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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 4 March 2021

Artist Yazan Khalili to give a fresh new look to Art Dubai’s The Art Bar

This year, the Palestinian artist will transform The Art Bar into an island that tackles the tricky notion of past futures and the symbology of Dubai's architecture.
Artist Yazan Khalili. Courtesy Absolut
Artist Yazan Khalili. Courtesy Absolut

Art Dubai’s central refreshment point, better known as The Art Bar, is getting a dramatic makeover.

The Palestinian artist Yazan Khalili has been commissioned to convert the popular hangout at next month’s annual art fair into an installation called The Island, located on Madinat Jumeirah’s Fort Island.

The artist spoke to The National about his vision for the piece, the theme of which – “past futures” – questions ideas of reality and the symbolic nature of Dubai’s architecture.

What will The Island look like to Art Dubai visitors?

When looking at the bar from Art Dubai at Madinat Jumeirah, visitors will see a high “mountain” rising in the middle of the island. We are creating a tunnel through this mountain that leads to the bar, which is hidden within the mountain’s shell. The height of the structure creates intrigue, drawing people towards the island.

When developing the installation I was inspired by the architecture of Dubai, where the height of the buildings has come to symbolise reaching towards the future.

Explain the concept “past futures”.

An example of how the concept of “past futures” will play out is the use of deconstructed Dubai neon signs that will light up the tunnel. A very strong visual element in Dubai since the 1980s, neon lights used to be a staple on Dubai’s streets, overcrowded with flickering and unnatural shades – when the idea that lighting/neons evoked technology, contemporary colour, currentness or “of the future”.

How will you engage with the audience?

We will be working with lots of performers and sound artists to interact with our audience. We are particularly interested in working with local bands from across the Emirates. I really feel that these bands represent an authentic side of Dubai that is great to explore.

What is your biggest challenge with the project?

Dubai is such a site of idea generation, so developing new concepts that haven’t been explored before is always a challenge. It is challenging to present the connection between the unreal and real in Dubai, which plays into this whole idea of perceived realities, constructed past and futures.

Also, working with a big team at Art Dubai and with Absolut means that lots of ideas are being taken into consideration, which is another challenge but one that I am enjoying quite a bit.

You have worked before with the Sharjah Biennial and also previously exhibited in Dubai – did you take that into consideration with this piece?

Definitely having worked and lived in the UAE did shape my ideas and concept for the project. An understanding of the complexities of this landscape has been central to the process.

You are an architect as well as an artist – how has this played into your work at The Art Bar?

As an artist one thinks conceptually and as an architect one thinks practically about how creative ideas can immediately be transformed into a reality in order to bring the project to life.

I worked as an architect in Dubai from 2004 to 2005 which shaped the way I thought about this project and gave me the freedom to think conceptually as an artist and also keep in mind the reality of executing the project.

If there is one thing you hope audiences take from a visit to The Art Bar, what would it be?

There is a complex idea behind the project touching on identity, constructed realities and constructed pasts and futures, but at the end of the day, it’s a bar and I would just want people to have fun in the space. I really hope people enjoy it.

• Art Dubai runs from March 18 to 21 at Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai. Visit

Published: February 8, 2015 04:00 AM


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