There is always a starting point for beautiful worlds and somehow, amid the hustle and bustle of Dubai, the Al Fahidi Historical District seemed like a nostalgic choice venue for hosting the recent Sikka Art Fair, a nine-day festival celebrating the imaginative world of art, poetry, storytelling, music, and film. We arrived around dusk to attend the fair.
Immediately, we felt transported into a magical realm as the area has been enthusiastically adorned with twinkling fairy lights swaying from corner to corner, guiding visitors into its secretive alleys. We stumbled upon an open courtyard where a live band was performing and another courtyard had an open-air cinema with colourful cushions lying around. Each of the tenants held gorgeous, thought-provoking artworks; comic-style depictions of life in Dubai, fusion art collages of the modern versus traditional life, vintage libraries, painting workshops for children, and poetry inked on cloths dangling atop passageways. Truly, every turn was a feast for the eyes. This magical carnival ended with us revelling in the picturesque Arabian Tea House, which serves authentic Emirati cuisine under a lush canopy of fuchsia bougainvillea.
Art is more than just a pretty display. It has always been an essential element of the human experience since time immemorial. Its impact ranges from its intrinsic value of enriching our inner worlds with beautiful, philosophical depths onto adding value to the creative economies, education system, civic society, healthcare system, and community wellbeing. It has played a pivotal role in the creation of timeless cities; adorning them with alluring and iconic architecture, museums, libraries, galleries and theatres.
Perhaps one of art’s most important functions is to enlighten us on a deeper level. In their book Art as Therapy, philosopher Alain de Botton and art historian John Armstrong argue that art is a therapeutic medium through which we could connect with artworks in order to experience or recover important feelings, such as cherishing tender memories, carving time for amusement, dignifying sorrow, understanding ourselves and others, and expanding our emotional landscapes. The book is a fascinating read, which I highly recommend for those interested in finding a way to connect with artworks whilst on a solemn visit to galleries.
Garden of inspiration
Taking on my learning from this exquisite read, I have picked a few artworks through which I would like to appreciate and internalise their aesthetic and intrinsic beauty. My curiosity starts with Claude Monet’s celebrated painting The Water-Lily Pond. In 1883, Monet moved to Giverny where he would spend years craftily designing his exquisite gardens. Today, the idyllic gardens are still lovingly tended with a ravishing assortment of flowers such as tulips, wisteria, peonies, poppies, roses, and dahlias. Artists are influenced by their surroundings and in Monet’s case, he proactively designed a garden so ravishing, so full of rhapsody, that it carved his identity as an impressionist painter. As he once said, “I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.” Truly, witnessing the cascading purple wisteria and the Japanese bridge atop the floating water lilies is a sight to cherish. This particular work invites us to create beauty wherever we go, to be patient as our vision unfolds, and as with nature, to enjoy each season of life and make the most of it.
Elaborating on my favourite subject of gardens, we move onto Nicolas Lancret, a 17th century French painter. I first stumbled upon Lancret’s paintings at the National Gallery in London. The painting that most captivated me was A Lady in a Garden taking Coffee with some Children. The painting is of a couple enjoying a leisurely afternoon with their two children in a lush park, adorned with hollyhocks and a flowing, musical fountain. The painting is part of an artistic movement known as fête galante, a French term used for paintings portraying elegantly dressed people engaged in play, mostly set in parks, the countryside, or ballrooms. We can tell from the attire that the subjects were probably well-off, seeing as they also had a butler serving them. The whole mood of this painting is tender, serene, and inviting. It invites us to make time for loved ones, for fun, and for the things that really matter in our lives. Balance in work and family responsibilities is of utmost importance for a fulfilled existence.
Another painting that captivated me on that visit to the National Gallery was Self Portrait in a Straw Hat by Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, a French portrait painter from the 18th century. Madame Le Brun has captured herself in a delicate and dignified way, in the open air, looking directly at the viewer, and proudly carrying her artist’s palette for all to admire her impressive flair. Her talent earned her the patronage of Queen Marie Antoinette of France and many European aristocrats, creating over 660 portraits and 200 landscapes. Her works are now displayed in prominent museums, such as the National Gallery in London, the Louvre in Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It is a beautiful reminder of the unique, feminine contributions women have made in the spheres of art.
We find solace in scattered ways, be it through friendship, music, or nature. Yet few of us would consider retreating to an art gallery in order to uplift our moods. Spending time revelling in exceptional artworks can allow us to experience a vast array of emotions and transport us through the magical mysteries of the ages, all whilst standing where we are.
Sara Al Mulla is an Emirati civil servant focusing on human development policy and children’s literature.