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Eight of the best galleries in Dubai

Things are getting arty in the UAE’s most ostentatious Emirate. Painters, sculptors and muralists are being commissioned to fill a new generation of galleries, deck the walls of skyscraper hotels and line the streets with surprisingly edgy public art.

 Opera Gallery, a glossy showroom for modern art in the Dubai International Financial Centre district.

Photograph by Christina Dimitrova
Published 15 Apr 2022, 06:08 BST

1. Tashkeel

Designed to nurture new talents, Tashkeel has helped craft a career path for some of the city’s biggest names — including rising star eL Seed. Set up in 2008 by artist Lateefa bint Maktoum, it’s housed in two venues. The main gallery in Nad Al Sheba runs exhibitions, artist-led tours, talks and workshops on embroidery and calligraphy. Meet some of the artists in residence at a second venue in a historic villa in Al Fahidi. 

2. Jameel Arts Centre

Framed in a building as beautiful as the artwork it presents, this architectural masterpiece on Jaddaf Waterfront is a 15-minute drive from the airport. Reflections of the gleaming white building ripple in the Dubai Creek, attracting photographers at sunrise and sunset. It hosts rotating exhibitions and a library for artists. Chill out in seven mini gardens themed to desert eco-systems around the world; or grab a coffee in the cool espresso bar.

3. The Third Line

Troubled by the underrepresentation of Middle Eastern and North African artists in Western galleries, three friends set up The Third Line to promote contemporary talents worldwide. You’ll find it in Warehouse 78 on Alserkal Avenue, housed in a series of white corrugated metal buildings hosting daring and dynamic shows, and a store selling limited-edition prints and books by affiliated artists. 

4. City Walk

This open-air museum of murals is a great place to sample Dubai’s street art scene. Commissioned as part of the inaugural Dubai Walls project in 2016, 16 artists from five different continents created large scale works on buildings in City Walk — a complex of shops, restaurants and hotels in Jumeirah. The pieces are wildly eclectic: a tug-of-war between a rat and a group of kids by French stencil artist, Blek le Rat; a child using the leaf of a cheese plant to shelter from shards of rainbow rain is the work of British-born Eelus. 

5. The Foundry

Come to see creative talents at work — or simply soak up the vibe while sipping a cappuccino — at this hybrid art hub in Downtown Dubai, where doors are open daily from 10am to 10pm. A library with reading pods and co-working spaces are free to use, while podcast recording booths can be booked by the hour, at a cost of £36. Launched in 2020, The Foundry hosts exhibitions, workshops, and screenings in collaboration with Cinema Akil. 

6. Leila Heller Gallery

Sometimes simply walking around a vast gallery can be relaxing irrespective of what’s hanging on the walls. The Leila Heller Gallery, owned by Persian art fanatic and curator Leela Heller, who also has a showroom in New York, is the largest art space in Dubai and covers a whopping 14,000sq ft. The wide, light and airy space is dedicated to creating a bridge between Western and Middle Eastern artists, so exhibitions are refreshingly varied, with multiple shows at a time. You’ll find this calming space in Alserkal Avenue. 

7. Opera Gallery

Several private galleries have sprung up in DIFC (Dubai International Financial Centre), slotted between the designer stores and fancy restaurants catering to the area’s wealthy workforce. One of the best is this branch of the renowned international arts institute, Opera Gallery. It’s a glossy showroom for modern paintings, avant-garde installations and cutting-edge photography. Shepard Fairey, an American activist, artist and the founder of skater clothing label OBEY, held his first solo Dubai exhibition here. 

8. Green Art Gallery

What started out as a small exhibition space above a bookstore in Homs, Syria, has become Green Art Gallery, a popular gathering point for artists, intellectuals and critics since it moved to Dubai. After a stint in a Jumeirah villa, the gallery took up residence in Al Quoz. Each piece is chosen for its originality and social commentary, and works by artists from the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and beyond are displayed in cavernous rooms. Look out for regular Afra Al Dhaheri, whose mixed media pieces reflect a life growing up in the UAE. 

Published in the April 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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