary and conceptual are the buzz words surrounding this exhibition, with a wide range of artworks from installations to graphic art, videos and live performances spread over the diverse 10-day programme. "I hate to put artists in one box," says Abdul Aziz. "The people at Ductac are committed to doing something unique and not just showing traditional paintings. They want to present the audience with some challenges, educate them and stimulate a dialogue."

And dialogue is the name of the game, with visitors expected not to idly observe but engage with the artists and take part in the many workshops. One not to miss will be a discussion about the rise of contemporary art in the emirates, given by Abdul Aziz herself - an artist whose career has been as unconventional as the exhibition she now curates.

"I originally studied mathematics and after I graduated, I decided that's it! Enough of this, I want to be an artist! However," she smiles "some of my work still relates to maths, structures and numbers."

Back in 2004, after a period of producing paintings, Abdul Aziz says she felt her ideas had become "too big to put on canvas", and that's when her passion for conceptual art was ignited.

Indeed, big ideas and big stars in the making are what you'll see at this year's exhibition. Ductac has long championed the cause of budding artists and this event is a fantastic place for them to debut, says Abdul Aziz. "So many artists have emerged in recent years. Some of them are still in college and sometimes the students are shy about exhibiting, so it's really nice to bring their work to an event like this."

While European expatriate artists living in the UAE are featured in the exhibition, Abdul Aziz is always keen to encourage more Emiratis to display their work. "I often go to galleries, art foundations and talk to the fine arts society about new names," she says "and I see that Emirati artists are growing in confidence."

Conducting a workshop on the art of recycling is Basem Al Sayer from Sharjah, who will highlight the now widespread practice of turning disposable everyday objects into masterpieces. "Basem is known for being a painter, but when he heard about the idea behind MinD, he totally shifted his thinking." says Abdul Aziz "Some might be shocked because looking at his previous work they may say it has nothing to do with the installation he is showing."

Such a departure from the norm is wholly encouraged at this exhibition and no two artists have chosen to represent the city in the same way. The Dubai-based, Lebanese artist Majida Nasreddin, for example, "loves to give art to people" says Abdul Aziz, explaining how the artist has turned her creations into portable, affordable jewellery.

Ever-popular installations are back again in 2011 and Maisoon Al Saleh's Walk Through Sheikh Zayed Road, filled with "sunflowers and sunshine", says Abdul Aziz, is set to provoke public interest and enthusiastic debate.

Catering to all tastes, film screenings and videos also feature highly this year, with the Dubai-born artist Muna Abdul Qader Al Ali on hand to discuss her work, which tackles pertinent local issues such as consumerism and the changing ethnic fabric of the UAE. An established artist since 1999, Al Ali has focused on conceptual art for the past seven years. "This experience has led me to be open to a wide range of artistic approaches. I experiment with many different media, selecting the most appropriate means to communicate the concept behind each work," she says.

For any aspiring artists out there, Nasir Nasrallah's workshop on contemporary acrylic painting is a must. The intimate tutorial about how to perfect your painting and perceptual skills is sure to pull a big crowd. Of his work, Nasrallah says: "My general style is characterised by primal lines that make up the elements of the scene. These lines are mostly black. The subjects of my paintings usually offer a distinctive sense of perspective, with a feeling of intricate denseness. Therefore, markets and souqs are a favourite subject of mine."

MinD continues to raise the contemporary artistic bar, and this year's exhibition is bigger and bolder than ever. Taking this into consideration, the organisers have printed maps for all visitors, to allow them to wander through the many exhibition rooms, galleries and theatre spaces. "I really love the facilities here and the way we can combine theatre, music, art and dance," Abdul Aziz says of the Ductac complex. When it comes to who will filter through the doors, Abdul Aziz hopes art collectors will lend support to regional emerging talent. "The artwork exhibited here at MinD is for sale; photographs tend to sell very well; graphics too."

While MinD-City Dialogue is guaranteed to appeal to residents and tourists, Abdul Aziz shares a secret wish: "I really hope kids will attend and see something different, as maybe they are not taught art at school," she says. "They are my favourite audience, as they are the next generation of artists."

  • MinD - City Dialogue runs until March 20 at the Gallery of Light, Dubai Community Theatre & Arts Centre (Ductac), Mall of the Emirates. Admission is free. For more information go to or call 04 341 4177.
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