With summer in full swing, it's too hot to spend any time outdoors admiring flowers in their natural habitat – so Dubai's BurJuman mall is offering the next best thing. Running until September, the mall's Flower Power festival features a kaleidoscope of floral displays, hands-on and informative workshops for adults, and a dedicated children's area, all designed to celebrate the floral form in all its colourful glory.
Meander through the mall’s 100-plus floral exhibits and installations, and you’ll find attractions such as the Singing Plants – a lush garden of hanging greenery housed in pots. The plants are linked to a sound system, so when you stroll past, each plant serenades you with a song. Meanwhile, the Magical Night Garden is housed in a colourful cave, complete with glowing blooms and bulbs.
To keep younger visitors amused, daily workshops take place in the Kids’ Activity Area. Events include the Floral Princess Makeover and balloon bending, in addition to arts-and-crafts and dance workshops, which offer a perfect opportunity to get youngsters’ creative juices flowing during the summer holidays. You can register children on the spot to participate.
For adults who fancy something more hands-on, try out one of the free weekly workshops running throughout the festival. Options include floral-inspired cake decorating, as well as expert artistic instruction on how to paint, draw, photograph and arrange flowers.
“The cake decorating workshop teaches people how to create flowers from fondant,” explains Ela Eldem, BurJuman’s head of marketing. “Then they learn how to cover a cake with fondant and how to decorate the cake with the flowers they have created.” Taught by professionals from Dubai’s International Centre for Culinary Arts, as well as Cake Story, the classes are fiddly and lots of fun, and perfect if you’re looking to impress that special someone with unique (and tasty) hand-sculpted cake decorations.
Budding artists can brush up on their skills with workshops hosted by the Emirati artist Maisoon Al Saleh, who is offering expert guidance on techniques used to draw and paint flowers. Photography buffs can learn some of the tricks of the trade alongside the professional photographer Amr Anabtawi, who is giving lessons on the best ways to take pictures of flower displays.
One of the elements of the festival that’s proving most popular with visitors is the flower-arranging workshop. Far from the plonking-blooms-in-a-vase-and-hoping-for-the-best approach (my own personal technique), Flower Power is helping visitors to discover some of the subtle intricacies of flower arranging, Japanese-style – using a technique known as ikebana. Translating from Japanese as “make living flower”, ikebana takes floral arranging to new heights by treating it as a highly disciplined art form. Unlike western-style arrangement, it doesn’t just employ fresh flowers; ikebana emphasises all parts of the plant, not just the pretty petals, drawing attention to the stems and leaves to accentuate the overall shape, line and form of the arrangement. Ikebana doesn’t rely solely on blossoms; indeed, any organic plant material can be used, from grasses and moss to fruit and seed pods.
BurJuman’s ikebana workshops are led by Harue Oki, who trained at Japan’s renowned Ohara School of Ikebana and holds the grand title of associate second master in ikebana.
“In Japan, in my mother’s day, ikebana – along with performing the Japanese tea ceremony and knowing how to tie a kimono – was one of the key skills a woman was expected to learn before marriage,” she says. Keen to continue the family tradition, she began practising ikebana herself at the age of 15.
The origins of ikebana can be traced back hundreds of years to the tradition of making flower offerings in Buddhist temples when the religion reached Japan. Gradually the practice of ikebana evolved, independent of its religious origins, to become an important custom and traditional art form within Japanese culture.
Oki estimates more than 300 ikebana schools now exist in Japan, with her alma mater Ohara School having established 58 chapters overseas, as far afield as Australia, the United States, India, the United Kingdom and Brazil, as more and more people outside of Japan enjoy the calming and spiritual qualities associated with practising the art. Having taught ikebana in London, Paris and Tokyo, Oki recently set up her own private ikebana teaching practice in Dubai, catering to non-Japanese students.
At BurJuman, a group of about 10 women, myself included, and one brave man take our places at Oki’s eagerly anticipated first ikebana workshop during the Flower Power fest. We’re each given an assortment of flowers, along with scissors, a shallow bowl, water and something that resembles a heavy and dangerously spiky metal hairbrush. Today we’ll be attempting the “hana-isho” style of ikebana, concentrating on the basic “rising form”.
As Oki demonstrates the technique, we watch in quiet awe as she quickly transforms a few carefully selected flowers and leaves in to a graceful and artful composition. It turns out the “hairbrush” is in fact a kenzan; made from iron, it sits in a water-filled bowl and is used to hold the flowers firmly in place. As she makes a deft cut here and a skilful snip there, Oki shares some of the subtle intricacies and rules behind this particular form of ikebana.
The flower known as the “subject” (in our lesson, it’s a purple statice) should measure precisely twice the combined depth, height and diameter of the bowl. Placed upright it may lean up to 20 degrees in any direction. Then the “object” – we’re using a pink rose – should be cut to exactly one-third of the length of the subject and placed in the kenzan, slanting forwards a jaunty 45 degrees. For the “fillers”, we’re using gypsophila, which will be used to pad out some of the space between the subject and object.
Unlike western floral arrangements, which often go for knockout combinations of colour, ikebana strives for natural simplicity. “A key element is the use of empty space and asymmetrical forms. We use minimalism to draw attention to the arrangement’s natural shapes and lines,” Oki says.
A few final tweaks later, Oki declares her arrangement complete. We admire its elegant simplicity; using just four or five artfully placed flowers and leaves, she has created a dramatic, asymmetrical and yet balanced piece of living art.
Now it’s our turn. Using exactly the same selection of flowers and equipment as Oki, we each have a go at creating our own unique masterpieces. The Indian lady to my right is self-assuredly measuring stems and placing stalks at lightning speed, so I decide to follow her lead.
As I push my statice into the kenzan, I break the stalk. Start again. My next attempt is more promising, and I pick up confidence as I enthusiastically measure, cut and insert the rose, then finish off by primping with the gypsophila fillers.
Finally, I stand back to survey my work. Viewed next to my neighbour’s carefully crafted effort, mine is a bendy, wobbly attempt that’s less beauty and more bodge job. I resign myself to the fact that I’m probably more suited to the plonking-blooms-in-a-vase approach after all. Nevertheless, it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and impressive to see Oki, a true master, at work.
For Flower Power activity timings and to register for workshops, call BurJuman on 04 352 0222 or visit www.burjuman.com.
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