Holiday Destinations

Jameel Arts Centre: Inside Dubai's shiny new waterfront museum

Jameel Arts Centre: Inside Dub...
The Jameel Arts Centre opened in Dubai last week
The Jameel Arts Centre opened in Dubai last week
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Saudi Arabian artist Maha Malluh decorated a gallery space on the ground floor of the Jameel Arts Centre with huge swathes of discarded junk, such as pots and old cassette tapes of religious sermons
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Saudi Arabian artist Maha Malluh decorated a gallery space on the ground floor of the Jameel Arts Centre with huge swathes of discarded junk, such as pots and old cassette tapes of religious sermons
A wooden promenade runs alongside the edge of the Dubai Creek outside the Jameel Arts Centre
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A wooden promenade runs alongside the edge of the Dubai Creek outside the Jameel Arts Centre
Cube-like structures make up the Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai
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Cube-like structures make up the Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai
Exterior facade of the Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai
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Exterior facade of the Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai
The Jameel Arts Centre's concrete and semi-reflective aluminum cladding is intended to shimmer ever so slightly in response to the surrounding water
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The Jameel Arts Centre's concrete and semi-reflective aluminum cladding is intended to shimmer ever so slightly in response to the surrounding water
Saudi Arabian artist Maha Malluh decorated a gallery space on the ground floor of the Jameel Arts Centre with huge swathes of discarded junk, such as pots and old cassette tapes of religious sermons
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Saudi Arabian artist Maha Malluh decorated a gallery space on the ground floor of the Jameel Arts Centre with huge swathes of discarded junk, such as pots and old cassette tapes of religious sermons
Rooftop terrace at the Jameel Arts Centre
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Rooftop terrace at the Jameel Arts Centre
2,500 balls of yarn feature in this installation from Japanese artist Chiahru Shiota
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2,500 balls of yarn feature in this installation from Japanese artist Chiahru Shiota
A sprawling web of yarns hangs over a traditional Emirati "abra" boat in this installation from Japanese artist Chiahru Shiota
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A sprawling web of yarns hangs over a traditional Emirati "abra" boat in this installation from Japanese artist Chiahru Shiota
One "Crude" installation is the latest in a series from Emirati artist Hassan Sharif
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One "Crude" installation is the latest in a series from Emirati artist Hassan Sharif
The Crude exhibition at Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai explores the region's relationship with oil
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The Crude exhibition at Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai explores the region's relationship with oil
This installation at the Jameel Arts Center consists of a giant pile of discarded sandals and slippers made from petro-derived rubbers and plastics
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This installation at the Jameel Arts Center consists of a giant pile of discarded sandals and slippers made from petro-derived rubbers and plastics
Desert courtyard at Jameel Arts Centre
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Desert courtyard at Jameel Arts Centre
Exterior facade at Jameel Arts Centre
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Exterior facade at Jameel Arts Centre
Outdoor plaza at Jameel Arts Centre
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Outdoor plaza at Jameel Arts Centre
The Jameel Arts Centre opened in Dubai last week
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The Jameel Arts Centre opened in Dubai last week
The Jameel Arts Centre concrete and semi-reflective aluminum cladding is intended to shimmer ever so slightly in response to the surrounding water
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The Jameel Arts Centre concrete and semi-reflective aluminum cladding is intended to shimmer ever so slightly in response to the surrounding water
Cube-like facade at the Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai
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Cube-like facade at the Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai
Part of the Jameel Arts Centre's "Crude" exhibition, this installation features a 1976 issue of Fortune magazine depicting a golf course in the Arabian desert
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Part of the Jameel Arts Centre's "Crude" exhibition, this installation features a 1976 issue of Fortune magazine depicting a golf course in the Arabian desert
Courtyard exhibit at the Jameel Art Centre
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Courtyard exhibit at the Jameel Art Centre
Outdoor plaza at Jameel Arts Centre
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Outdoor plaza at Jameel Arts Centre
Part of an exhibition at Jameel Arts Centre by Saudi Arabian artist Maha Malluh, who has repurposed discarded items, such as cassette tapes of religious sermons, as art
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Part of an exhibition at Jameel Arts Centre by Saudi Arabian artist Maha Malluh, who has repurposed discarded items, such as cassette tapes of religious sermons, as art
Desert courtyard at Jameel Arts Center
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Desert courtyard at Jameel Arts Center
Outdoor plaza at Jameel Arts Centre
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Outdoor plaza at Jameel Arts Centre
Rooftop terrace at Dubai's Jameel Art Centre
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Rooftop terrace at Dubai's Jameel Art Centre
The Jameel Arts Centre sits on the edge of Dubai Creek
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The Jameel Arts Centre sits on the edge of Dubai Creek

Opened last week, the Jameel Arts Centre is the latest impressive building to carry Dubai's ambitions as a cultural destination for the Middle East. Designed by award-winning UK-based firm Serie Architects, the boxy white structure overlooks Dubai Creek and is built to host contemporary art installations, along with workshops and events. New Atlas swung by to check out the opening festivities.

The 10,000-square-meter (107,000-sq-ft) Jameel Arts Centre spreads its 10 gallery spaces over three floors, with courtyards, terraces and desert gardens to be found in between. These gardens feature 33 different species native to deserts all over the world, some of which have actually been rescued from natural habitats destined for destruction. Among those is a Sesame Bush said to be around 300 years old.

Desert courtyard at Jameel Arts Centre
Desert courtyard at Jameel Arts Centre

The architecture of the building itself also references the traditions of the region, with the clustered white cubes inspired by early Emirati "Sha-abi" – houses consisting of separate rooms enclosing a central courtyard – as well as a style of urban planning known as "Madinat." While striking enough, the Jameel Arts Centre certainly lacks the wow factor of some of Dubai's other architectural offerings, but keeping a low profile was, in a way, part of the brief.

"We worked very closely with Art Jameel, listening to their needs, responding with architectural ideas, and discursively refining them," says Christopher Lee, Principal of Serie Architects. "The architecture that emerged is one that is able to accommodate a wide range of uses and continues to evolve with the city its serves. It acts as a background structure for the life of the centre to unfold, without disappearing from view."

The Jameel Arts Centre sits on the edge of Dubai Creek
The Jameel Arts Centre sits on the edge of Dubai Creek

Billed as the first non-governmental contemporary arts institution in the Gulf, the opening exhibits at Jameel Arts Centre do make for an interesting mix of installations. Across from the in-house library and research center, Saudi Arabian artist Maha Malluh decorated a gallery space on the ground floor with huge swathes of discarded junk, such as pots and old cassette tapes of religious sermons. These had been retrieved from flea markets and construction sites and repurposed as art.

Saudi Arabian artist Maha Malluh decorated a gallery space on the ground floor of the Jameel Arts Centre with huge swathes of discarded junk, such as pots and old cassette tapes of religious sermons
Saudi Arabian artist Maha Malluh decorated a gallery space on the ground floor of the Jameel Arts Centre with huge swathes of discarded junk, such as pots and old cassette tapes of religious sermons

Japanese artists Chiahru Shiota, meanwhile, filled an entire room with a sprawling web of yarn, 2,500 balls of it, to be precise. This hangs over the top of an abra boat, a vessel traditionally found on the adjacent Dubai Creek, and is meant to explore ideas around the entanglement of life.

2,500 balls of yarn feature in this installation from Japanese artist Chiahru Shiota
2,500 balls of yarn feature in this installation from Japanese artist Chiahru Shiota

Upstairs was a particularly self-aware exhibition simply titled "Crude." The work of 18 artists both from the region and abroad, the exhibition looks at the role of oil in transforming the Middle East and North Africa, in terms of its positive and negative impacts on politics, culture and economics.

One "Crude" installation is the latest in a series from Emirati artist Hassan Sharif, who looks at his country's transition from a subsistence culture to one of extravagance and the waste that goes with it. This time around his work amounts to a giant pile of discarded sandals and slippers made from petro-derived rubbers and plastics.

This installation at the Jameel Arts Center consists of a giant pile of discarded sandals and slippers made from petro-derived rubbers and plastics
This installation at the Jameel Arts Center consists of a giant pile of discarded sandals and slippers made from petro-derived rubbers and plastics

The rooftop terrace, meanwhile, is host to a colorful synthetic garden where trees and plants light up in neon after sundown. This terrace overlooks a large plaza at one end and a wooden promenade along the Dubai Creek at the other.

Rooftop terrace at the Jameel Arts Centre
Rooftop terrace at the Jameel Arts Centre

Both outdoor spaces are part of the architects' attempt to make the center blend in with the urban landscape and create a sense of openness and inclusivity. The center's concrete and semi-reflective aluminum cladding is intended to shimmer ever so slightly in response to the surrounding water, though we must say on the sunny day we visited all we saw was an almost-blinding white light.

Cube-like facade at the Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai
Cube-like facade at the Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai

In the spirit of that inclusiveness, the Jameel Arts Centre is free to enter, with the exhibitions mentioned here running until at least the new year. To see more, you can have a flick through our gallery.

More info: Jameel Arts Centre

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