The big draw

Local illustrators take to the streets.

The Knowledge

Dubai, for all its glitz and sparkle, isn’t exactly known for spontaneous happenings. But over recent months there’s been something afoot on the city’s streets. From the Gold Souk to JBR, Karama to DIFC, residents have been witness to what we can only be described as random acts of illustration.

Danesh Mohouiddin and Joanne Brooker are caricature artists who use their skills as a way to connect with Dubai and its citizens. Drawing, they say, creates an instant rapport that can be difficult to achieve in a city whose various groups are notoriously disparate.

‘There are so many preconceived notions [in Dubai] about who you can and can’t talk to,’ explains Moudouiddin, whereas drawing, Brooker continues, ‘just creates this instant connection and communication with people even without language.’

The set-up is simple. The pair arrives at their chosen location and looks for someone to draw. The completed pictures are given to their subject when they’re finished (no money changes hands) and they begin the process again. Invariably, a crowd develops around them, and it’s at this point that the magic happens – people get excited at what they see and begin to interact. Only once did things get a little hairy, around the narrow streets near the Gold Souk. ‘It almost got out of hand,’ admits Mohouiddin. ‘A cop appeared asking what was going on. I thought he was going to break up the crowd, but he just stood there and made sure nothing went wrong.’

It’s one of the reasons that the pair tend to stay no longer than about half an hour at any one location – it allows them to get in, get drawing and get out without creating too much of a disturbance.

They have seen some interesting patterns in the behaviours of Dubai’s residents. Neighbourhoods such as Satwa have been most receptive, even if at first their subjects didn’t really understand what the pair was up to. ‘It’s hard to get started sometimes,’ Mohouiddin admits. ‘How do you tell someone you want to draw them when you don’t speak the same language?’ Once they begin, however, ‘people are dragging their friends over and everyone wants to get involved’.

More difficult were locations such as DIFC, Dubai’s business centre. ‘People were very wary there,’ notes Brooker. ‘They would ask if it was free and then, “Why is it free?”’ They ran into similar problems at Barasti bar where, they say, people were initially nervous about being presented in caricature.

‘People always assume that caricature is going to be insulting,’ Brooker explains, ‘that you’re going to draw them with a big nose or something. But it’s not like that.
You’re actually capturing a part of their personality.’

Their aim is to visit every part of the city and to draw every type of person in it, from the camel market to the Lime Tree café. They see interactive art as a way to connect people with each other and themselves with their adopted city. Brooker explains that her inspiration comes from a group of illustrators she worked with on a newspaper in Australia who would go ‘walkabout’ on weekends to country pubs where they would draw for drinks. For them it was a way to throw off work and just get back to drawing as a fun, two-way activity, but she’s finding that there are other benefits as well.

‘The world is so negative at the moment and that makes people even more suspicious of one another. We’re not envoys for peace here, or anything,’ she laughs, ‘but if you can find a way to show people that we’re all much the same and that they can have fun and they do enjoy art, then that’s a good thing.’
Visit www.thebrookerstudio.com; daneshnewspaper.blogspot.com

Comedy Institute
If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at the performing arts, there’s no better time to start. New York comedienne and tap-dancing maestro Mina Liccione’s Laugh Out Loud! Comedy Institute offers improv’, comedy and tap classes to people of all ages and skill levels.
Weekly classes at Ductac and Jumeirah Ballet Centre. Phone 050 927 3621 for details.

Nike Rockstar Workout
Think your footwork’s enough to bewitch and bedazzle? Registration is now open to audition for a two-day workshop to select the first Nike Rockstar Workout trainers in the region. With only 40 places on the workshop up for grabs, only the best can make it. Start priming those pumps now.
Auditions take place Jan 22 for Jan 23-24 workshop. Register at www.nikerockstarworkoutdubai.com for your chance to take part.

Swiss Days
More giggling and clowning around to be had, courtesy of Swiss Days Dubai 2009. A night of comedy theatre on January 15 will be followed by afternoon clown two days later.
Comedy Theatre, 8pm Jan 15; Clown Theatre, 4pm, Jan 17. www.swissartgateuae.com for info.

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