Road art in Dubai

Indian artist Vikram Divecha drives over his art. Yes, really …

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At times, an artist’s dedication to a project can drive them to do extreme things. Some stay up all night drinking coffee, while others trash their own art displays (Salvador Dali did so in an effort to stir interest for his upcoming play). Dubai-based Indian artist Vikram Divecha took his obsession to new levels: after spending eight months creating his first exhibition, entitled ‘Urban Epidermis’, the 35-year-old hopped in his car and drove over the road-like artworks now hanging in Traffic Gallery.

Yet what many might consider a random impulsive act, Divecha describes as a necessary step in his artistic process. There is method to his madness: Divecha’s joy ride wasn’t due to frustration or anger, but rather a desire to replicate the lifelike cracks that appear in worn city roads, the subject of his eight-piece show that questions the relationship people have with their urban environments. Divecha, who quit his advertising job in September last year to pursue his artistic interests, says that many months of research went into creating pieces light enough to hang on a wall.

‘I started approaching road-making factories and road-painting companies to learn how to make roads. I wanted to find a piece of road to hang on the wall, but I found out that would weigh about 900kg,’ explains Divecha. ‘I spent almost four months trying to devise my own process of creating a thinner layer of road. I almost gave up. But then I found out about another material that changed the game.’

From that point, Divecha says the project took off. ‘I created thin layers of cement sheets and coated each sheet with 8kg worth of epoxy primer, which is like superglue.

I poured aggregate [a construction material]over that layer and applied bitumen paint, which is used on roads for waterproofing.’

Even after their transformation, the pieces are still pretty hefty: each weighs in at roughly 110kg. Look closely at the detail, though, and Divecha’s dedication becomes apparent. ‘The works were made in an open space so I could expose them in the sun for 40 days,’ he reveals. ‘I literally went onto the street and collected the dust from the streets [to use]. It became quite a mess.’

When that didn’t quite suffice, he tried something else. ‘I drove over them and tried cracking them with the weight of the car. I spent almost six or seven months finding the right process. I eventually cracked them by putting objects below them and running over them. Everything was totally shattered – a lot of these pieces are so damaged that I can’t use them in the exhibition.’

One might wonder how an individual can find beauty in such an ugly reminder of city life, but for Divecha the answer was obvious.

‘For me, roads, bitumen, asphalt and aggregate have an inherent story already. The roads here [in Dubai] are too perfect, too brand new. When I go back to Mumbai, I see this ferocious contrast, because the roads are all cracked. That’s what it stemmed from.’

However, it wasn’t until he met with a relative that he began to see a dialogue between cities and people. ‘Last year I met an uncle that I hadn’t seen for 25 years. He’s in his mid-fifties and he’s a totally broken guy, but he’s the most jovial person I’ve seen in my life. I saw how his life was committed to the city and how he has been exhausted over time,’ says Divecha. ‘The metaphor is whether the urban condition is somehow reflecting the human condition.’

Following that theme, Divecha says he will continue to work with materials that already have stories to tell, such as concrete: his next project, ‘Concbots’, is inspired by construction sites in Dubai. ‘It’s a figurine project, which speaks about people against cities,’ he says. And considering his track record, we guarantee his approach will be anything but conventional.

The Lowdown
Exhibition: ‘Urban Epidermis’, until September 1 at Traffic, 179 Umm Suqeim Road, Al Quoz (04 347 0209).
Artist: Vikram Divecha.
Price of works: Not for sale.

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