Dubai, the Land of Plenty

Dubai, the Land of Plenty

Just the other day a reel popped up on my Instagram titled ‘POV: You came to Dubai in the 1970s -1980s.’ The images of old Dubai, although beautiful, were a galaxy far—far away from the Dubai I visited. I experienced a city that was invigorating, glistening and abundant in art, culture, luxury and, not to mention, food. Oh, the food!

A short flight from Delhi and a 30-minute car ride later, I found myself in the 71st-floor lobby of the SLS Hotel and Residences. After checking in, I made straight for lunch at Fi’lia on the 70th floor. Not only is it a Michelin Bib Gourmand-winning restaurant, but it is also UAE’s first female-led restaurant. Chef Celia Stoecklin brings homely Italian food to the plate in a restaurant offering breathtaking views of the city. I sat on the terrace basking in the sun, enjoying an uninterrupted view of the Burj Khalifa and lip-smacking good food. My favourite dishes were Ricottina (baked ricotta and figs with honey and nuts) and the roasted salmon in a lemon butter sauce which just melted in my mouth. After lunch, I checked out my luxurious room, on the 59th floor, before making my way to Alserkal Avenue. Alserkal Avenue is a contemporary art and culture district with warehouses converted into galleries, restaurants and stores which were hosting their own Art Week-the week I found myself in Dubai. The Alserkal Arts Foundation commissioned public art pieces and talks throughout the week for visitors.

Dubai, the Land of Plenty

A couple of writers and I were taken on a curated walking tour. We started the tour with the feature exhibition, a video installation by Nalini Malani titled, ‘Can You Hear Me?’. The piece gives voice to those who have experienced gender-based violence, social injustice and find themselves in vulnerable situations. ‘Ballad of a Woman’ by Malani was projected on the warehouse exterior that evening–a thought-provoking compelling piece with the scale of the projection adding to the intense experience of the animated videos.

‘A Feral Commons’, a piece by Muhannad Shono, a multidisciplinary artist who used the condensation of the nearby AC units to water the ‘feral’ plants garden shedding light on how the areas in Al Quoz region (the locality where Alserkal Avenue is situated) could harness the untapped potential of “AC ecologies” as the artist says.

Our little group completely lost track of time, going from gallery to gallery, engaging with the artists and, in some cases, the art as well. We saw Farah Al Qasimi’s ‘The Third Line’, Mandy El-Sayegh’s ‘A Rose is a Rose is a Rose is a Rose’, Ana Mazzei’s ‘How to Disappear’, Owais Hussain at 1x1 Art Gallery, Aref Montazeri’s ‘Immortal Mirror’, Manjot Bawa and Rashid Rana at Volte and so many more exhibitions. It’s safe to say that we left Alserkal Avenue completely satiated yet, craving for more. We only rushed from the avenue to make our dinner reservations at Attiko, W Dubai – Mina Seyahi’s social supper club.

Dubai, the Land of Plenty

First came the drinks – I had the Meiji Kinduki, a whiskey cocktail with Campari and chocolate bitters eerily close to a Negroni, but more delicious. We ate a lot; tuna carpaccio, Hamachi nigiri, lobster rolls, wagyu gyozu, Chilean seabass, shrimp tempura maki, but the Bluefin Tuna Carpaccio was the winner. Thin slices of tuna with a drizzle of truffle soy sauce, and a hint of lime, topped with chive, were like a symphony in my mouth, and I am unashamed to say, that seconds were ordered. The high-energy bar had a DJ with a violinist accompanying him making it a fun night out, a perfect end to my first day in Dubai.

The second day started early, with a press conference to mark the opening of Art Dubai followed by a walkthrough of Art Dubai Digital. Art Dubai Digital, curated by Auronda Scalera and Alfredo Cramerotti, in its 3rd edition, offered spectators exhibits where art meets technology. Artists used artificial intelligence, augmented reality, 

virtual reality and robotics to question the ‘future of art’ and what that would entail. Several pieces left a memorable impact in my mind. ‘Infinity’ by Jacopo di Cera was one such piece which consisted of infinite loops of people in the sea, skiers making their way down a snow-covered mountain and the most polluted beach in Italy. Stephan Breuer’s ‘Pure Mind’, an interactive ‘phygital installation’ which brought together ancient wisdom and technology, with a video game to play.

Dubai, the Land of Plenty

A couple of hours later, I made my way to Art Dubai. The concept of healing was adopted by Art Dubai Bawwaba (gateway in Arabic), curated by Emiliano Valdés, where each exhibiting artist showcased art that explores community, belonging, and how art can be transformative and effect change. I particularly enjoyed Debashish Paul’s display. It was a thing of real beauty. He used photographs, videos and memorabilia to document ‘repair, reconciliation and consolation’ in a deeply spiritual manner. I was rather pleased to see a strong Indian representation at the fair. The Modern section of the fair was titled, ‘This Other World’ (curated by Dr. Christianna Bonin) which showcased the art from the Global South. It left an endearing impression on me, the championing history of the regions, culture and their art.

With a smile on my face and a protein bar in my hand, I headed to the infamous Dubai Mall. Not for shopping, my credit card and I were on a break, but for an immersive and interactive experience by d’strict, a South Korean design company. It was a vivid experience that engaged all the senses – sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. The experience inspired by nature transcends the barriers of borders, cultures and language. Various rooms, each with a different concept, transported one to a place of happiness and freedom. My favourite room was the first one, ‘the Wave.’ Huge waves projected on a floor-to-ceiling screen came crashing down, the smell of the ocean was in the air and the sound was profound.

This is an exclusive excerpt from our March EZ. To read the entire article and more such pieces, follow the link here.

Words Samiksha Sharma
Date 08.042024