A new book explores the reinvention of the city's art and architecture
When, oh, when will someone invite me to Dubai? I’ve read about it, watched reports and talked to plenty of people who have spent time there. It’s a long flight from New York and unless someone was to send me, I’m not sure I’d ever choose just to go. Perhaps if I had a layover on my way to Australia I’d carve out a day or two, because the emirate fascinates me. My yearning to be the beneficiary of such a generous invitation has been renewed of late by Brusselssprout, a Dubai-based arts organization.
Even for someone who spends his days poring over books of all sorts, from time to time one lands on my desk and I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Such was the case with Brusselssprout’s first book, “Dubai Graphic Encyclopedia.” The title is straightforward enough, as is the content – scores of alphabetically arranged monochromatic images commonly associated with Dubai. But with hardly any descriptive text and the simplicity of the illustrations, what is one to make of this book?
Seeing in Dubai the 18th century English aesthetic ideals of the beautiful, sublime and picturesque, the people behind Brusselssprout first started out with magazines (free to download here) that graphically reinvent the city of Dubai, citing the likes of Andy Warhol and Rem Koolhaas. In issue one, they dubbed Dubai “as the first genuine work of art in the 21st century” – hyperbolic to be sure. The past 12 years have indeed yielded beastly development there, though the real changes started in the late 1960s with the discovery of oil and the eventual forming of the United Arab Emirates in 1971. But there is no doubt that recent building projects in Dubai, beholden to global economic booms and busts, have, from an outsider’s point of view, morphed it into a locale that makes Las Vegas seem quaint.
Leafing through this catalog of Dubai’s visual touchstones and tropes – from aircraft to camel, henna to skyline – becomes an exercise in pattern recognition, which is equal parts brusque and appropriate. Yes, there are the remnants of the region’s distant history seen in minarets and gutrah (traditional cotton head wraps worn by men) but the buildings, cars, traffic signs and Western logos of today’s Dubai dominate this visual landscape. This dominance of the contemporary does not diminish the past, it simply equalizes everything, which is disturbingly reassuring, and ultimately very telling.
In the April 2008 issue of Print, I reviewed “With/Without,” a book published by the incomparable magazine Bidoun. This anthology dedicated to Dubai focused on how the emirate functions by virtue of a complicity that makes it impossible for the past and present to fuse, resulting in free zones where anything goes, regardless of religion, nationality, sexual preference or personal taste. Like that volume, the “Dubai Graphic Encyclopedia” provokes thought, though in this case with far less direction, which is the point, I think. What do I know? I’ve never been there. Someone invite me!
I’ll give Brusselssprout the final word on the book’s aim: “What the first edition Dubai graphic and visual encyclopedia presents is a reality that acts as a counterpoint to all the excess of attempts to decipher and understand Dubai.”
Copyright F+W Media Inc. 2012.
Salon is proud to feature content from Imprint, the fastest-growing design community on the web. Brought to you by Print magazine, America’s oldest and most trusted design voice, Imprint features some of the biggest names in the industry covering visual culture from every angle. Imprint advances and expands the design conversation, providing fresh daily content to the community (and now to salon.com!), sparking conversation, competition, criticism, and passion among its members.
More Related Stories
- My text blew up in my face
- Boy Scouts end ban on openly gay boys
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- Billionaire hedge funder: Babies, breast-feeding "kill" focus, keep women from succeeding
- "Bookless library" set to open in Texas
- Man arrested for sending Craigslist sex party to neighbor's house
- Greek yogurt, toxic waste hazard?
- Glenn Beck: CNN interview with atheist tornado survivor was a setup!
- Incoming BBC news director on journalism gender gap: "We can do better"
- Illegal construction, shoddy materials at fault in Bangladesh factory disaster
- Pope Francis: Atheists are all right!
- Lawsuit alleges anti-gay hiring practices at ExxonMobil
- Boy Scouts poised to vote, still greatly divided on gay youth
- Is recreational pot use safe?
- How I ended up in a pyramid scheme
- My bipolar partner beat me
- Teenagers care more about online privacy than you think
- Radio host tweets rape joke, blames journalists for reporting on it
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
- Kicked out of the mall -- for an anti-cancer hat
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11