I painted a wall. A big one. And that usually is the extent of the story.
But there’s more to this one, and these points were important to me. So let me tell you about the wall.
This was my first time painting a proper ‘street’ wall in Dubai. Dubai is my home. It has been for 25 years, this year. I’ve grown up watching change and transformation, oohing at developments and whincing at the loss of nostalgia here. I’ve grown up as an expat kid with a lack of real fixed cultural identity or feeling of priority or relevance, whilst still harbouring a real strong passion for wanting my home to maintain its integrity and values while it is on stage. When an art scene developed here and does, at times, oversee the communities that contribute to its cultural grain on a daily basis, I was one of the artists who said: it’ll take time, it’ll take information and education, let’s keep pushing. So to finally be given a chance, priority, relevance in this growing picture was not only a triumph for me but for the artists who call this place home. For grass-roots and homegrown culture. For understanding that there is more to art, and street art, than a show.
But then there’s even more to it than that. For me painting a public wall is only half about the actual piece and even more so about the story, the interactions, the realizations that go with that public encounter. I believe in art for all. I believe that art can change people, mobilize humanity and make the world a better place. I believe that putting art in the context removed from elitism and accessible to everyday people has far more impact. For 7 days I painted up on a cherry picker in Dubai heat with people walking by and seeing a) a local artist b) a woman and c) something that was as much for them as it was for me, unfold. As much energy as we exhude when we paint in a public space, we also take in. It’s a silent dialogue and interaction. The cab drivers down below chatting amongst themselves and bickering at times. The hotel staff who feel like they’re a part of something when they bring out bananas, water and words of encouragement. The tourists stopping to chat and find out more about who and why and how. Jo, with her mad passion for the value of street art, coming by day after day to document everything. We are a family in this process all swirling in a moment of energy exchange that resonates. We are affected. Deleuze and Guattari said “Art is like a pebble dropped in water”. The water is equally relevant as the pebble. Without it there are no ripples, there is no sound. Together we make up a community of people who give that moment any real meaning or value. Without it, it is just decoration and just a show. It’s just a big wall that someone painted.
The artwork itself has a few personal stories. People always ask me what it’s like to witness this magnitude of change in a city and what I remember the most. I remember the water. Seeing the sea from beach road. And trudging through sand between houses. Constants. There are other constants. The clock tower. The Etisalat building. The dhows on the creek. An old trustee camel. I see these as old friends who’ve seen what I’ve seen and felt what I’ve felt. Out of this sprung a twinkly skyline. Glass towers. The Burj’s. Stretching into the sky and challenging the stars.
And the moon. The moon in Dubai has been my oldest of friends. Never changing. Always there on the loneliest of nights.
And the fligeon. He was meant to be a falcon. Who turned out looking like a pigeon. And with my fascination with hybrids and non-commitment to fixed identities, he became the fligeon. Representing two contrasting statuses in our society.
And the city in motion, with all its old and new and all of this good and bad swirls together to make this place we call home.
And it’s important to care about these things. This effect. These narratives. These moments. Without them we’re just bastardizing beauty.
And all of these points lead to my second wall upstairs at the Sofitel.
Arthur Miller said:
"Society is inside of man and man is inside society; and you cannot even create a truthfully drawn psychological entity on the stage until you understand his social relations and their power to make him what he is and to prevent him from being what he is not. The fish is in the water and the water is in the fish".
Big huge shout to Red Bull UAE for their effort and for this. This was a Red Bull Curates project.
And to Sofitel JBR for the wall and homeliness.
And to JBR for the support.
Jo Askew for the company and photos.
And to Dubai for being Dubai.
photo by Jo Askew
photo by Jo Askew
photo by Jo Askew