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Breath of fresh air for Dubai's art

Dubai Street Museum features urban artwork of 16 street artists from different genres

Dubai may be known for its architectural superlatives such as the Burj Khalifa - the highest of the world's high-rises - and the Middle East's largest shopping centre, the Dubai Mall.

But a group of street artists wants to turn the concrete walls of the fast-growing urban sprawl into an open-air museum that celebrates Emirati heritage and speaks to everyone in the multicultural city.

The art of the government-funded Dubai Street Museum is bringing new life to the city.

The project features the work of 16 mural and graffiti artists from different genres.

The artists include four Emiratis, Malaysian-based Lithuanian Ernest Zacharevic - who has been likened to British graffiti artist Banksy - and Tunisia's The Inkman.

Each brings their own interpretation of the theme, The Past, to the 2nd of December Street in the heart of Satwa, one of Dubai's older quarters.

Breath of fresh air for Dubai's art
Chinese contemporary artist Hua Tunan.PHOTO: AFP

"Tourists can see our history at the museums. But we want everyone to be able to see that history everywhere, even on the streets," said project director Shaima Al-Soueidi.

Urban art is a growing trend in the Middle East, a region dotted with cities carrying complex histories.

But while graffiti in older cities such as Tunis and Beirut often acts as a form of resistance in contemporary politics, the art form takes on a more a conciliatory tone in Dubai.

Satwa, a neighbourhood largely inhabited by Filipino labourers, is known locally as a "mini Manila".

Its unique social make-up caught the eye of those behind the Dubai Street Museum, who hope to see the project spread further across the city.

"Because of its history and its position in the city, we landed on the 2nd of December Street as the ideal site," Ms Al-Soueidi said.

The first mural in the neighbourhood is that of a man in his abra, a narrow boat that is carved out of wood and traditionally used for travel and trade across the Dubai Creek.

Further down the street, an image of the national white-and-gold falcon stands three storeys-high, while a building facade is covered in white, red and green patterns that echo the weave in traditional garments.

Emirati muralist Ashwaq Abdullah is among the artists bringing their visions to the walls and parking lots of Dubai.

Her mural pays homage to the United Arab Emirates founders, sheikhs Rashed Al Maktoum and Zayed Al Nahyan.

"Mural art speaks to everyone in all segments of society, and it generally focuses on the past, the heritage, of the place," Ms Abdullah said.

"For me, this is a chance to express my love for my country.

"The hope is that it spills over into streets all across Dubai." - AFP