Through the keyhole

Ahmed bin Shabib takes us into his Nad Al Sheba home

This is my great grandmother’s house, and next door is my uncle’s house. I have 21 uncles living on this compound.
This is my great grandmother’s house, and next door is my uncle’s house. I have 21 uncles living on this compound.
These are all the books from when we were kids – The Hardy Boys, Enid Blyton, Lord of the Flies…
These are all the books from when we were kids – The Hardy Boys, Enid Blyton, Lord of the Flies…
This is where we usually hang out, but we’re never around – we’re always busy, always sitting outside. This is an Eames armchair: we picked it up from [designer furniture store] Vitra. My cat Sushi is around here somewhere too.
This is where we usually hang out, but we’re never around – we’re always busy, always sitting outside. This is an Eames armchair: we picked it up from [designer furniture store] Vitra. My cat Sushi is around here somewhere too.
This is my brother Rashid’s study, and the big piece is by Farhad Moshiri from 2006, a very rare piece that was specially commissioned. And that’s a Lichtenstein – you have this in the Tate Modern. The first piece I bought was from Emirati artist Abdel Qader Al-Rais.
This is my brother Rashid’s study, and the big piece is by Farhad Moshiri from 2006, a very rare piece that was specially commissioned. And that’s a Lichtenstein – you have this in the Tate Modern. The first piece I bought was from Emirati artist Abdel Qader Al-Rais.
Here is an old piano that the guy who wrote [famed Egyptian singer] Umm Kulthum’s music worked on. My mother picked it up at an auction in Cairo. Then they put all this tacky glass on top, which makes it perfect.
Here is an old piano that the guy who wrote [famed Egyptian singer] Umm Kulthum’s music worked on. My mother picked it up at an auction in Cairo. Then they put all this tacky glass on top, which makes it perfect.
This is the cinema, or at least it should be the cinema. All the art is stacked up around the place. This is a map of the Turkish empire. It’s an original, but I can’t find the date.
This is the cinema, or at least it should be the cinema. All the art is stacked up around the place. This is a map of the Turkish empire. It’s an original, but I can’t find the date.
Here’s the indoor majlis, where all the guys hang out. You have a dinner space and an indoor pool.
Here’s the indoor majlis, where all the guys hang out. You have a dinner space and an indoor pool.
This is the majlis outdoor hangout – 
you’ll find a lot of people sitting here at night. We’re building a space to put all our artwork in just next to the house. It’s scattered all over the house at the moment, and that’s unhealthy. You can lose stuff
This is the majlis outdoor hangout – you’ll find a lot of people sitting here at night. We’re building a space to put all our artwork in just next to the house. It’s scattered all over the house at the moment, and that’s unhealthy. You can lose stuff
Ahmed bin Shabib
Ahmed bin Shabib
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A word with Ahmed bin Shabib

What were you trying to achieve with The Shelter?
It is, at the core of it, a community building exercise. That’s what’s missing here [in Dubai]. If you walk down the street in [London’s] Soho and you stand in the pub, you’re going to talk to somebody. So if you work in a space, have coffee in a space, like in The Shelter, you force people to interact with each other.

How do you see integration working here in Dubai?
There’s no social cohesion at the moment – all the communities are doing their own thing. If you take the Jazz Festival, you’ll find the Iranian community, the English community, each doing their own thing. It’s not like a jazz band where you have an English drummer, an Arab on sax, an Indian on double bass. You don’t have that cohesion and we need to build that. It has to be organic – you have to sit on a train and meet them and talk to them. I’ve probably met more people through Twitter than I have [in person] in the past few years.

What does National Day mean to you?
As Emiratis we have to understand where we’ve come from in such a short space of time. Imagine Sheikh Zayed [bin Sultan Al Nahyan, first president of the UAE], who was in the middle of the sands – he had to build a city, bring a country together where there were social issues, government issues, colonial issues. But he was able to weather that and create a country out of nothing. It’s unbelievable. Don’t forget, the reason why the UAE is where it is now is not just because of Sheikh Mohammed [bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice-president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai] and Sheikh Khalifa [bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, president of the UAE and emir of Abu Dhabi] – Sheikh Zayed planted something within us. There’s something deeper that was planted 20 or 30 years ago that allowed the city to become what it is today.

How can Emiratis and expats integrate more closely?
There are Emiratis by nationality, but I see people I work with as Emiratis, people who have been in the country for a very long time that are a part of who we are. It’s just that I have the citizenship.
The Shelter art hub has been going since March 2009 and offers desk space, monthly film seasons, lectures and one-off events. For info, see www.shelter.ae. Brownbook is a monthly magazine focusing on lifestyle, fashion, design and travel in the region, especially the UAE. For info, see www.brownbook.ae.

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