Dubai Insider: Culture

Immerse yourself in Dubai’s artistic and cultural enclaves for a ‘then and now’ perspective of the city

 

The cultural scene in Dubai is packed with diversity, from music, theatre and dance to a thriving contingent of impressive galleries and street artists. The city may be young in years but Dubai has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the region’s most exciting and historic destinations.

A great starting point is Dubai Creek. Take a traditional abra (small wooden ferry boat) ride across this bustling waterway to get a feel for the original commercial heart of the city from its days as a trading seaport.

Housed in the remains of the 18th century Al Fahidi Fort in Bur Dubai, the exhibits at Dubai Museum include ancient artefacts, dioramas depicting everyday Emirati life through the decades and a multimedia presentation charting the discovery of oil. Culture mavens keen to know more about the birth of the UAE should make a beeline for the aesthetically impressive Etihad Museum on Jumeirah Road. A third museum, showcasing aspects of Dubai’s warp speed growth, is found at the base of the gravity defying Dubai Frame in Zabeel Park, the latest 150-metre-high addition to the city’s cultural portfolio.

Deeper insight into local tradition is on offer at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding located in the beautifully preserved Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. Check out the line-up of walking tours, cultural dining experiences and weekday morning tours of the stunning Jumeirah Mosque, which includes an open forum Q&A session on Islam (advance booking required).

The city may be young in years but Dubai has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the region’s most exciting and historic destinations

Dubai is also making its mark on the region’s culture scene through its vibrant arts community. New life has been infused into various city thoroughfares thanks to a new wave of street artists. Street Art Gallery in Jumeirah has its finger on the pulse with a fantastic collection of works. For viewings in situ, the Dubai Walls initiative in the popular City Walk district is a collaborative platform for 16 renowned international artists, while buildings along 2nd December Street in Satwa permanently host the works of prominent international artists thanks to the Dubai Street Museum initiative.

Street art at 2nd December Street
Street art at 2nd December Street

Art of a different kind straddles the city when it comes to gallery presence. Dubai’s oldest enclave, Majlis Gallery in Bur Dubai, has been a repository of art since 1989, while corporate types rub shoulders with art-loving visitors at Dubai International Financial Centre’s (DIFC) tranche of artsy hubs including XVA Gallery and fine art photography vitrine The Empty Quarter.

In the industrial suburb of Al Quoz, Alserkal Avenue has established itself as an axis of artistic community endeavour. A collection of warehouses populated by international artists and designers, you can easily spend the day wandering between contemporary spaces such as Lawrie Shabibi, Grey Noise and the first international location for the US-based Leila Heller Gallery. The area is also home to Gulf Photo Plus, which runs regular workshops and events, and long-established proponent of Middle Eastern artists, The Third Line.

If you’re in town in March, the annual Art Week brings together the entire community with events held across the city, while Design Days Dubai (part of Dubai Design Week) showcases artistic innovation of the interior design kind in November. In addition, DIFC hosts biannual Art Nights, a lively mixture of music and artistic performances, in the Gate Village district.

Setting the stage for cultural immersion is a duo of theatrical destinations: First Group Theatre at Madinat Jumeirah and DUCTAC in Mall of the Emirates, while the spectacular La Perle by Dragone draws on the aquatic, aerial and acrobatic expertise of 65 world-class performers to weave a spellbinding tale based on Dubai’s rise to prominence, with nightly shows in a purpose-built theatre.

A show at Dubai Opera. Photo credit: Santana de Yepes
A show at Dubai Opera. Photo credit: Santana de Yepes

As architecturally overwhelming as its bulging calendar of events, which range from opera and musicals to children’s theatre, Dubai Opera’s stunningly designed 2,000-seat venue is often a sellout experience. Comedic relief is the order of the day at The Laughter Factory, which imports well-known international acts, while Dubomedy is the preserve of those brave souls of stand-up.

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