Art in the making

Midway along the endless stretch of buildings, high-risers and numerous cranes that make up the Dubai emirate is Al Quoz, a large industrial area. Dusty roads separate blocks of warehouses, auto shops and workshops and signs promise to construct, ship, store or deliver anything you can put in boxes and containers. Aside from these places, during recent years a new group of residents have found their way to Al Quoz. Like in Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Beirut and elsewhere, industrial tenants have seen gallery owners and artists move in next to them. In Al Quoz, one of these is the Jam Jar.

“Can you see what I’ve painted? A dinosaur!”

Like the other Al Quoz art spaces, the Jam Jar is a big and airy place with high ceilings, white walls and industrial floors. Initially opened in 2005, they moved to their current location in 2007. What sets their concept apart from many of the area’s other galleries, is that they combine showpiecing art with creating it. When entering the Jam Jar, the first thing you come across is not the pieces exhibited in a gallery, but art in the making. In the midst of the large open area are easels and chairs, and lining the walls are buckets with paint. “Can you see what I’ve painted? A dinosaur!” says a boy in front of a big canvas. With him are his mum and siblings (and, their ever-present nannies from South Asia), all equipped with brushes and palettes with bright colours.

“The DIY painting studio is the only of its kind in the city” says Ije Israel, who’s been working at the Jam Jar since 2007. “Lots of children come here of course, but also many adults. We have a good mix of visitors: Emiratis and other Arabs, Westerners, Indian and Asian families: people from all communities.” The studio is one way for the Jam Jar to make real their mission of making art accessible to all. And, although coming here to paint is something you pay for, it is a much needed alternative to the consumerist-focused activities that abound Dubai.

The painting studio makes up one of the Jam Jar’s core activities, together with the adjacent contemporary arts gallery. They also organise a number of regular events: film screenings with art house movies – something that is rare to find in blockbuster and megaplex-rich Dubai – theatre plays, networking events and school workshops. Talks are held on various art-related topics: the latest went under the name ‘Artists and the Law’ and concerned things like the impact of local and Sharia law on artist’s rights and how to protect your work in the digital age. The Jam Jar also hosts the Emirates Literary Group, a literature circle with a mission to spread the work of locally based writers.

And, it’s not only dinosaur-painting kids who get creative at the Jam Jar. A recurrent event is Sketch, an evening of live art creation when artists can drop in and create spontaneous art. There are pens, pencils and colours provided, and artists can bring their own material and sell the finished pieces for AED 10-150 at the end of the evening. For Dubai art-lovers, this is an occasion to not only meet with and talk to local artists, but also to be part of the actual process of making art.

Ije Israel is happy with the progress of the Jam Jar as a space for meeting around art. “We get many visitors, even in summer when no tourists come to Dubai. So, it seems like many locals have found their way to both us and the area in general.” She continues: “When we came to Al Quoz, there wasn’t very much out here. There was The Third Line, who have been around for long now, and a few others. Now, Al Quoz is home to lots of galleries. The area has grown into a real art hub.”

As for the Jam Jar, they hope to expand their activities. They are part of Art in the City, an umbrella project for promoting art and culture in UAE. For locals and visitors, their Art Map which lists galleries in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, and the hop-on-hop-off Art Bus taking people from the Jam Jar to various art events, are useful. “These activities: the painting studio, the community involvement and Art in the City are all educational.” says Ije Israel. While the Jam Jar does commercial activities as well, they pride themselves of making art accessible to the local community. For a city like Dubai, with malls and shops as main destinations for fun, urban DIY painting is a welcome concept.

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