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Afra Al Dhaheri, Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, Shaikha Al Mazrou, Khalid Albanna, Asma Belhamar  

Artists Khalid Albanna, Afra Al Dhaheri, Shaikha Al Mazrou, Asma Belhamar, Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim. Commissioned by Dubai Culture in collaboration with Art Dubai ‘Union of Artists’ is the first permanent large-scale public sculpture of the Dubai Public Art Initiative. Photo by Cedric Ribeiro/Getty Images for Art Dubai


At Art Dubai 2023, five United Arab Emirates-based artists were shortlisted from more than 250 applications responding to an open call for a single artist to propose a new permanent public artwork for the Al Hudaiba area, overlooking the Etihad Museum and Union House, as part of Dubai Culture’s multi-year Public Art Strategy. In keeping with the project’s themes of unity and collaboration, the artists—Afra Al Dhaheri, Shaikha Al Mazrou, Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, Asma Belhamar and Khalid Albanna—challenged the single artist process and suggested an alternative, collaborative design for this historic commission. 

Titled ‘Union of Artists’, the sculpture embodies the collective spirit of these artists’ diverse backgrounds and perspectives and blends their creative ideas and artistic visions. “As artists, we believe that collaboration is the cornerstone of creativity and innovation. We have come together to create a public artwork that represents the power of unity – it is a celebration of our shared artistic practices and the beauty that emerges when we work together.” The collaborative proposal was accepted by the jury and is now on view in the Al Hudaiba park, opposite the Etihad Museum, for the public to enjoy. 

The five artists themselves hail from different emirates—Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Ras al-Khaimah and Sharjah—and bring together a range of generational perspectives and stylistic differences. The striking sculpture comprises seven pillars that draw inspiration from traditional Emirati ‘Areesh’, structures where dried fronds of palm leaves, placed vertically as poles, are linked with ropes to create simple enclosures providing protection from the elements. The work’s seven pillars are also representative of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, “with each Emirate serving as a pillar that accumulates with the others to form the strength of union and cohesion in one entity, seamlessly interweaving with its adjacent pillar to create a complex yet complete and unified piece”.

Each artist has contributed a specific element to the sculpture. The scale and height of the work is drawn from Khaled Albanna’s initial proposal of a boat’s sail; the use of marble effect speaks to Afra Al Dhaheri’s practice; the pattern on the surface of the pillars is in Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim’s signature style; and the visual language is a combination of the architectural elements of Asma Belhamar’s practice and Shaikha Al Mazrou’s exploration of tension and the interplay between form and content. 

“Dubai Culture is dedicated to empowering creatives and collaborating with various institutions and stakeholders to transform Dubai’s public spaces into vibrant cultural and tourist attractions, encompassing various art forms like sculptures, paintings, murals, and installations, fostering interaction between artists and the public,” says Hala Badri, the Director General of Dubai Culture. “The creative cooperation between the five artists produced an embodiment of the spirit of the local community by highlighting its authentic values and heritage. The artists succeeded in expressing the essence of the Union in a contemporary artistic language that reflects the quality of the artistic visions and ideas of local talent.” 

Union of Artists is commissioned by Dubai Culture in collaboration with Art Dubai. It is part of the Dubai Public Art initiative, which aims to transform the emirate into an open, accessible and global art capital, providing exceptional art experiences that contribute to enriching the cultural and artistic scene of the region.  This is the first landmark commission to be unveiled from a number of commissions with partner cultural institutions Alserkal Avenue, Art Jameel, and Tashkeel. 

Dubai Public Art Talks Launch

Coinciding the announcement of the shortlisted artists is the introduction of Dubai Public Art Talks. To further its mission in promoting public art, a series of discussions were created to offer audiences an in-depth exploration of cultural and creative topics surrounding art in public spaces.  Delivered by cultural partners and commissioners, the first of the series was officially launched during the 16th edition of Art Dubai and will be carried forward by other commissioners.

Held on 5 March 2023 at Art Dubai, the Dubai Public Art Talks highlighted important conversations about the impact of public artwork on urban culture. One of the specially curated talks on “Presenting Dubai Public Art” explored ways in which it can contribute to a city’s identity while introducing shortlisted artists for the inaugural commission. Another talk titled “Re-Defining Public Art: Navigating the Commissioning Landscape” looked at cutting-edge advancements related to commissions and how they affect the industry as a whole.