They say a grandma’s home never runs out of hugs and cookies. For Emirati brothers, Khalid and Gaith Abdulla, their own grandmother’s home – House number 2, in the tranquil neighbourhood of Al Mamzar, Dubai, was one such saccharine-laden address they kept coming back to - be it from their travels, on weekends or during festivals. So, in 2018, when their grandmother moved to a new locality, the brothers took on the task of turning the Bayt of their Yado (grandmother’s home) into an art and culture haven, renaming it Bayt Al Mamzar.
The single-storey structure a few hundred metres away from the scenic Mamzar beach opened in November 2021, as part gallery, artist studio and co-working space with a library. “This home has been that one constant in our lives,” says Khalid, 36, an independent curator who has previously worked with Louvre, Abu Dhabi. “We lived here, for a few years in our childhood. Then after college, I came back and turned one of the rooms into an art studio. During Eid, our extended family would gather here. That’s why instead of choosing the option to rent the house, we decided to give back to the community by making it an accessible creative space providing the same nurturing environment, we had received when we visited our grandmother.”
The house was originally built by Khalid and Gaith’s father, Dr Abdulkhaleq Abdulla in 1983. A professor of political science, he wanted to relocate his family from their former home in the Naif area of old Dubai. The original Bayt had four bedrooms, a majlis, a living room, a garage, garden, laundry room, even a goat pen.
While the brothers lived in the house till 1996, their grandmother and aunts resided there till late 2018. “At first, we toyed with the idea of turning our family home into a private museum,” says Khalid, who holds a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and a master’s in art history and museum studies, as he had always felt strongly about curating a personal collection to fill in the lack of such spaces in the UAE. “But as we engaged with the artist community, we felt it was more important to offer them affordable studios and exhibition space,” says Gaith, 32, a Gulf studies specialist and co-founder of Engage 101, a collecting and research platform, based in the UAE.
Enthused with the prospect of launching this creative hub, the brothers were completely hands-on with the house’s transformation. It also helped that their close circle of friends are artists and architects, who were equally supportive in creating the Bayt. “We had budget constraints, but no dearth of suggestions. Several of the little changes that have really made a great impact -- came from our friends. So, it’s been a collective effort,” shares Gaith.
The former villa was a model of a typical Emirati home. While redesigning it, the brothers preserved most of the older elements, ingeniously integrating modern functions. The carved wooden front door, for instance, was restored with smart locks to provide artists a 24-hour access. The house continued to have two entrances like before - visitors can enter either from the majlis, that has been turned into the gallery, or from the living room, that is now the common area. “One of the major transformations happened in the majlis. To make it into an open gallery, we covered two windows, removed a wall, replaced the sliding door with the glass door and raised the ceiling at the end of the room to make it look more spacious,” shares Gaith.
When Friday visited it, the gallery had just concluded hosting the Mamzar Bazaar, an endeavour that supports local home-grown businesses in the UAE and was all set to showcase a new exhibition Ybna Al3eid by SWALIF Collective. In less than a year since its launch, the gallery has already hosted five exhibitions.
In Emirati homes, the majlis is a space for social gatherings and is used to receive guests. It is separated from the rest of the house. While reshaping this home, most of the ethos of the majlis was embodied into the former living room, adjacent to the gallery, which now functions as a bustling breeding ground for artistic conversations and exchange. The highlight of this multipurpose meeting and events space, is a grey, cemented stage stacked with comfy cushions -- perfect for hosting talks, workshops and performances. Against a wall in this room, stands a shelf of books – the slowly expanding library -- mostly stacked with books from the family’s collection on art history, Middle Eastern art, piled neatly with exhibition catalogues and reference materials. A few chairs and bean bags placed around add to the casual vibe of this space. It also happens to house one of Khalid’s favourite spots -- the stage. “I really like to sit on the stage and get a bird’s eye view of the majlis and the common room and be a silent spectator to all the buzz around the place,” he says.
The warm afternoon sun seeps inside through the large windows of the house as we walk towards the four bedrooms – now turned into artists’ studios. The largest among these, where the brothers used to live as kids, called ARKG Studio (the names derived from the initials of its former occupants: Abdul, Rima, Khalid and Gaith) has four units rented out to artists.
Across this room, is Studio Yado, the former bedroom of the grandmother. It has mostly been left as it was, styled and retained with its vintage eighties’ decor, complete with a blue tiled bathroom and mosaic floor. Affordably priced these studios can be rented from Dh990 to Dh1,600 per month. “And we are really flexible. Some artists have covered their costs by sometimes donating their artwork or by rendering their services,” Gaith reveals.
The seed for building, this local art ecosystem, perhaps was sowed in the brother’s childhood, right here in this home. Encouraged by their mom Rima, their brush with art unfolded through childhood experiments as they filled the walls of their room with canvases splashed with blotches of paint. “We even had a pottery wheel at home, and I remember loving art and craft the most, as a kid,” reminisces Khalid. In the summer as a preteen, he would spend hours at the local computer repair shop building computers. “One of our visions for the Bayt is to have workshops that let people experiment with all kinds of materials,” he tells. The garage, adjoining the house, is where they hope to translate this vision to reality by building a fabrication unit and workshop for artists and sculptors.
Evidently, the brothers are deeply passionate about providing a platform for artists in the Emirates through their passion project. Almost all the renovation and refurbishing of the house was financed from their own savings. Often, they went to great lengths to stretch their Dirham. For a set of affordable track lights, for instance, Gaith spent months researching and scouting through markets. “I used to visit art galleries and ask around about their lighting. Finally, I found them at almost half the price in Dragon Mart, Dubai,” says Gaith.
On the anvil are a list of additions, they plan to make in the house to introduce some of their future creative ideas. The sleek kitchen remodelled a few years ago, will play host to experimental gastronomic experiences, food and art pop ups, with chefs curating special menus. The roof that offers us a vantage view of the palm-lined oasis of homes, reminiscent of a time synonymous with khaleeji neighbourhoods of old Dubai, is where they have plans to hold rooftop film screenings, dinners and receptions.
The transformation of this domestic space into an evolving centre supporting UAE’s creative community took over six months. Infused with the warmth of a home full of memories and celebrations, its current avatar, is ready to fuel experimentation and artistic collaborations. Often when a former home is revamped, its older inhabitants tend to view its new look with a tinge of sadness, for having lost a sacred space wrapped with their most cherished moments. But in the case of Bayt Al Mamzar the response was quite the reverse. “At our opening night, my father said, ‘the house looks more alive than ever before’,” says Gaith.
Bayt Al Mamzar is open to the public to visit during exhibitions and events. On other days by appointment: Contact 050-3533686/email: email@example.com