An installation of life-size toy soldiers greets visitors at the exhibition called ‘Exploring the Narrative’ at the Park Hyatt in Dubai. Image Credit: Arshad Ali/Gulf News

Dubai: Spending just 90 minutes of your time with children from the poorest areas in the region and those with special needs can make a huge difference.

That is what nine up-and-coming and established international artists are doing in collaboration with Canvas Magazine and Start, a non-profit organisation that uses art to heal, teach, and enrich the skills and opportunities of underprivileged children in the Middle East.

Syrian artists Safwan Dahoul, Khalid Takreti, Sacha Jafri, media artist James Clar, Zara Mahmoud, Iraqi artist Athier Moussawi, and Scottish artist Sandie Rushforth contributed their time and art expertise for Start's free teaching programmes for children with special needs, orphans, and refugees in the Middle East.

Joining the team of volunteer artists are Emirati artist Maisoon Al Saleh and world-renowned British artist Patricia Millns.

Their artwork, be it painting, sculpture, drawing, and installation, have been opened to the public at the Art at the Park in an exhibition called "Exporing the Narrative."

"This [exhibition] aims to encourage other artists as well to get involved with our programme, volunteer their time whether in the UAE or outside the UAE, to teach children about their practice and knowledge they've gained through art," Nicola Lee, regional manager of Start, told Gulf News.


"It's a free-of-charge activity for the children to learn and gain self confidence and knowledge about art. We're not necessarily teaching them to become artists but to use art as form of therapy, as a form of self-expression and creativity," she added.

Each of the artist is assigned a specific country or emirate. Workshops are run in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. Another set of workshops are held regularly in an orphanage in Palestine while various workshops are held in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah focusing on children with special needs. Start, which has been holding this programme for the last five years, also gives out scholarships to select children.

"It's a great way for kids to be kids again and to take their mind off from the struggles of their daily lives and be introduced to colour and art," Lee said.

"Patricia Millns is going to work with our scholarship winner who is being mentored by Start for a year and is getting creative internship and mentored by artists. Maisoon is also going to volunteer next year." Lee continued.

Millns, who has royalty among her patrons, said spending time with people is an art inspiration in itself. "I'm normally inspired by people, A lot of my work involves talking to people, discussions, and I can people watch all day. And most of my inspirations are not from other art — they're from life itself," Millns said.

One of the youngest in the group, Maisoon said her works are reminders to the Emirati youth about real-life conflicts.

Talking about one of her artwork which features a skeleton celebrating the National Day, she said: "Usually, here in the Gulf region while they [the youth] are celebrating, they would over celebrate by speeding, doing those stunts and moves and all that and end up with a car accident."

Maisoon's works speak to its audience about the realities of life. But the artist herself takes her time to connect directly with her audience. And joining Start's programme is one of them.

"I really encourage them to go forward with this [passion for art]. I'm an emerging artist myself but I would go to universities and schools and give lectures to boost up their spirits," she added.

  • What: Exploring the Narrative — A collection of sculptures, paintings, installations
  • Where: Park Hyatt Dubai
  • When: November 2-8