We visit Al Quoz and find a booming artistic community in between the industrial estates.
Some say that Al Quoz is the last enclave of unplanned Dubai. It is the dusty, mucky, noisy, and cramped corner where the boats that fill the Marina, the chairs that pack the offices of DIFC and the endless concrete needed to build this jungle are all made. Its streets are almost impossible to navigate; its (unfortunately named) labour camps are packed with the workers who build and drive this city. And, as so many people told us on our way into the heart of the district, it stinks.
Yet there is another side to Al Quoz that couldn’t be more distinct – the naturally formed centre of Dubai’s emerging and highly lucrative art scene. So many of the city’s most forward-looking galleries have found an unlikely (or likely, depending on how you look at it) home among the warehouses. It begs the question – is this Dubai’s Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), New York’s art district, or even the city’s own East End – London’s rough and ready hub of industry that has found itself host to some of the world’s most well known galleries and artists?
Time Out set out to discover more about the area and in the process discovered that the end might be nigh for the galleries battling to define the area as the unplanned community of art that Dubai so needs.
Two worlds that couldn’t be further apart meet. And why? Just Quoz.
1 Meem Gallery This week: Hamza Bounoua, Algerian calligraphy artist (04 347 7883) Umm Suqeim Road
2 Black Sheep Gallery This week: works produced in-house by Carrie Wareham and Marian Lishman (05 748 8639) Umm Suqeim Road
3 The Jam Jar This week: Popular Reality, group show of India’s daring new wave (04 341 7303) Behind Dubai Garden Centre
4 B21 Gallery This week: Khosrow Hassanzadeh, Iranian pop artist who puts icons into sacred boxes (04 340 3965) Behind Times Square
5 The Third Line This week: Huda Lutfi’s psychedelic reinventions of Umm Kulthum and the archetypal woman. (04 341 1367) Behind Times Square
6 Total Arts at The Courtyard This week: traditional paintings of the Gulf by Mohseni Kermanshahi for National Day. (04 347 5050) Behind Times Square
7 Courtyard Gallery and Café This week: group show of represented artists including Huda Baalbaki (04 347 9090) Behind Times Square
8 4 Walls Art Gallery This week: epic works by Jordanian abstract artist Jehad Al-Amer (04 338 8892) First left after Exit 43 into Al Quoz
9 Ayyam Gallery This week: Rituals of Dinner, group show by artists graduating from American University in Dubai (04 323 6242) Near 3rd Interchange
10 1x1 Contemporary This week: collection of highly modernist and bleak Indian artists, with a Keralan focus (04 348 3873) U-turn at Grand City Mall
11 Basement This week: Iranian painter Mostafa Dashti’s moody abstract works that appear like brooding clouds or turbulent seas (04 341 4409) Second left after Times Square interchange
12 Artsawa This week: Essam Marouf, Egyptian artist who depicts isolated, wandering Cairo scenes (04 340 8660) Opposite Shirawi Equipment
13 Capital D This week: photography works at this new gallery (04 341 5339) Behind Dubai Garden Centre, near The Jam Jar
Abdul Latif, secretary at ReadyMix Concrete Factory
‘I have been in this company for six months. It’s very hard in Al Quoz because it’s an industrial area. This place is dusty, the smell is nasty, it’s very difficult to live here. I’m staying near the concrete factory. The accommodation is provided by ReadyMix. It’s very difficult to find accommodation outside here. I’m trying to find something elsewhere, but it’s so difficult for bachelors. That’s what keeps me here. You can only stay in camps, but it’s very bad – in the streets you find drainage water. But it’s normal for any industrial area. It’s impossible to make it better than this and it’s difficult to find a more clean and comfortable place. I have to get a driver’s licence – until then the commute to get to my company is very hard. I have to find a taxi to get out of here.’
Charlie Pocock, Meem Gallery
Why did you set up Meem in Al Quoz? It’s because you have three choices if you want a gallery in Dubai. you either go in a villa, a shopping centre or a warehouse. A shopping centre is creative death, so you either have a villa or go to Al Quoz.
What’s this about the place getting destroyed? We know what the plans are, we’re being knocked down in about a year’s time to build the canal. So many galleries here are going to be pulled down. Given the current economic conditions it’s a bit terrifying. We’re being told that everyone has a limited amount of time – we’re looking at around 16 months.
What do you make of that? I see why, it’s part of Dubai’s past – it’s an industrial wasteland. Earlier this year we had a huge fire and the whole place shut down. Al Quoz is a health and safety hazard so I can see why it has to go. In terms of planning and design it is a disaster.
But it’s quite a creative place, right? No question about it, but at the same time that’s out of necessity. There’s no cultural community in one area in this city. In London there is the East End – Whitechapel, Spitalfields, cafés around urban environments and art students who leave college and get a studio there. But you don’t have that here. The cost of renting a warehouse here is huge, but you get a lot of space. There’s nowhere else in the city to have a proper gallery in the way you’d want it than Al Quoz. You can have it in a villa, but you’d have to have a huge one that’s going to cost you half a million dirhams every year. I feel sorry for Bastakiya, nobody goes down there for the evening openings because the traffic is so bad. Jumeirah, Satwa, Umm Suqeim – the only place for a gallery to be is around here.
Carrie Wareham and Marian Lishman
Black Sheep Art Studio is making full use of the huge spaces on offer in Al Quoz’s warehouses, having established its own studio and walk-in gallery.
Why did you set up here? Carrie Wareham: There’s such a lot of art going on in this area, and it’s close to home. Marian Lishman: It’s also quite convenient for people to come and see us.
Is it a creative place to work as an artist? CW: It’s difficult to say. It’s out of the mainstream and has a down-to-earth feel to it. And artists need to be based somewhere where it’s cheap. ML: You’ve got other industrial areas, but because of the galleries here it gives the place another atmosphere. Even in some of the industrial warehouses there’s some really interesting things going on, like the place that does set-building and the occasional film shoot there. You’d never think that at the end of this mucky looking alley they’d be doing film shoots.
How long are you going to stay here? CW: We’ve heard that the warehouses are going to be knocked down at some point, but at the moment, as two individuals with no financial backers, we’ve found that the place is unsustainable for us financially. We’re moving out at the end of the year to find an alternative. At the moment we’ve not found anything. ML: There’s also been a few people interested in setting up art warehouses. Hopefully someone will come up with an option that’ll have a number of artists involved in it.