As 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.
We 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