Street art turns Karama turned into a gallery on a giant scale

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DUBAI // The Karama neighbourhood has for years attracted tourists and locals looking for bargain clothes, fabrics and South Asian delicacies. But now this bustling part of old Dubai can add art lovers to its list of visitors.

Eight street artists have helped give the area, which borders Bur Dubai and Oud Metha, a facelift by painting 24 huge murals on the side of 12 apartment buildings and shops around the Karama shopping complex.

Developer Al Wasl Properties commissioned works by two UAE-based artists and six international artists, including Azrul Helmi bin Ibrahim.

The 33-year-old Malaysian has been a full-time graffiti artist since 2014. He created three pieces that included both Arabic and English writing.

“A lot of people are impressed with the new souq in Karama right now, showing their support and love for the new environment,” he said. “That was my mission when I was offered the job. I told my employer that one day we will colour Dubai to make it alive.”

The artist defended the way the artwork was developed through a commission rather than spontaneous graffiti.

“As an artist I will always have someone criticising what I’m doing. Some people want the buildings to look like a normal old school. But for me, I want something colourful that cheers up our day. I don’t want to wake up in the morning and start my day looking at dull and dusty buildings. I want something that makes me smile, like colours.”

The work is the latest collection of street art in Dubai following similar projects in City Walk and Business Bay.

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It has won praise from the emirate’s artists, including Fathima Mohiuddin.

“I lived in Karama between ages nine and 17, a good while and a good portion of my teenage angst,” she said.

“In some ways I think it’s actually a more appropriate setting for street art because it’s rougher around the edges because it has always had a lot of actual street life.”

Mohiuddin’s work formed part of the famous street art scene in Brick Lane, a network of streets around east London.

Art was seen as a key part of the area’s regeneration, and Mohiuddin hoped it can have the same effect on her old neighbourhood and give more local artists a platform to express themselves.

“I absolutely respect the artists for their work and effort, especially braving the Dubai summer and working on that scale. I’m curious to go back to my old stomping grounds and see how it’s affecting the local community.”

For people living in the area, the artworks have breathed new life into Karama as the area was looking past its best in places.

“We’ve been here for 15 years now and it’s been so run down and dirty looking so we are all really happy with the art,” said Devika Singh, a mother of three. “It’s so colourful and just gives the neighbourhood a different look.”

Taxi driver Humza Faisal said the neighbourhood had been given a more modern feel thanks to the artists. He hoped it would attract more tourists to the area.

“It feels more happy and colourful here now. I like what they’ve done. Not so many people would make a special trip to Karama before, but now I think many more people will come to see this. Tourists would want to come and see these paintings.

“It looks much newer and cleaner than it did before and there isn’t really anything like this here in Dubai, so it makes it something special.”

Another artist, Muhriz Murad, 32, said street art brought more colours to a city to “make something old look new and refreshed”.

“It gives appreciation to talented artists who might have not been known widely before.”

The Malaysian said projects like this were a positive way to transform empty, dull looking spaces and walls.

“Why not paint something colourful to make them look livelier?”

Zainab Mohammed, chief property management and marketing officer at Wasl Properties, said she hoped that the murals would draw people to the area.

“We hope it will result in increased footfall from tourists and residents alike visiting the centre to indulge in shopping and a day out, as well as greatly contributing towards a beautified Karama.”