There is a scene in Mad Men from season 2 where the family is enjoying a picnic on a sunny afternoon. Before leaving the area, Don chucks his empty beer can far afield and Betty shakes the trash off her blanket into the grass and then saunters off to the car. I often thought of this scene in Dubai because this sort of careless littering is common. Earlier this year I went to a movie night at my sons’ school where everyone enjoyed (non-pork) hot dogs, popcorn and drinks on their picnic blankets while watching the film. I was shocked by the amount of garbage left on the field after the movie. It was as if there were 100 Bettys from the 1960s! I was embarrassed for us all. Maybe the world-famous* “Don’t Mess with Texas” anti-litter campaign has made me extra sensitive, but I find littering like that appalling! I’ve even seen people throw an entire bag of fast food trash or their drink out the window of a car while driving. I’m not sure why people think it’s okay to leave trash around, but there are certainly plenty of workers available to clean it all up. The malls, airport, cars and metro are gleaming in ways most people wouldn’t think possible. This city is obsessed with cleaning, as long as someone else can be paid to do it.
Given the interest in portraying a spotless presentation to the public, not to mention its non-democratic government, it’s not surprising that painting graffiti would be punished harshly – fines or jail time. Graffiti as a Westerner might know it is uncommon. A few words or short phrases might be spray painted here and there in the older neighborhoods, but generally in black only with minimal artistic flair. Sometimes stencils are used for quick application. Of course, it’s usually removed very quickly.
However, sanctioned graffiti, essentially the antithesis of the graffiti of hip hop culture in the U.S., seems to be growing in popularity. Graffiti artists are hired by big corporations, commissioned to create works on public spaces, and courted by galleries. Despite its controlled messaging, I still enjoy seeing it. Here are a few examples.
This shot is the beginning of a mural along Jumeirah Beach Road commemorating Dubai’s win of the bid for the World Expo 2020. The circular stars featured here are part of the logo of the expo. The hands with three fingers are a tribute to the leader of Dubai’s well-known three finger salute. Sheikh Mohammed uses the famous gesture in moments of victory. His website says, “It stands for three words; each word is composed of three letters from the Arabic alphabet that symbolize triumph, victory, and Arab origin.” Other sources say Sheikh Mohammed said they mean “win, triumph and excellence”, or “I love you,” or “victory, triumph and love.”
Falconry is a highly respected sport in the UAE and the power and beauty of the bird is revered. A leather hood is used to cover the falcon’s eyes to keep it calm, especially during training.
The pen represents the importance of calligraphy in Arabic culture. Calligraphy is a highly valued art form and is often used in mosques because pictorial representation of people is forbidden.
The following photos are from a newer installation further down Jumeirah Beach Road near December 2nd street and the giant flag pole. The flag pole often serves as a landmark when giving directions, but its importance lies in the fact that it marks the spot where the leaders from the emirates signed the declaration establishing the UAE as a country. A museum is now being built in the area. Not so much graffiti as wall art (on a temporary wall) it includes more scenes of patriotism and local culture, highlighting the importance of the area.
The UAE flag here is comprised of the first verses of the national anthem, written in Arabic calligraphy.
The following piece was outside of an Alserkal Avenue gallery.
*I said “world famous” because I was so surprised when on a recent visit to Istanbul, I met a carpet salesman who asked where I was from, as they all do. When I said Texas, his first response was, “Don’t mess with Texas!” Whoever incorporated Texan bravado into this anti-litter campaign was a genius! Even Turks thousands of miles away know it!