Paris scenes

Better late than never! Some photos from my three weeks in Paris last August.

Art Dubai, minus the Arab Spring

With the Sikka Art Fair in Bastakiya and Art Dubai following it last week, Dubai was buzzing with artistic options. I made it only to a handful of events and showings – some of us gotta work, you know – but I did enjoy the exhibits and the cultural chatter. While Sikka focused more on supporting local artists and had a more casual feel, Art Dubai was a larger affair – with all the requisite VIP receptions and after-parties – that attracted artists and galleries from all over the world. Among the sculpture, mixed-media and painting at Art Dubai I really liked “China,” a series of seven porcelain vases by Raed Yassin.

The vases were produced in Jingdezhen, China’s capital of porcelain, but instead of featuring illustrations of Chinese dynastic warriors a thousand years ago, these illustrate a more recent conflict: that of the civil war in Lebanon from 1975 to 1990. Though the violence has ended there, Yessin wants to show the “uneasy amnesia” and the “absence of historical narrative that reigns in Lebanon in order to keep a brittle peace.” These blue-and-white vases are entitled “War of the Hotels,” “The Battle for Tal al-Zaatar,” “The Israeli invasion of Beirut,” and “The so-called War of Liberation.” I liked how Yassin used what seems like an ancient medium to illustrate modern conflict.

Unfortunately, a more recent conflict – that of the Arab Spring which began a little more than a year ago – was deemed unacceptable and two works were literally pulled off of the walls at the Madinat Jumeirah after the show opened Wednesday. According to a video report in the International Business Times, an online business newspaper, the two works are a painting titled “After Washing” by Libyan artist Shadi Alzaqaouq, which depicts a woman holding a pair of men’s underwear with the word “Leave” written on it. “Leave,” or “Irhal,” in Arabic was commonly heard throughout protests in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya as people protested against their autocratic regimes.

The second work to be removed was a wall-sized painting by Moroccan artist Zakaria Ramhani, which showed the Egyptian female protester who was beaten up and stripped down by the army to her blue bra. Ironically, both works deemed unacceptable for display at Dubai’s most prestigious art gathering had been being shown at a local art gallery here in Dubai.

On Friday, Filippino performer Carlos Celdran was questioned by authorities in the middle of his one-man show, “Living la vida Imelda,” which contains political and religious humor, including a fictional conversation between the former Philippines first lady and the late Libyan leader, Muammar Qaddhafi, according to the GMA News in the Philippines. He imagines “Imelda telling Gaddafi, ‘Islam is all about peace, and if you are funding a war in my country that is pitting Filipino against Filipino, you are also pitting Muslim against Muslim. How are you following Mohammed?'”

Authorities asked the comic to turn the humor down several notches, but that would have meant cutting more than half the show. He cancelled his scheduled appearance Saturday and flew home.

Abu Dhabi slowdown

As the global economy imploded — taking Dubai along with it — Abu Dhabi stood almost alone as a place on Earth that was still financially healthy. The financial system, that lubricant of international business, just about nearly ground to a halt but Abu Dhabi was spending cash building whole new cities: a cultural district and new financial center, an island dedicated solely to tourism and amusement.

But since then we’ve seen signs that perhaps the emirate got a little ahead of itself, forgetting the painful lessons taught to Dubai just up the road. Some of the retrenchment and reprioritization is good. In my view, there seemed to be too much focus on high-end housing (despite a chronic need for decent middle-class housing in the emirate) and luxury everything, regardless if that was where the demand would come from. My latest story, this time for Architectural Record, looks at how the latest cutbacks are affecting the design and construction businesses which had regarded Abu Dhabi as a bright spot in troubled economic times.

I don’t agree with the headline — clearly, Abu Dhabi is in no danger of running out of cash any time soon — but the comments to the story offer additional insight into what it’s like working there.




By Angela Shah

Eighteen months ago, Ross Ensor at Leo A Daly described the business climate in Abu Dhabi as “a bit like the California Gold Rush.” Backed by oil prices at relatively high levels, the capital of the United Arab Emirates had embarked on an ambitious program of new developments, a rare bright spot as the rest of the world dealt with a crushing recession.

Today, however, with the global economy still weak and political unrest sweeping the Arab world, the mood here is subdued. “What a difference a year makes,” says Ensor, a vice president with the Nebraska-based design firm, which has an office in the Persian Gulf emirate. “Things have certainly slowed down.”

(Marcus Lam, Architectural Record)

Most significantly, Abu Dhabi announced in October that the marquee projects in its $27 billion Saadiyat Island development, slated to be the emirate’s cultural hub, were stalled. Three flagship museums—branches of the Louvre (by Jean Nouvel) and Guggenheim (by Frank Gehry), along with the Zayed National Museum (by Foster + Partners)—would no longer open between 2013 and 2014, and could be delayed up to five years. Gehry told a Bloomberg reporter in October that construction had come to a halt. “The Abu Dhabi building we’ve been working on in the last five to six years has been stopped, and that’s painful,” he stated.

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