A new guide book Uncommon Dubai has brought a pool of writers, artists and poets together.
Writer and filmmaker Hind Shoufani has lived in Dubai for four years as a creative of many disciplines. From poetry, filmmaking and writing – Shoufani has access to many of Dubai’s creative minds, so when the publisher of Uncommon guidebooks wanted to curate an alternative guidebook depicting life in the burgeoning city through the experiences of its inhabitants, it naturally turned to her.
Uncommon Dubai takes readers on an intimate tour of the city, offering insights into the lives of some of its artistic residents through prose, poetry, illustration and photography. The book has more than 30 contributors, all of whom have lived in the city for several years and are connected to its creative culture.
Uncommon, which has published international guidebooks on places such as Stockholm, Malta and London, wanted to explore the depths behind Dubai’s glitzy appearances, yet Shoufani admits she was initially hesitant about the project. ‘I was worried that it would come across as a tribute to Dubai and just what people want to hear,’ she says.
A meeting with the book’s publishers Dora Bouhara and Emma Mattei soon put Shoufani at ease. More than just places to go, the duo wanted to ensure the tome would be an honest portrait of the city.
Shoufani founded performing poetry group The Poeticians, a role that put her in the right position to connect with sourcing contributors for the book. ‘We managed to bring together a group of people who showed real lives – there’s no hype and no fancy nightclubs or hotels or fancy bars or people. It’s a book for everyone and in that sense we were all aligned that it would be very inclusive.’
The book has beautiful imagery and is part coffee table book, part guidebook, which the editor feels will appeal to readers who may never even visit the city. ‘It’s meant for people who want to read literature and want insight into people’s lives.’
The creators look at various aspects of life in the city ranging from traditional Emirati family life to fast cars, wandering through souks, carpet buying and even the experience of leaving the emirate. The book’s photography stays away from the picture-postcard images of the Burj Khalifa, its cover depicting a giant Arabian coffee kettle known as a dallah, taken by Emirati photographer Lamia Gargash. ‘I think we really need something like this in Dubai,’ says Shoufani. ‘People are either doing crazy PR fluff or super-negative stuff, no one ever talks about the normal everyday lives of people who are just living.’
One of the contributors to the book, Irish poet and businessman Frank Dullaghan, wrote a piece called A Poet’s Journey Through the DIFC about the contradictions of working in the heart of the financial district and being a poet. In the piece, Dullaghan writes, ‘I come here to work, earn a salary. But on those days when I’m attuned enough to notice, I also come to be amazed.’
Dullaghan, who has lived in Dubai for seven years, feels that the experience of writing the piece and being part of the process helped him to remember what the city has to offer creatively. ‘I think all of us walk through our lives in towns and cities and don’t look at what’s in front of us. There’s beauty and joy, you just have to be open to it, and I think the piece about DIFC is about discovering that, and being involved for a short while – just by opening your eyes and being receptive.’
Both Shoufani and Dullaghan believe the book will enable the emirate’s visitors and residents to get a deeper understanding of the city. As Shoufani says: ‘This is a guidebook, it’s meant for people who want to read literature and get an insight into people’s lives, who want to meander along streets and discover their own routes.’
Uncommon Dubai, Dhs190, is available to buy from www.uncommunguidebooks.com.