Away from Dubai’s city center of skyscrapers, an unexpected artistic enclave has popped up on the tiny alley known as Alserkal Avenue. There, the owners of more than 20 galleries have created a safe place for artists to explore hot-topic political themes. Soon, their numbers will triple with the construction of 40 new creative spaces, many of them opening this fall. Some artists who have shown work in the neighborhood are political refugees, including Wafaa Bilal, whose haunting Ashes Series is an attempt to relate to the violence that rocked his homeland, Iraq, after the American-led invasion in 2003. From afar, he collected photos of the aftermath, re-created scenes, and then photographed the rubble, which included the ashes of organic material. “Twenty-one grams of ashes, to be exact,” Bilal explains, “the same weight our bodies are said to lighten after our souls leave them.”

See all in “The Next Great Art Cities.”

Wafaa Bilal, Dark Palace, Ashes Series, 2003-2013

An Iranian refugee on why Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue is awesome

More Art to Experience in Dubai

Salsali Private Museum
Ramin Salsali started his larger than life personal collection of art when he was 21. Now, that collection has grown to include over 900 pieces. Not wanting to keep his favorite artworks to himself, Salsali did the only rational thing: He started the first private museum in the Middle East’s premier art hotspot, featuring his entire collection. Al Quoz 1, Street 8, +971 4 380 9600

Carbon 12
The first gallery on Alserkal Avenue to be significantly active in the international community, Carbon 12 takes emerging and established Emirati talent and pushes it to the global masses. This includes represented Iranian artist Ghazel, who challenges preconceptions of identity based on culture by juxtaposing her own experiences of east and west as an Islamic female in France. Unit D37, Alserkal Avenue, +971 4 340 6016

Green Art Gallery
Green Art Gallery has seen it all, having evolved from humble beginnings as a personal salon d’art in 1995—before Alserkal Avenue established itself as more than just an industrial strip of road. Beginning November 15, Green Art hosts a solo exhibition from Iranian artist Nazgol Ansarinia, which will explore how local culture reacts to a world that is increasingly globalized. Al Quoz Industrial Area 1, +971 4 346 9305

What else to do in Dubai 

This appeared in the October, 2015 issue.