Dubai is a city that continues to inspire, and there are a lot of iconic images portraying it. These are often so impressive and surreal that thinking beyond them is difficult. Every day since July 11, graphic designer Zena Adhami shares a new perception of a place somewhere in Dubai on her blog, Everyday Dubai. Her graphics are not always about the city though: she made a special work about Ramadan for the Art Dubai blog, another one about Arabic coffee, and lately she shared graphics about Syria.
day one, REFLECTIONS: a visual perception of the Marina, Dubai.
Zena Adhami was born in UAE of Syrian origin, and she received an MFA in Communication Design from California College of the Arts in San Francisco, to where she often returns. She worked in the publishing and design sector in Dubai. Mashallah News asked her a couple of questions about her blog.
What made you start the blog Everyday Dubai?
I have always been interested in the interactions between graphical and urban spaces from the perspective of both place and memory. How are pictures, media and places actively intertwined with cities? How does the fluidity of media and data relate to the stability of forms? I have also been interested in the intersection between art and design. In this space between graphic design and art – and perhaps beyond – lies fertile ground for social practice and situational interventions which may surpass the limits of said disciplines. At least as they are traditionally explained.
Everyday Dubai is a visual perception and articulation of a contemporary discourse regarding the meaning of place, and how we build memory using forms and shapes as an articulation. There is a need to explore graphic design in the Middle East, where I think it is still viewed as a complimentary knowledge and doesn’t enjoy the appreciation it receives in other parts of the world.
How do you select the places you feature and what is the process leading up to the final graphics?
I usually go through the following process:
Discover: I always start the day with an open mind. I look around Dubai to see what catches my eye – it can be a specific shape in a location, or a provoked feeling. I snap photos of the location as I am discovering it. Different angles of “the thing” I am looking at helps a lot in the process. Sometimes I like to challenge myself, and develop the work based on pure memory of a certain place to see how much I remember of that specific location. Two examples are Safa Park it’s always green and JBR sunrise (see related pictures).
Interpret: From the photos and location I gathered earlier, I start creating work on the computer using design softwares. The beauty about this part of the process is the challenge that comes with it: the composition to relate it to the actual location, and a geometry that needs a system to work around.
Post: After interpreting the location, I always take a step back to analyse the work I developed. Here, I think of how complex ideas can be expressed in simple graphic terms, or how they can be made more complicated to reflect the actual place. I keep tweaking the work until it seems relevant to the location. Finally, I post the work on the blog, and with that, the pleasure begins. What makes this process enjoyable are the comments and discussions I get from followers – and of course getting to meet designers. The whole experience is fascinating.
Dubai is usually either admired or harshly criticised. How does the city inspire you to catch its beauty and uniqueness the way you do?
Every city has its uniqueness, I think it is a mind-set that a person needs to put him/herself in and have an open mind to their surroundings. What makes Dubai unique and special is its linking to both the East and the West. Dubai still remains this bridge between the two worlds, and continues to provide unique platforms to showcase the rich and diverse cultures of both of them. This multicultural environment inspires me. And, without a doubt, having childhood memories in this city helps a lot too.
How do you personally feel about the never-ending urban change in Dubai?
It’s bittersweet. It can be exhausting at times, especially that I have witnessed Dubai’s exponential development and got lost many times while driving in the city, not being familiar with the new roads and areas. Dubai has been submitted to spectacular developments transforming the city within a few decades from a fishing village into hubs linking the East and the West, and that makes me proud of being part of this development and part of the making history of this city.
One of the main objectives of Everyday Dubai is to question the importance of “place” and what it means in the context of a place like Dubai – the city that possesses an on-going urban change. Dubai is full of incredible things, we only need to pay attention to them, enjoy them, and of course, make use of them.
Your blog is like a diary: is it a challenge to produce one new piece every day?
Of course it is a challenge, but that is design! The very nature of design is challenging, that is the beauty of it. In general, graphic design has the potential of possessing the power to sway opinions and stimulate discussions, be they political, environmental or even commercial.
Unfortunately, graphic design is often in the service of business, with an agenda that is not about servicing the community. In most cases, designers are conveying other people’s messages. One of the questions I remain interested in while working on Everyday Dubai is: In the age of social media, how do we, as designers, use these platforms to expose our work? And when we do, how can we be heard among millions of voices? I keep challenging myself along the process through Everyday Dubai and I am very conscious of not repeating myself along the way.
Do you plan to stop?
To “stop” means that the project is done and it has reached a conclusion. Everyday Dubai is purely a way to investigate the meaning of place and its memories using a city as an example. My interest in the intersection of urban spaces and graphic design remains blurry. I have no intensions of having a conclusion yet, as this project is still a case of “experimentation”, where the outcome does not have to be crystal clear, and the path of discovery may take me to unexpected places.
Instead of the word “stop”, I would use “evolve”. I do see the project evolving into creating more diaries of other cities that I have visited or will visit in the future. The project can evolve from using online media – a flat surface – to using a physical space or object, in order to allow people to engage or interact with the work. This can take the project to another level where materials will be involved.
day 19, RIPPLE: a visual perception of the beautiful manmade lake in JLT. From where I’m sitting, the sun reflects off the surface of the water, creating those beautiful colors.
day 27, SO CONDENSED: a visual perception of Dubai’s Jumeirah Park, passed by it this morning and wanted to highlight the amount of villas in this project. The project is still under construction.
day 29, JAWHAR: a visual perception of Al Bastakiya, Dubai. This is a bird’s eye view of what I imagine the area might look like.
day 7, ROYALTY: a visual perception of BURJ AL ARAB, Dubai… a 7-star hotel, in which primary colors appear to be most dominant.
day 9, IT’S ALWAYS GREEN: a visual perception of Dubai’s Safa Park.
day 11, THE PATHWAY: a visual perception of Dubai’s Jumeirah Road. I couldn’t help but notice the patterns all around the area.
day 16, BRIDGE LIGHTS: a visual perception of the lights of Garhoud Bridge in Dubai.
day 23, PATTERNS: a visual perception of the arabesque floor patterns in Khan Murjan, Wafi, Dubai.
day 28, SUNRISE: a visual perception of JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence), I was in awe when I saw the sunrise near the beach at JBR.