BRIDGING THE GULF BETWEEN US: Dubai Finding Its Own Cultural Voice

shutterstock_151616084As recently as the 1950s, Dubai was little more than a cluster of tiny villages and date farms populated by fishermen, pearl hunters, and nomadic Bedouins. It wasn’t until the advent of oil production in the 1960s that the city got its first paved roads; later, hospitals and schools arrived.

In a very short time Dubai has been transformed from an outlandish idea to an economic powerhouse of the Middle East. The instant global metropolis with a “skyline on crack” captivated the world with record-setting skyscrapers, indoor ski slopes, and a stunningly diverse population. With 88 percent of its population foreign-born, Dubai makes even Toronto’s diversity seem mundane.

It may come as no surprise to learn that Dubai is the second most popular place in the world to go shopping for fashion and luxury goods, behind only London and ahead of New York and Paris. What is less known is that Dubai has huge ambitions to become an important cultural player on the world stage.

shutterstock_203121088We will explore the many strands of the arts in Dubai—the written word and the performing and visual arts—to better understand its impressive efforts to find its own cultural voice. Our focus will be the 8th annual Emirates Festival of Literature. The festival attracts more than 30,000 people enjoying more than 200 events from 170 authors, writers, and thinkers from 35 countries. It is widely considered to be the Middle East’s largest celebration of the written and spoken word as well as one of the world’s foremost international literary events. The mission of the festival is to enhance the reading culture in the emirates and facilitate greater appreciation for literature, especially among children. We will also explore the burgeoning world of contemporary art and examine what is happening on stage—theatre, dance, music, and opera.

Our questions will include how is Dubai creating its own artistic and literary vision, both Arab and beyond; how is Islam intertwined in the arts of this most open of Arab societies; and can censorship paradoxically foster creativity as artists use ambiguity, nuance, and humour to ask questions around religion, sexuality, politics, gender roles, family, labour, and other topics often perceived as off-limits.

See our detailed itinerary for more information.

“[The great desert] is the deepest city one can touch and feel. It is the city of sand which extends itself all around the horizons filling the eyes. There you can learn a lot about silence and about the stars”

– Nujoom Al-Ghanim, Emirati poet


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Dubai, United Arab Emirates, with recommended extension to Oman

March 7–13, 2016, with extension March 13–20 (6 nights or 13 nights)

The Dog, by Joseph O’Neill and Earth Weeps, Saturn Laughs, by Abdulaziz Al Farsi (trans. Nancy Roberts)

Vida Downtown Hotel, Dubai and various resorts in Muscat

Ann Kirkland is the founder of Toronto’s famed “summer camp for enquiring adults,” Toronto Pursuits. She also leads literary adventures around the world, breathing life into literature and art and taking readers beyond the surface to understand both the people and the culture.

US$2,595 per person based on double occupancy
US$3,420 per person based on guaranteed single occupancy
US$175 taxes and gratuities per person

Fee includes guides, readings, accommodation, two meals a day, discussions, ground transportation, walking tours, talks, excursions, a selection of Literary Festival events, and admissions.

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Travel Pursuits 2016