A young boy shading himself from rainbow rain with a giant leaf. A man in a bowler hat and suit riding a bicycle. An African woman wistfully staring at the sky.
These are a few of the scenes that have been painted by some of the world’s leading street artists on the new extension to Dubai’s City Walk.
The 15 artworks are permanent additions to the purpose-built retail and leisure district, situated close to Burj Khalifa in the city’s Jumeirah district.
They are part of a new initiative called Dubai Walls, an online platform that aims to decorate as many public spaces as possible with quality street art for everyone to enjoy. It has teamed up with Meraas Holdings, the developers of City Walk, to provide what is essentially a giant outdoor exhibition, a welcome addition to a city where there are relatively few pieces of public art to enjoy.
Picasso meets Tony Tiger
One of the most memorable new works at City Walk is a mural by street artist Ron English. The American is considered by many to be one of the founders of the street-art genre, and his works are so entrenched in popular culture that he has even appeared as a character in an episode of The Simpsons.
In the piece he created for Dubai, he mimics scenes from Picasso’s Guernica but inserts cartoon characters.
Tony the Tiger, Mickey Mouse and Godzilla all contort along the walkway, presenting a parody of the original painting.
French artist Blek Le Rat, who spray paints images of rodents as his signature, and as a comment on society, has painted several small rats on benches and walls.
He has also created a striking image of a ballerina, which has been placed above the levels of the shopfronts on the outside of the building, providing a welcome treat for the observant visitor.
Although he has been painting in public spaces for many years, the artist says that this project has been one of the most memorable.
“These are some of the best street artists in the world, who have come to Dubai and painted here,” he says. “It really is like a museum and I am very proud to be part of it.”
Perhaps the most colourful – certainly the most original – of the pieces are Magda Sayeg’s yarn bombs. Sayeg, who has Lebanese roots but was born and raised in the United States, began taking knitted and crocheted material onto the streets about 10 years ago.
She has worked in cities around the world, covering mundane objects with yarn.
For this project, her brightly coloured woven material has been wrapped around the trunks of palm trees and over fire hydrants and balcony railings. Although the artwork is innately ephemeral, Sayeg says that is part of its charm.
“Yes, the material is fragile and it will become damaged by being exposed to the elements – but that is somehow poetic to me,” she says. “It begins to merge with its new environment.”
Talent from around the world
Ben Eine, who painted on the exterior of the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi last year, has also contributed to the project with a large mural.
And Nick Walker – who began painting in the 1980s in Bristol, in the UK, with artists including Banksy – has developed a character, The Vandal, who is a man who wears a bowler hat and a suit. You can spot him in a number of poses along City Walk’s walls.
Abdulla Al Habbai, the Group Chairman of Meraas, says that the venture which began four months ago, is part of a commitment to the directives of the Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, to transform the emirate into an open-air museum.
“Dubai Walls will attract visual-art lovers from across the globe,” he says.
“This initiative will definitely make the region even more attractive through the amazing works of street art by an acclaimed list of international artists.”
• Visit www.dubaiwalls.com for more information