My first impressions of Dubai were driving along in a taxi on the very long El Zahid Road that is the main artery of the City. I was trusting the taxi driver to take me to an address in a city that I had never been to before it was late at night and looking out and mostly up from the back seat of the car. I was awed by this futuristic wonderland of Modern Islamic Architecture rising up all around me. My earliest memories pertaining to anything Middle Eastern went back as far as fairy stories read to me at bedtime from Christian Anderson’s 1000 and 1 night. Ready to embrace a 2010 version of those early experiences fuelled by this writer of old I was not disappointed, and read this new City Scape as being in every way as fantastical and magical as my childhood imaginary landscape of the East.
The spaciousness of it all felt both freeing and intimidating. This was the first of many taxi rides in the city for I soon realised that some parts of Dubai are not pedestrian friendly. And a car is essential. A Metro does exist but, I found out later that you need a car to get to the station; it is a slow ride when you are on it and then you need another car on the other side to get to your destination! Admittedly it is still in construction and only partially open,
Within 5 years on both side of this long stretch high rises have shot up and confront one with architecture on a very grand scale. Coming down in the plane I spotted the Burj Khalifa , towering above everything else. Closer up it revealed to be the most elegant of structures, dwarfing every other building around it including the second tallest building in Dubai, the very expensive Hotel the Burj Al Arab, which was built during the boom as part of the largest development project in the world. Rising up close to the beach the Burj Arab is truly impressive and simply a beautiful sight. Since 2008 Dubai also has had a major down turn in the economy and although there is still much building in evidence many of the projects have been stopped and residents are worried about what is going to happen in the future to buildings that are just left standing unfinished.
I must mention the climate, which from October to April is pleasantly warm at around 30 degrees centigrade. It never rains and my host explained that when it does do so occasionally the inhabitants treat it in the same way that we here in London treat sudden snowfall. Everything comes to a halt because of the snow. In Dubai rain has a similar effect, no one wants to drive through a puddle of rainwater and traffic comes to a standstill!
I was there for Art Dubai and in particular for being an observer at its Fringe Fair called the Bastakija Art Fair formally known as the Creek Art Fair. It is held in the historic part of town in Bur Dubai, not far from the Ruler’s Court and the Dubai Museum. This area is fast becoming the cultural centre point and is the place where to look for some of the best of the emerging and established Contemporary Art from the Middle East during art season in Dubai. So check for further blog entries on individual galleries, artists and a round up of the Fair, which I shall post as soon as possible.
The Hub of Bastakija Art Fair is the XVA Gallery and Hotel who’s owner Mona Hauser has organised the Fair for its 4rth year running. http://www.xvagallery.com
I highly recommend this unique warm and hospitable hotel. In fact I am loath to tell anyone really in case it gets to be too busy in future! It is built in the traditional majlis-style meaning it has open courtyards, original motifs, and wind tower and a café that serves the best mint lemonade. It’s a good place to mix work and pleasure!