Bringing art to the masses

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Alserkal’s family was given a Patron of the Arts Award from HH Sheikh Mohammed. (Image courtesy of Alserkal Avenue/Photography by Sofia Dadourian)

Alserkal’s family was given a Patron of the Arts Award from HH Sheikh Mohammed. (Image courtesy of Alserkal Avenue/Photography by Sofia Dadourian)

Weaving in and around the car showrooms and warehouses in Deira we eventually turn a corner and in front of us is a distinctive and ornate building, with an eastern European style. Standing out from the blandness of the surrounding areas, it is only the first jaw-dropping surprise that awaits us as we arrive to meet Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, a Dubai entrepreneur, visionary and award-winning patron of the arts.

Stepping inside the beautiful building, we are met by a varied collection of over 70 cars, trucks and assorted colourful vehicles, from Rolls-Royces to Filipino public buses. We soon learn that these are part of the Alserkal family collection, which was started by his grandfather, and also includes a replica of the first wooden car ever brought to the UAE.

Alserkal’s personal office is also a veritable Aladdin’s cave, adorned with wooden etchings, paintings and sculptures, large globes, statues, a giant crystal chandelier and Arabic calligraphy. But no sooner have we sipped our Arabic tea than Alserkal is opening a secret door and urging us to follow him down a flight of stairs, eager to show us the workshops in the basement of the building.

Room after room is filled with workers making Arabic-style tiles, calligraphy, mosaics and gold-plated designs for personal clients. Some of these will end up adorning the real estate projects the family owns and manages. Each worker is keen to demonstrate their work and fill us in on the process behind the handmade pieces.

A few hours in Alserkal’s company and it is soon obvious why the family was recently awarded by Dubai Arts and Culture Authority with a Patron of the Arts Award from HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai. It’s not just a token award either; it is the second time the family has been highlighted for their contribution to the development of arts and culture in Dubai.

In 2007, during the boom years, when almost everyone was developing hotels, skyscrapers and manmade islands, Alserkal decided to go down another route and try to bring some much-needed arts and culture to the emirate’s commercial areas. In the midst of the industrial heartland of Al Quoz he decided to develop Alserkal Avenue, which would be a mix of art galleries and creative elements, all nestled amongst industrial manufacturers, warehouses and garages.

“Alserkal Avenue is an organic development, an ongoing progress that took time. Back in 2007 when we built the warehouse spaces, we had a mix of businesses, from industrial to creative designers. The very first art gallery to pave the way for others was Ayyam Art Centre, which opened back in 2008.

“Gradually the growth continued as more art galleries and creative spaces developed interest. It took us about five years to become an arts district and today, we house an eclectic coexistence of different businesses within the industrial area of Dubai.”

Designed as the UAE’s answer to New York’s West Chelsea and London’s Hoxton, the total number of warehouses is 39 and ‘the creatives’, as Alserkal calls them, make up about 25 of the spaces.

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