Dubai street artists hope to brighten up dusty streets of Al Quoz

It is best known as a maze of factories, warehouses and labour camps, but the dusty streets of Al Quoz could soon undergo a facelift thanks to a group of street artists.

Ruben Sanchez , a street artist in Dubai, hopes to give Al Quoz industrial area a lift, with his works.
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DUBAI // It is best known as a maze of factories, warehouses and labour camps, but the dusty streets of Al Quoz could soon undergo a facelift thanks to a group of street artists.

A proposal to decorate the grim, bare facades of the industrial area with colourful graffiti is being drawn up and will be submitted to the authorities in Dubai later this year.

The "Al Quoz Beautification Project", as it is informally known, has already attracted the support of about 10 local street artists.

Maria Urrutia, the project's organiser, said the area desperately needed a makeover. "It's a very depressing place to go," said Ms Urrutia, from Uruguay. "Everything is yellow and full of sand. There are no pavements, so people have to walk in the sand. If we start to do something, it might motivate other people to improve the area."

She said that the work would initially start in Al Quoz's art district around Al Serkal Avenue, where a number of galleries are based, before spreading to other areas like public walls or labour camps.

Part of the problem, Ms Urrutia said, was that people were reluctant to give permission because of a lack of awareness about street art.

To tackle this, Ms Urrutia said there are plans to install a temporary wall in Al Quoz that would be decorated with street art and left for several months. A proposal for the exhibition, as well as the wider project, is being drafted and will be sent to the municipality by October at the latest.

"This will help people get to know us and then maybe it's more easy in future to get permission to paint the walls," said Ms Urrutia.

Sya One, one of the UAE's leading graffiti artists, said Dubai suffers from a lack of knowledge regarding street art.

"It's not like London or New York," said the British-born artist. "Dubai doesn't really have a graffiti-writing scene, so people don't really understand it unless they read up about it."

He said he expected getting permission from authorities to be difficult. "It depends what the person's like," he said. "If they don't really understand what we're trying to do, then it might be difficult. If the people at the municipality have got an open mind and they can see that it's a good thing, it could be easy.

"We're trying to do something for that area and make it a bit brighter."

As in most cities, graffiti is considered vandalism in Dubai and offenders can be punished with fines or even jail followed by deportation.

The majority of street art is only carried out with permission from both building owners and the building department at the municipality.

However, there are a handful of artists who get around those rules by painting on temporary structures, such as construction boards.

"Even if people from out of town come to paint, they realise it's not worth messing around here because if you get caught you go to prison for years," said Sya One. "It's a new city and it doesn't really belong here.

"If it starts going out on the streets, it will just get locked down instantly and graffiti will end."

He said many artists have discussed the idea of having a series of walls where they could paint legally, but so far nothing had come of it.

Ruben Sanchez, a Spanish street artist who has lived in Dubai for a year and works as a resident artist at the Tashkeel gallery, has also expressed an interest in the Al Quoz project. He said the industrial area was the perfect canvas.

"To me it looks pretty ugly," he said. "People don't really give a damn about that place. There's a lot of potential there and a lot of big walls. It's the perfect place to start this project.

"Through this, they will realise how street art will improve the look of a city."