Exploring Alserkal Avenue
Al Quoz, previously thought of as something of a Bermuda Triangle among Dubai dwellers thanks to its maze of indistinct warehouses and similar-looking streets, is now one of the city’s most up-and-coming quarters. A complete contrast to the emirate’s more well known luxury offering, Al Quoz’s charm lies in its back-to-basics approach and hip industrial façades – making it the perfect spot for Alserkal Avenue’s creative vision.
The brainchild of Dubai-born Abdelmonem bin Eisa Alserkal, the art district was conceived by combining his passion for the arts and his love of real estate development. Since its humble beginnings in 2007, Alserkal Avenue has, and continues to, expand at an impressive rate and in a number of awe-inspiring ways. Growing with the city’s cultural community, the original layout that once featured 20 warehouses now stretches across 500,000 square feet. Not only is it home to a host of emerging and established galleries, Alserkal Avenue has also become synonymous with homegrown cultural initiatives and inventive public spaces.
To further extend its platform, Alserkal Programming was launched in 2015, offering a range of commissions, screenings and talks to upcoming talent. Each year the platform highlights a particular theme, and with the help of artists and professionals, the chosen concept is brought to life through wide-ranging means and perspectives.
Concrete, a striking multipurpose venue, is another of Alserkal’s more recent developments. The first building to be completed in the UAE by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), Rem Koolhaas, OMA’s founder explained: “In Concrete, we are not introducing a new shape but instead were able to infiltrate an existing building with an arts institution. This building is totally produced in Dubai; it is not a foreign ideal, and that I think is significant.” Described as a crossroads of modular design and modern architecture, Concrete brings together a collection of reimagined warehouses that boast multiple configurations – think movable walls and translucent façades that add a new dimension to seamless indoor-outdoor experiences. It’s an exciting progression into adaptive architecture that is a first for the region.
Key galleries to visit
Think outside the box
Alserkal Avenue presents so much more than just art in a conventional sense. This is a thriving community that offers something experimental and unexpected at almost every turn. A few of the highlights include CHI-KA, a contemporary space that sells one of a kind hand-crafted kimono-abaya alongside a collection of fine art. There’s Nostalgia Classic Cars, complete with lounge area, library and showroom of vintage cars, a must-visit for petrol heads. While those with a sweet tooth should head to Mirzam where chocolate treats are crafted by using just three ingredients. Adding a completely transparent experience to their chocolate making, you can witness the entire process, from roasting the coco beans to hand wrapping chocolate bars. There is also The Fridge, a talent management agency that works with a diverse range of musicians and performers and regularly hosts shows at its Al Quoz warehouse.
The culinary arts
Serving up great food with an offbeat spin is always going to create a buzz. And this is something Alserkal Avenue does with increasing success as cool cafés and eclectic eateries continue to spring up around the urban labyrinth. INKED is certainly one of the most talked about, with the pop-up restaurant actively encouraging diners to get out of their comfort zone, all while sparking social debates and discussions. Some of INKED’s conceptual dining experiences have included having your meal in front of a mirror and the recent Grey Area experience where guests embraced a lackluster world of monotone in which everything from the décor and tableware to the food was presented in shades of grey. A favourite among the hipsters, Hapi is a health hotspot that encourages an ‘eat, move, play’ philosophy by combining trendy food – think acai bowls and organic bone broth – with activities such as parkour and yoga at the venue’s movement facility.
On the horizon
Quoz Arts Fest, a celebration of Alserkal Avenue’s creative community, returns to Alserkal Avenue on January 26 and 27. The free, two-day event includes artist workshops, performances, guided walks and interactive installations. Then, from March 5 to April 1, the partnership between Alserkal Programming and UAE Unlimited will see the 2018 edition of an exhibition showcasing emerging UAE-based artists at Concrete. Curated by Sharjah-based artist Karim Sultan, this year’s show will focus on the theme of language and its use as medium for communication. Looking ahead, Vilma Jurkute, Alserkal Avenue director, said: “Our mandate has always been to provide a platform for home-grown talent to flourish and we will continue to pursue this through the Alserkal Residency and our community programming. We’ve partnered with a number of not-for-profit initiatives to help extend the art and culture scene beyond the commercial, so that we can provide a holistic art experience for the community in the UAE.”