street art

graffiti in Dubai

I recently sat down with long-time Dubai resident and photographer Jalal Abuthina to talk about his photobook series “Inside Dubai”. Inside Dubai is a project that aims to document a unique account of Dubai - something that few photojournalists have attempted to do in the past. Jalal decided to start project after noting the lack of resources that gave an authentic account of the city - and also the need to break away from stereotypical and one-dimensional images of Dubai. I spoke with Jalal about his project, representation and the city we both grew up in, for Sekka Magazine. You can find the interview here.

Images courtesy of Jalal Abutina

At the end of the interview, however, Jalal pulled out a white book/catalogue and gave it to me. It was a gift - a incredibly thoughtful one that has been in my thoughts since he gave it to me. It’s one of his earliest books, before the creation of “Inside Dubai”, that documented graffiti around the city. It particularly looks at a neighbourhood Al Badra also known as district 333. Al Badra is sandwiched between the more popular areas of Jumeriah 1 and Satwa, and is often times assumed to be part of either one. The book is a beautiful account that archives the history and phenomena of “street art” in Dubai (and the UAE at large).

As you can tell from many of the images, the writing is very simple, short, to the point. It is the complete opposite of everything we “know” about graffiti - it is the opposite of what you see in European or American cities - and the book presents it as a complete genre of its own. This project immediately took me down memory lane; images of graffiti from the neighbourhoods I grew up in came flooding back to me and I instantly blushed. I remembered how embarrassed I used to be of this overly simplistic graffiti. Seeing it on the walls of my school and near my apartment building used to make me cringe. I always assumed that our "overly-simplistic” graffiti was the result of our “backwardness”. Our communities were unable to coherently build a “proper” street art scene because we are in a way “primitive” and don’t understand the sophisticated rules of street art.

The book didn’t only bring me back to my childhood but it brought me back to myself - why was I so critical and so embarrassed? The answer to that, I of course, know very well. I now know that we have been taught from the very beginning not to understand our history. Not to understand the complexity and layers and multitudes of our communities. We have been taught not to think twice about WHY the graffiti is so simplistic (because vandalism is a serious crime in the region and therefore the writing has to be quick and short before anyone gets caught) and to just assume that everything we are part of is INVALID. That its not witty or clever or meaningful in its own right. That nothing we make organically of our environment can have meaning or validity.

Seeing this project restored my feeling of pride that I worked so hard over the years to gain. Its taken me so long to break down the stigma inside me and to truly see who we are with understanding and empathy. This is why its so important to archive our communities - we need to be creating works that help us understand ourselves.

anti-travel post: god loves dead gentrifiers

all eyes on you - found in Wynwood, Miami 

all eyes on you - found in Wynwood, Miami 

I won't lie. When I got to Miami, I was excited. I wanted to make the most of my 20-hour layover before heading to Nicaragua - and naturally, I wanted to see art, drink coffee and have a good burrito. Drink good coffee and have a mouth-watering burrito I did. See art? I don't know if I would call what I saw "art". 

Everyone recommends seeing Wynwood, Miami's gentrified neighbourhood. Now, I've had my fair share of gentrified neighbourhoods but Wynwood is next level. It's gentrification on steroids. Although now that I think about it, what separates Shoreditch from Wynwood is probably the histories of the original communities pre-gentrification - at the end of the day all patterns of gentrification are the same (foreign invasion, "artsy" makeover, increase in property value) - so maybe they're not that different? But I digress. My main point is that I am over gentrification. 

Gentrification is the opposite of authentic storytelling. It's the re-writing of the history of original communities and covering its reality with "art" and "culture", to make more attractive to white, upper-class, educated folks. That's why for Wynwood, and especially after taking Tanya's workshop, I decided to document it differently from how I usually blog about places I visit. I call this the anti-travel blog post. 

little tourist in Wynwood

little tourist in Wynwood

Wynwood was formerly known as Miami's "Little San Juan" (interesting due to its proximity to Little Havana and Little Haiti) for its huge Puerto Rican community that immigrated in the 1950s. Wynwood's current redevelopment began in 2005, and walking around the neighbourhood it's difficult to see remnants of its past as a Puerto Rican neighbourhood. What was obvious, however, was the southernness of Wynwood - very much a deep south neighbourhood. Florida is a southern state after all and isn't foreign to issues of gun control, racism, poverty or police brutality. 

There were some signs of dissatisfaction towards the gentrification of Wynwood. I found a poster that said "God loves dead gentrifiers" right under a "Love, Miami" graffiti. I laughed at how bold it was although overshadowed by a sea of fluorescent street art. In any case, it was interesting to see the differences between gentrification in huge urban centres like New York or London in comparison to a laid-back southern city like Miami.

If you're coming to Miami, I wouldn't necessarily head to Wynwood for the art but maybe to drink mojitos and speak to locals to get a genuine story on the history of the neighbourhood. 

women's second hand clothing boutique in Wynwood

women's second hand clothing boutique in Wynwood

In a cab heading home

In a cab heading home

Sunset in Miami

Sunset in Miami

For now, bye bye Miami. Next, Nicaragua... See you soon xx

Darah