Dubai's arts & culture

Dubai: Palette of the Middle East

Where the world’s glitziest galleries coexist with gritty street art.

Dec 15, 2016

Bold, thought-provoking, yet quintessentially Middle Eastern, the arts and culture scene in Dubai is a kaleidoscope of immersive experiences – from beat poetry to modern dance and renaissance art to sold-out Broadway acts. It is every cultural aficionado’s dream come true.

As a thriving Arabian metropolis and a hub for the world’s wealthy art patrons, Dubai has most definitely left its mark on the global arts scene. Whether you’re a seasoned art critic, first-time collector, or simply dipping your feet in the world of art for the very first time, there is creative work to appreciate here in Dubai.

Experience art in an unassuming industrial estate

Grit and glamour stand side by side in Al Quoz, Dubai’s prized arts strip that is the main driving force behind the city’s vibrant arts scene.

On the surface, Al Quoz looks like just another industrial estate with large warehouses and quiet streets. However, venture deep into these concrete boxes and you’ll be transported into another world; a vibrant world filled with art galleries, dance academies and non-profit studios amongst other exciting initiatives.

Bask in some of the world’s finest artwork at international galleries ranging from Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, which specialises in groundbreaking contemporary art, to Lawrie Shabibi that houses a diverse collection of Middle Eastern, North African and South Asian work.

In a minimalist, creative space like Al Quoz, you can definitely expect to sip on some good coffee and A4 Space is the place to be. The two-floor loft space features a cafe that serves 100 per cent organic raw coffee, together with a cinema room, a project space ideal for art exhibitions and a concept store that promotes local artists and designers.

For wearable art and gift ideas, pop by The Cartel, a clothing and jewellery boutique with an avant-garde slant. Or channel your inner thespian by signing up for improvisation workshops by The Courtyard Playhouse where you can hone your acting skills.

Meet and greet world-renowned authors

From literary readings to workshops and writing master classes, the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature has gained somewhat of a cult following.

Affectionately known as ‘LitFest’, the week-long festival in March sees the coming together of the world’s best literary minds and is best known for its creative, multi-sensorial presentation of literary works. With a multitude of genres on offer – from crime to history to children’s books and magazines – it is perfect for a family day out.

Check out the world’s best graffiti art display

A profusion of colours explode onto the sidewalk. Mundane concrete walls are transformed into visual expressions, with witty sketches and unapologetically bold statements. All this can be found at City Walk, the centre of Dubai’s street art culture.

Probably the first and only of its kind in the world, City Walk brings together the graffiti works of 16 international street artists together in one place. In particular, it features the works of French artist Blek le Rat, the godfather of stencil art, and American street art and pop surrealism pioneer – Ron English.

Groove to big names in jazz

Let the music take control as you soak in scintillating blues tunes and catchy riffs that will keep your feet tapping through the night.

A must-attend for any serious music fan, the Emirates Dubai Jazz Festival brings together the biggest names in the music world. Past editions have featured guitar legend Carlos Santana, legendary American slow rock band Toto and songbird Norah Jones, just to name a few.

Into its 15th edition, the festival in February is a huge hit with locals and tourists alike, so pre-book your tickets in advance for the best seats in the house.

Enjoy a Broadway performance at a state-of-the art venue

A luminous glass-and-metal “ship” wedged in between skyscrapers, the Dubai Opera looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. In fact, it is meant to resemble a dhow, the traditional sailing vessel in the Arabian states.

This 2,000-seater performing arts centre hosts a slew of sold-out performances including ballet, classical music and Broadway productions. Some of the biggest names to have graced the venue include legendary Spanish tenor and conductor Plácido Domingo, The Russian State Ballet & Orchestra of Siberia, and, most recently, acclaimed Catalan tenor José Carreras.

Despite only having opened its doors in August 2016, tickets for most of its performances stretching into next year have been sold out. So be sure to keep an eye on the upcoming schedules and book tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.

Watch an indie art film

Regarded as one of the world’s top film festivals, the Dubai International Film Festival brings together the crème de la crème of the celluloid world. Attendees can expect a dazzling array of genres, ranging from French New Wave Cinema to Middle Eastern and European art films.

Apart from being a cinematic showcase of the world’s best films, the year-end festival also serves as an incubation pod for budding local and international filmmakers, celebrating the polyglot city’s diverse heritage and filmmaking traditions.

Bunk in at a 100-year-old wind tower

In art-loving Dubai, even accommodation can be thoroughly art-infused.

Look no further than the XVA Hotel for proof. Housed in a 100-year old wind tower nestled snugly in the middle of the Al Fahidi Historic District, the hotel boasts an eclectic mix of just 14 beautifully decorated guest rooms redolent of Dubai’s rich heritage and culture.

Luxurious divans and brightly patterned furnishings add a touch of pizzazz to the boutique hotel.

At the same time, the hotel also serves as an art gallery, specialising in contemporary art from the Middle East. Representing some of the region’s most groundbreaking artists, the hotel’s in-house art gallery exhibits and sells an evocative mix of local and regional artwork.

Home to high-profile arts and cultural institutions and independent arts organisations alike, it is no wonder that Dubai keeps re-inventing itself as a cultural capital, making waves not only in the region, but also across the globe.